It is a common religious tradition to “say Grace” before a meal. In Abrahamic religions “saying Grace” refers to thanking the supreme deity for the food, and for the dominion he has granted humans over this earth. This meaning seems outdated, however, in a time when the idea of “human dominion over the earth” is ridiculed by the widespread disregard for the externalities of capital accumulation. The status quo of mere “business as usual” carbon emissions point our history towards a non trivial chance of human extinction, and yet there are no signs of a world agreement which might prevent all fossil fuels from being combusted. Humans are failing to show their ability to take up the responsibility which any “dominion” they might hold over the planet would bestow upon them.
In other words, the idea of “dominion”, palpable enough in the middle ages, has in late modernist society become an anachronistic joke.
And yet, it seems foolhardy to throw out the idea of engaging in a reflective practice before taking a meal. Eating is perhaps the most universal practice engaged in by humans – is it wrong to see it as a place of potential communion between individuals of disparate cultures, political and class interests, etc…? Some might suggest that we turn “Grace” around: rather than thank God for the dominion humans have been granted over the world – why not follow a commonly perceived trend in indigenous traditions to thank the animal or plant for its gift of life, and recognize that we too will be returned to the earth in time to allow for further rebirth and re-generation?
It seems a nice enough idea, but this simple reversal of “Grace” is not enough – it fails to recognize the reality of ecological devastation which has followed from the false dominion humans in fact do, through industrialization, hold over the earth. This “dominion” must be recognized to be a product not of God but of human history. To the extent that we fail to live up to the obligations that this event in human history places on us humans, we must be redeemed by redeeming ourselves inside that same history.
In contrast to either “Grace” or its reversal, I therefore suggest we say “Justice”. “Justice” refers to a human desire for the recognition and instantiation of certain moral principles beyond the extent to which they currently are manifested in current institutions and practices. In other words, the norm or ideal of “justice” is always beyond the reality of shared human experience. And this is a good thing – it expresses the positive aspect of the human ideal of progress.
So, what does “Justice” sound like? Whereas “Grace” thanks God for the dominion of humans over the earth, “Justice” demands that we recognize our privilege, and the expression of that privilege in our easy access to good, healthy food. Justice demands we recognize the inequality, tyranny and oppression involved in the production and transportation of that food, and the struggles of the oppressed for better working conditions and access to justice. One such struggle is the march that took place this thanksgiving, in which 125 migrant workers and allies walked the 50 kilometres from Leamington to Windsor to protest the precarious situation of migrant workers working on farms and as live in caregivers in Canada. Another is the Lubicon first nation, who having had much their traditional hunting territory destroyed by oil and gas development, and who desire the settlement of land claims and restitution for violations committed against them by the Canadian state and corporations.
Justice demands that we support such actions, and the reform which would make our privilege, or at least the environmentally sustainable portion of it, available to all humans. And what better place to start than with the demand for universal access to good healthy food, along with the demand that this food be harvested ethically, with an eye to future generations, and without barbaric labour practices such as the ongoing war against the unionization of farm labour.
So, why not say “Justice” tonight, before thanksgiving dinner? Or better, say it before every meal. And, if you are caught in a particular religious tradition which forces you to think transcendentally about human dominion – why not supplement your “Grace” with some “Justice”. After all, Jesus was a communist.