We share with the living things we eat the miracle of life. Yet all animals must take the lives of plants or other animals to live. Eating ethically requires us to respect the organisms we eat and to choose foods produced in humane ways, protective of the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in food production and distribution.
Environmental justice includes the equitable distribution of both environmental burdens and benefits on populations of residents. Marginalized people have often been able to find housing only in areas exposed to environmental pollutants with consequent negative health and quality of life effects.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to address our relationship with food. All of our seven principles call for recognition of and respect for the other—other people and other life forms. Ethical eating is the application of these principles to food. What and how we eat has broad implications for our planet and society. Our values, principles, and integrity call us to seek compassion, health and sustainability in the production of food we raise or purchase.
Food production involving growing, processing, packaging, transporting and distributing food has become a vast worldwide industry. The mass production of food often maximizes production while minimizing price. This mass production has greatly increased food supply, but has resulted in the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides with crops and the mistreatment of animals and workers in food production. Both this overuse and the large waste streams from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), result in pollution of water and land.
Access to an adequate supply of healthy food and clean water is a basic human need and right. Many people do not have adequate food supplies, while others have a surplus. In many locations, poor distribution of food is a major cause of hunger. The effects of climate change, weather conditions and armed conflicts can also expose many people to starvation. Paradoxically, an abundance of food does not guarantee access to healthy food.
We acknowledge that steps need to be taken that will ensure an adequate food supply for the fast-growing world population; reduce the use of energy, water, fertilizer, pesticides and hormones in food production; and reduce the inhumane treatment of animals. These steps point toward an eating pattern that emphasizes plant-based foods over animal-based foods.
Minimally-processed plant-based diets are healthier diets. Some of us believe that it is ethical only to eat plants while others of us believe that it is ethical to eat both plants and animals. We do not call here for a single dietary approach. We encourage a knowledgeable choice of food based on understanding the demands of feeding a growing world population, the health effects of particular foods and the consequences of production, worker treatment, and transportation methods. We commit to applying this knowledge to both personal and public actions, recognizing that many of us might embark on a dramatic change in eating choices and some might pay more for food that is ethically produced. For congregations, helping congregants gain this understanding and supporting their choices will require a long-term collective process of engagement, education, and discernment.
As individuals and as congregations, we recognize the need to examine the impact of our food choices and make changes that will lessen our burden on the rest of the world. We also recognize that many food decisions will require us to make trade-offs between competing priorities. These priorities include: taste, selection, price, human health, environmental protection, sustainability, adequate food supply, humane treatment of animals used for food, and fair treatment of farm and food workers.
Environmental concerns include the use of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and hormones and high volumes of animal wastes produced by CAFOs, all of which can contaminate land and water. Contributors to global warming include the overreliance on fossil fuels for food production, the methane produced by cattle, and the long distance transport of food. Expanding agriculture and animal farming often removes natural habitats and reduces natural biodiversity.
Human Health concerns include producers’ use of growth-promoters, pesticides and antibiotics that can affect child development, antibiotic resistance, and other health conditions. Advertising can encourage overeating, poor food choices, and a focus on body image that can lead to eating disorders.
Concerns about the Humane Treatment of Animals include crowding animals inhumanely in CAFOs and serious mistreatment of many animals used for food during slaughter.
Concerns about the Fair Treatment of Food and Farm Workers include low pay, poor working conditions, exploitation of undocumented workers and enslavement of others.
Policy concerns include agricultural subsidies that reward the production of certain crops and animal products that are less healthful and environmentally-friendly than unsubsidized ones and that penalize small to moderate sized farming operations. Agricultural subsidies of exported grains have driven small farmers in developing countries off their land because they are unable to compete on price.
We affirm that to work for environmental and economic justice is to work against many forms of oppression. All of us can contribute to a healthier, more equitable world by applying our Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles to our actions related to food. Ethical eating requires us to approach these concerns with a recognition that they are interconnected and an understanding that learning to eat ethically will require creativity, patience and resolve.
We covenant to buy, raise and consume food for ourselves and our families that:
We covenant to advocate for the benefit of food organisms, food workers, the environment and humanity by:
As congregations, we covenant to:
With gratitude and reverence for all life, we savor food mindful of all that has contributed to it. We commit ourselves to a more equitable sharing of the earth’s bounty.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Friday, August 19, 2011.
Sidebar Content, Page Navigation
More Ways to Search
Draft SOC Ethical Eating with line numbers (PDF, 4 pages)
Donate to Support This Program and the Ongoing Work of the UUA
Read or subscribe to UUA.org Updates for the latest additions to our site.
Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.