I am currently learning the Japanese language (which I’m really enjoying). In Japan, it is customary to say ‘Itadakimasu’ before you eat. I like this custom, because it has beautiful meaning behind it.
It means ‘Let’s start’ but it also has other meanings. From iromegane.com (http://www.iromegane.com/japan/culture/why-japanese-say-itadakimasu-together-before-they-eat/):
One is to appreciate all the people who involved in the meal. The person who served you the meal, who grew the vegetables, who fished and of course who cooked for you.
The other meaning is to appreciate the ingredients. Japanese people always believe that even vegetables and fruits have a life as well as the meat and the fish. By saying itadakimasu, show the appreciation of, “I receive your life and it becomes my life”. This seems to be the real meaning.
This respect for life is what makes the custom so beautiful, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I feel it is something that is lacking in the world. Even though I am no longer eating meat I still say ‘Itadakimasu’ when I remember because I love the intention behind it. Not only does it express gratitude but it also acknowledges the life that is being given to us and the work that has been put into making it.
Another thing I appreciate about the Japanese culture is the expectation not to be wasteful. It saddens me when I see things going to waste, when my sister has a drink she leaves about 1-2cm of drink from the bottom of the glass for no reason other than she doesn’t want to drink it, it’s crazy how much this would add up to and it frustrates me. Why is it that people can be so wasteful nowadays? Is it because of the abundance of food and drink? I sense an apathy, that people no longer care as much because of the availability of these things. There is a lack of appreciation; an expectation that these things are just there for us and that they always will be.
In Japan, it’s considered wasteful not to finish your plate. This is related to the Buddhist philosophy that all life is sacred. If you are really sincere about that itadakimasu you said, you should eat all your food. Since something gave up its life for your meal, it’s kind of disrespectful to let it go to waste.
I hope that these customs continue, that they do not die out, and I hope that Western cultures might learn from these traditions and the importance behind their meaning. We all need to learn to be more appreciative, including myself, of that which we are given every day.