It didn’t happen often, and if it did it was usually a family of four or more and it was usually Sunday Brunch. I’d be walking at my usual brisk pace, glancing at all my tables checking on them one-by-one, every one at a different stage of their meal. Of the usual five tables I would have, one might be finishing dessert, one might be eating their salads waiting for their entrees, another might be waiting to order, one might be waiting for me to bring them the extra ranch on the side I’d forgotten, and one might have just been seated. Then came the crucial two-minute window check after a table had received their food to make sure everything was cooked to their satisfaction…… and WHOOPS!!!! I’d come to a screeching halt mid-sentence, “How’s everthi…..” when I’d see bowed heads and quiet chatter. I’d spin around and walk away as quickly as I got there. I learned it’s not polite to interrupt people when they’re praying.
I have never been one to thank a God for my food. I always thought it was a bit silly. I’d snidely wonder if they were praying they wouldn’t get food poisoning. And the fact that it wasn’t very common also made it seem that much more fringe behavior. Just like seeing a mom who’s breastfeeding her baby, many diners squirm seeing other diners pray. I don’t know why, but for some reason it makes people uncomfortable. At least in California. And honestly, I’ve been in Wisconsin now for almost seven years and I dine out a lot and have NEVER seen anyone praying over their food.
I really hadn’t given this whole “thanking” for our food business a thought until I saw an episode of the History Channel’s show, “Alone” recently. The ten contestants– whom are highly trained survivalists–are dropped off three and a half miles away from one another to survive as long as they can with minimal possessions in extremely remote areas. The contestant who “taps out” last wins a half a million dollars. The areas in Patagonia where they’re living is so remote there is no human population at all. They are completely and utterly ALONE as the moniker attests.
Maybe you’ve seen the show. If not, I’m sure you’ve seen the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway”, where he’s marooned on a desert island after the plane he’s in crashes and he’s the only survivor. Tom Hanks’s character Chuck Noland survived four years: the contestants on the current “Alone Season 3” have managed to survive 73 days thus far. The season finale is tonight and I couldn’t be more on edge and excited.
In “Castaway”, Chuck Noland is suddenly catapulted into this crazy situation. And that is the biggest difference between the movie and the reality show (other than the obvious). Tom Hanks’ character got on a plane as a passenger. He had not signed up for this adventure; rather it was thrust upon him. He opened boxes of cargo from the FedEx plane that he’d been on and found at the crash site and MacGyver’d his way to four years of survival until he was rescued. The “Alone” contestants CHOSE to be stranded on their desert isle. They have a walkie-talkie at their side 24/7 whenever they feel they can’t handle it anymore. There wouldn’t have been a movie had Chuck Noland been able to “tap out”.
I had never heard of a “highly trained survivalist” until I saw this show. And as a huge fan, I’ve watched all three seasons now, and I know I wouldn’t last longer than a week. I couldn’t catch my own fish and even if I could there’s no way I could bash its head with a rock to stop it from being alive, gut it, and then cook it. If there’s “roe” in the belly of the fish, I’ve watched contestants just take an index finger and scoop it out and shove it into their mouths. So disgusting. And lest you think, “well, I’d just eat plants”, if you’ve watched as many episodes as I have, you would learn that there isn’t enough protein in plants to survive in the wild. I have learned a lot about nutrition! It’s animal protein that allows these contestants to go the distance. The half-million-dollar carrot is a huge motivator.
So is survival, as demonstrated in the Tom Hanks fictional version. He’s trying to stay alive long enough to be rescued; these are contestants whose version of survival is equated with “becoming rich”. Not quite the same thing.
UNTIL TRUE STARVATION SET IN. It becomes less about a monetary prize and more about not dying.
My heart swelled and I burst into tears witnessing a contestant become extremely emotional watching Episode 6 a few weeks back. Carleigh, a 29-year old female survivalist from Alaska–whom I’ve been rooting for–was having trouble catching fish. The temperatures had dropped significantly, and she had suffered many failed attempts. She was, as all the contestants were, literally starving. In the episode, she walks out in her layers and layers of protective clothing for the umpteenth time to the rocky area where she puts her line once again into the freezing water, trying not to fall in because that would cause hypothermia instantly. Fragile and weak from starvation, she mumbles how desperate she is to catch a fish. It’s the only protein available and she hadn’t caught any in over a week. If she doesn’t catch a fish “today”, she will have to “tap out” and go home. And that is the LAST thing she wants to do. She’s gone this long–73 days–and mentally she’s handling the cold and isolation quite well otherwise. She’s just, well, starving to death.
And to her and our delight, she catches a large fish that appears to be a trout. She is SO grateful, she bursts into tears. She crouches down on the rocks and sobs, holding the fish up lovingly to the camera and says through her tears, “I am so thankful for this fish.” It is sunset, and it’s the first night in weeks she won’t have to go to bed hungry. She tells the fish how beautiful it is, and thanks the fish.
I have to admit, that one scene had a profound impact on me, so much so I had to share it with you. I joke from week to week that I wouldn’t last a week out there; the only thing I’d be good at would be talking to myself. And it made me question when was the last time I was truly grateful for the food I eat? When was the last time I closed my eyes and held my food in my hands lovingly and even took a second to think of how it got to my plate?
I’m not a vegetarian (even though I don’t eat red meat) and I feel ashamed now that I have never thanked the chicken or pig or turkey for giving its life for my consumption. And I’ve always said if I had to catch it and kill it myself there’s no way I could do it. When our food comes packaged so cleanly and sanitized it’s easy to forget it was a living breathing animal. I’m not the only one who doesn’t really take a moment to think about how it got there. There would be no obesity, gluttony or eating disorders if we all stopped and considered how our food gets to our tables.
As I eagerly await tonight’s season finale, I take away a feeling of gratitude that I live in a world of abundance and I’ve been lucky enough not to have been born into poverty. Many will go to bed tonight hungry. I’ve got enough food in my house to last me months if I stopped going to the store. I probably throw out more uneaten food than homeless people eat. It’s so wrong, and today it stops.
We need to close our eyes and bow our heads and thank the animal for giving its life for us. And don’t forget to thank the plants too.