“Should we offer a blessing on the food when we are in restaurants?” Ensign, Jan. 1976, 66
Glade F. Howell, coordinator of the Utah/Ogden Division of the Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion There are some obvious and immediate questions to this inquiry such as how, when, and under what conditions. Are you able to leave the situation so that you can talk about the gospel if it were to come up, or are your acts too pious and thus onlookers are repulsed or offended? Can you sit at a table, bow your head, and say a vocal prayer? Can one pray silently with eyes open? What really makes a prayer or blessing on the food valid? Wherein lies wisdom? Can or should a rule be made for this subject?
For a start, we need to look at what the Savior has said that might apply: “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” (Matt. 6:5.) This seems to say to let our prayers be gentle, persuasive, but always respectful of the dignity and experiences of others. We can also say, yes, we have been reminded through the centuries by the scriptures and the prophets to pray often and to give thanks for our herds, flocks, and for all the good things of the earth. But where and how?—that is the question. Will some person interpret a public blessing on the food as “sounding a trumpet in the streets”? (Matt. 6:2.)
My father used to pause in the fields at noonday by a sage brush or rock pile to give thanks for our lunch; or while driving cattle, he would pray vocally. It was more than just an utterance of thanks; there was a feeling deep within my father as he expressed gratitude for the good things of the earth. Other times, as at a dinner with members of a cattlemen’s association, no prayer was offered—but I knew Dad had blessed his food, though his eyes remained open and there was no bowing of his head, lest he bring offense or be regarded as the Pharisees. I remember my father always left a situation where he could teach again. He was not an extremist, though a very devout man, and was always held in highest esteem by his colleagues. They all knew his principles, that he was undeviating in his course but always tender, sensitive, and not offensive.
I know of people who, for a few seconds, simply survey their food, admiring its beauty and aroma, and sense gratefully the fact that they have it, and in an instant express silently within their own minds a prayer of “Thank Thee, Heavenly Father, for this food.” It seems to me that this is also a sensitive solution to the problem.
We should recognize that prayer is a sacred expression, normally reserved for private places (our churches, homes, etc.) where we can control the spirit of the occasion. Prayer is also a very personal expression, and it would seem that private prayers should be just that—private. But I also know that, on occasion, a more obvious indication of a personal prayer, perhaps by a bowed head for an instant, has opened up a gospel conversation with a companion.
In summary then, I would say that we should most certainly have within us a spirit of thanks, of gratitude—even the spirit of prayer—when we sit down to eat. Yet the question is whether this private spirit of prayer should be expressed publicly. I would conclude that we should strive to have the Spirit with us to bless us to be wise not to offend—to act in propriety. If we have the Spirit, we will know by what manner we should bless our food, regardless of what environment we are in.