Instead of saying a prayer before meals, a common Japanese custom is to say いただきます(“Itadakimasu*”) before beginning to eat. It literally means “I humbly receive**,” like you would say when someone that you really respect gives you a gift. This is meant to thank all of the beings involved with the making of your food (the animal that gave its life to feed you, the grocer that sold it to you, the cook, etc.) for giving you the gift of the meal.
It also requires the mindful eater to think of all those people (and the animal, in many cases) involved in making that meal possible. It keeps you from taking your food, and all the hard work that goes into bringing it to you, for granted. It can be difficult to hate or fear or feel superior to any of those people/animals along the line when you humble yourself and offer your respectful thanks to them several times a day.
I urge you to think about the concept and practice of saying itadakimasu this Thanksgiving. Take a minute before you eat your delicious feast to think of everyone involved in bringing your food to you. Think of the farmer that raised the turkey, and the farmer’s wife that gets up early every morning to pack him a lunch so he can work hard every day, and the farmer’s father who taught him everything he knows about turkey farming. Think of the truck driver, and the people that make the trucks. Think of your aunt, who always brings that totally divine sweet potato casserole, and her grandmother that taught her the recipe. Not all of these stories are true but, by your consciously thinking about and thanking them, all of these people (and the turkey!) are connected, and come together in this one meal to bring you delicious and life-sustaining food.
It is a humbling thought.
*Pronounced “ee-tah-dah-kee-moss” but say the “moss” like you’re from Boston.
**SUPER-BASIC/SUPER-GENERAL JAPANESE GRAMMAR LESSON: Japanese has three different grammar structures, mostly affecting verbs, that reflect different levels of politeness. Casual speech is used when speaking with very close friends and family, or to small children, animals, or people on a lower level of the social heirarchy. Polite speech is used when speaking to strangers, coworkers, people that are on a similar level of the social hierarchy as you are, but with whom you aren’t particularly familiar. Keigo, or formal speech, is used when addressing social superiors (your boss, your professor, your customers, the President) or someone who you admire or to whom you wish to show respect. Keigo verbs have two forms: the humble form (used when talking about oneself – like itadakimasu), and the honorific form (used when talking about the superior person).