You probably don’t have to worry about your children eating like animals. Mine sometimes get into role play as dogs or cats (when they aren’t superheroes or cartoon characters) and they have to be encouraged not to take this too far at the dinner table.
When we went out for my birthday dinner last weekend, the woman and I realised how well behaved our kids were. We sat near a family that trashed their dining area and at one point the woman got a splash of soup or some such on the face. When they left the restaurant, we were embarrassed seeing the cleaning crew come in and scrape everything away.
Many families eat like animals and don’t even realise it. Their children may be even better behaved than mine. Nonetheless, they lack the distinction that makes us different from all other creatures at mealtimes. They don’t bless their food. Fr Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory points this out in For the Life of the World. It is not just the essence of the sacramental life, it is the essence of human life. I don’t need to preach to the Orthodox choir that we are, after all, first homo adorans and only as a result homo sapiens.
I have sometimes been embarrassed around visiting unbelievers and not blessed the food. Either that, or I can have a tendency to rattle it off like an auctioneer. I didn’t want to impose my religion on them. Predictably, I had it all backwards. What I should be offering them is an opportunity to experience their own humanity. Religion is either a compartment of life that can be sealed off when inconvenient, or it is the very nature of who we are and to deny it is to make us not just less than who we are, but other than what we are.
By not blessing, we turn the food into an affirmation of materialism with the inherent value of cardboard. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we no longer deny a heavenly gift to our guests. If we would deprive them of this, then we cannot say we love them, regardless of how closely we may be related to them.
Even in restaurants, sitting amongst strangers, if we bless our food, we bless them. This is not because we make a show openly. This would be the Protestant idea that value is only derived from knowledge. By blessing the food, we make Christ present in and at our meal. Who is not blessed by proximity to Christ? Even by these small actions, we fulfill our essential mission to bring Christ to a hungry world starved of the love of God.