Last night I was in a group where a prayer was said before the meal. Now the pray-er said many thanks, including thanks for the food and “the hands that have prepared it.” Now I have heard that phrase hundreds of times before, but it struck me as odd this time because the two people who had cooked the food had already been mentioned by name. So even though it was probably just a few perfunctory words from the pray-er, it got me thinking: “Did she mean to pray for them again, or did it mean something else?”
And right then and there I realized how restrictive my thinking had been (as many of our thoughts tend to be) in including only the chef as the preparer of my food. I thought of the worker who had picked the lettuce and peas and broccoli that made up my salad. I thought of the farmers who had planted the various ingredients that had combined to make my dinner. I even thought about the people at the store and the drivers who transported my food as being necessary for my dinner that night.
Do you stop to think about where you food comes from? Maybe the recent beef recall has made you think at least a little bit about what your food goes through before it hits your plate. And maybe not. In all likelihood, you read the story and maybe saw the video, got disgusted, but soon forgot about it — maybe even before your next meal. I still vividly recall seeing the horrible conditions of many chickens raised for eggs and meat while watching the documentary The Natural History of the Chicken in a morning film class and then walking to the dining hall to feast on one of their best meals: juicy, sauted chicken breast. I saw the food and saw the irony of the situation, but at that moment I wasn’t yet ready to eliminate animal flesh from my diet (that came about a year later).
But what of “the hands?” The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a Florida group fighting for fair wages for the work they do to bring us a portion of our food. According to a recent Oxfam America post, workers earn only about $4.50 an hour on a good day. The CIW had been fighting with Taco Bell and McDonald’s for increased wages, a battle they won, but Burger King has yet to agree and continues to stall the process.
Whatever the reason, we are a people who have a hard time seeing beyond the immediate. In addition to the conditions of workers in our own country, we fail to recognize the horrible conditions of children and others in virtual “slave labor” factories around the world. We turn away from the atrocities of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine (among others) who suffer in the face of occupation forces. We recall not the homeless as we crank up the heat in our houses with rooms no one uses and forget the homeless as we throw away food because we took too much from the all-you-can-eat buffet. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
So I encourage you to think about the implications of all your actions. Check the labels to see where your clothing was made. Investigate the route your food took to reach your plate. Read the stories of the oppressed, share what you read with your family and friends, and they go do something about it. Let us not feign blindness by merely closing our eyes or act like we don’t hear when we are really only stopping our ears.
There is work to be done; go and make a difference so that others might soon give thanks for that which your hands shall prepare.