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Draft Statement of Conscience Ethical Eating: Food & Environmental Justice, March 2011

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.

Calls to Action

Individual Actions

We covenant to buy, raise and consume food for ourselves and our families that:

  • increases our consumption of plant-based foods, which increases the global access to calories, provides health benefits, and prevents injuring animals;
  • minimizes the pain and suffering of animals by purchasing meat or seafood produced under humane conditions, for those who choose to eat meat or seafood;
  • minimizes the negative environmental effects of raising animals or plants by purchasing organically-produced food, and seafood certified responsibly farmed;
  • minimizes transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions by obtaining foods locally produced through home or community gardens, farmers markets, or community supported agriculture (CSA);
  • provides farm workers with living wages by purchasing fair trade certified products;
  • contributes to social harmony by eating communally with others; and
  • promotes health, consuming food in quantities that do not lead to obesity.

We covenant to advocate for the benefit of food organisms, food workers, the environment and humanity by:

  • asking food sellers to label where their products come from to determine distance of transport;
  • telling food sellers that we will buy and pay more for food produced by treating animals humanely, treating workers fairly, and protecting the environment;
  • pressing food sellers to require that their suppliers certify the humane treatment of animals; and
  • advocating for federal and state legislation that supports the distribution of adequate ethical food supplies, effective safety inspection of food production, and realignment of agricultural subsidies to support growing more produce and the viability of small farmers.

Congregational Actions

As congregations, we covenant to:

  • provide and sell more plant-based, organic, and fair trade foods at congregational events;
  • organize members to work for food justice by urging grocery chains to locate stores in low income neighborhoods, helping people obtain food stamps, advocating for increased funding& to alleviate hunger, and assisting local meals on wheels and food bank programs;
  • support the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and other relevant UU organizations in their efforts to ensure that everyone has adequate nutritious food, produced sustainably;
  • provide educational programs for all ages that address the issues of environmental justice, gardening, food preparation and nutrition;
  • become Green Sanctuary certified and include ethical eating in programs;
  • advocate for healthful food for school lunches and other institutional meals; and
  • engage in direct action and in solidarity with workers and labor advocacy groups to support agricultural and food workers.

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.

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