Food for All Creatures

“[God] prepares food for all creatures…” This line, which appears in the first section of the blessing after meals [Birkat Hamazon], has been giving me pause lately…Quite literally, if I’m paying the least attention to the words, I find myself stuck — “on pause” – as I consider whether what I just ate was the appropriate food for this particular creature at this particular time.

To understand how difficult this question is for me requires a bit of family history.

I do not come from a long line of women who enjoyed or excelled at cooking. On my maternal side, I descend from women who considered the successful boiling of noodles an accomplishment, although my mother did make a mean fudge. Stories of the elder women in my mother’s family – “Little Grandma” and “Big Grandma” – are devoid of fragrant bread or savory soup.

My father’s culinary repertoire offered two prominent recipes of no use to a household with peanut allergies (not to mention issues of kashrut): fried peanut butter and bacon sandwiches and crackers topped with peanut butter and horse-radish mustard. He failed to instill in me his love of anchovies, although I did take up his habit of adding something salty to ice cream. Semi-annual visits to his mother’s kitchen convinced me that canning and baking were foreign practices with no role in city life.

Fudge and salty ice cream. For a long time, I was happy enough with this legacy.

For years, I was unaware that families outside books or television might offer more varied lessons in food preparation. I eventually realized that some folks enjoyed preparing and serving meals, but I still found the concept hard to grasp. As a parent, I became increasingly aware of how much I had never learned about food. But it was only with the diagnosis of Type II Diabetes in mid-life that I started to accept how much I needed to know.

Only in recent days, as I begin the blessing after meals – “Blessed are You, God, Sovereign of the Universe, who in goodness feeds the world…who prepares food for all creatures…” – do I stop to ask: Was what I just ate for me? Did it really feed me?

“[God] prepares food for all creatures” is usually understood to reference worms for birds, grains for mice, bugs for frogs. But lately I’ve been hearing it as a nudge to ask: Was that meal the best choice for this particular creature at this point in her day? Would something else have served me better?

Lately, the blessing has been reminding me that fudge and salty ice cream – however suitable as treats for a child in motion – are simply not the best option for me right now. I am using the prayer as a prompt to open my eyes to the plethora of healthy, enjoyable options that won’t upset my diabetes control. Blessed are You, God, who prepares food that can contribute to my health.

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