The dining solitary

My attention was caught by a recent post on Pagan Blog Prompts, so I’m detouring from the Pagan Blog Project for a moment. (I don’t confuse the blogs themselves, but I do mix their names up occasionally.) The prompt in question:

Throughout the many different cultures around the world, meal time is a coming together of the family. From the way the table is set, to the thanks we give, to the conversations we have around the table. As a Pagan, how do you and your family make meal time special?

Like my spirituality, my meals are often a solitary endeavor. I fully believe that meal time should be special, but I have a more basic challenge to meet first, namely, raising my meals above the level of refueling stops. Lunch is especially prone to this danger. Like many people, I work a daytime job where lunch is the longest break in the day. I get half an hour for lunch. I don’t feel as if I’m gobbling my food down, but eating in a starkly-decorated (if old holiday cards, stale news clippings, and a calendar count as decoration) windowless staff kitchen does not enhance a meal. Breakfast and dinner have their own issues. I manage to eat breakfast at home, but during the week I rarely leave myself enough time to eat it sitting down. Instead, a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice sit on the kitchen counter, and I grab bites as I rush around getting ready to go to work. This leaves dinner as the most traditional meal of the day. I usually have the time to make it look “right”: served at the dining room table, on a place mat with a napkin, using all the right dinnerware. But by the end of the day, I’m more interested in getting dinner eaten than in doing anything extra to make the meal special.

I haven’t found any easy answers to making the solitary meal more than just the ingestion of food, but I’m trying to stay open to ideas. I got myself into the habit of giving thanks for the meal. I didn’t grow up in a family that said grace, so this was a radical new practice for me. Keeping it simple, I’ve memorized a blessing I liked and mentally recite it before meals. When pinched for time, or when eating somewhere so busy that I can’t concentrate, I pare it down even further, making sure I take a good appreciative look at what I’m about to eat before thinking Thank you.

I have ideas of what I could add to this practice, but I haven’t committed myself to any of them. I could pay more attention to the meal itself (mindful eating). Since childhood, I’ve read during meals when eating alone, which is not really compatible with being in the moment and being aware of my food. I know I’m less than enthusiastic about this idea because it feels like I have to sacrifice good reading time. Still, if I’ve gone to the trouble of making a tasty dish, why eat it so obliviously that I never notice it? Another option is to make an offering before eating. I’m still exploring why I’m so reluctant to adopt this practice long-term, but I’ve done it a few times, and it did remind me that a meal can be sacred. Another possibility is to start a little earlier and remember the magic involved in cooking. I’ve never done all that much in the way of kitchen witchery, much as I like the idea of it, but ever since I learned the Romans had a goddess of ovens, baking has had more of a magical feeling to it than it used to.

Food is the great communal rite for people of many faiths. I’m sure there’s a way to make a solitary meal seem as sacred as a holiday banquet, even if I haven’t found it yet. After all, if there are solitary practitioners of religions, then there can be solitary practitioners of sacred dining. But I’m making no promises that I’m going to figure out how to be one of them!