II: Climate and Food Justice and Unitarian Universalism

Part of UN Sunday

Unitarian Universalism’s 7th Principle commitment to “respecting the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” has clear implications for how we are to respond to issues of climate and food justice. Humans must understand our own dependence on stable ecosystems and biodiversity, and we must take care to honor the impact that our choices have on all life around us. As noted above in the introduction to the 2021 UN Sunday Theme, human-made food systems have had a harmful impact on the environment and it is up to us to protect the planet for a sustainable future.

Unitarian Universalists are extremely active on climate and food justice issues. Of particular note is the Statement of Conscience adopted by the UUA General Assembly in 2011 entitled “Ethical Eating: Food & Environmental Justice.” Some important excerpts:

Aware of our interdependence, we acknowledge that eating ethically requires us to be mindful of the miracle of life we share with all beings. With gratitude for the food we have received, we strive to choose foods that minimize harm and are protective of the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in food production and distribution.

… Ethical eating is the application of our Principles to our food choices. 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.

… Unitarian Universalists aspire to radical hospitality and developing the beloved community. Therefore, we affirm that the natural world exists not for the sole benefit of one nation, one race, one gender, one religion, or even one species, but for all.

… As individuals and as congregations, we recognize the need to examine the impact of our food choices and our practices and make changes that will lighten the burden we place on 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.

For Unitarian Universalists, food justice and ethical eating are not simply about choosing what foods to eat as individuals. That is certainly part of it, with a recognition of the classism, racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression that affect economic inequality and access to food. But more important than individual food choice is the need for wide-ranging reform of how food is grown, distributed, prepared, and consumed so that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious, and delicious ethically- and sustainably-produced food.

This year’s UN Sunday theme calls for an acknowledgement of grief and overwhelm, but also enormous hope and possibility. We witness the horror of the climate crisis, the injustice of food inequity, the exploitation of people and planet in service of profit. But we also must recognize that the solutions exist. And the solutions to one of these issues makes a difference for the others as well. This is a core concept in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as well: We have these 17 Goals that, if you look at them all, can seem overwhelming; yet beginning to address one of them, we find we’re addressing many others simultaneously. (See the page about this year’s theme and the SDGs for more info and how to take action!) We can have food justice and climate justice. In fact, in order to achieve true food justice, it must include climate justice. It must include food systems that prioritize traditional practices aligned with the earth’s natural processes.

Climate and Food Justice and the Unitarian Universalist Principles

Here is a brief breakdown of UU Principles and their connection to climate and food justice:

First Principle

"The inherent worth and dignity of every person"

All people deserve access to food that is healthy and culturally appropriate (see Food Sovereignty, one of the Key Concepts for this year’s UN Sunday theme). Depriving people and communities of agency in making their own food choices – through industrialized food systems, economic oppression, and food apartheid – is an affront to this Principle.

Second Principle

"Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations"

Working towards climate and food justice demands equity (and is helped along by compassion). Solutions must follow the leadership and needs of those people and communities who are most affected by food apartheid, exploitation, and climate calamity. Power must be shifted away from industries and towards communities. This includes reparations to return lands that have been forcefully taken from Indigenous and Black farmers and communities over the course of centuries.

Third Principle

"Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations"

Though individuals and congregations want to work toward climate and food justice, we are also dealing with our own issues and concerns. We accept that it’s up to the individual to determine how much they can change their life for justice, and we encourage one another to act boldly however possible. Meanwhile, we must work collectively towards large-scale systemic changes that address root causes of inequity and exploitation in food systems.

Fourth Principle

"A free and responsible search for truth and meaning"

Unitarian Universalist congregations can be a place of learning and discussion about the history and current realities of the climate crisis and food injustice. We must share honestly about the role that humans generally and specific ancestors have played—and continue to play—in causing injustice, as well as the role we can play in creating a new way forward. Doing so will let individuals in the congregation wrestle openly with their role on a personal level and identify how they are called to adapt.

Fifth Principle

"The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large"

Key to the democratic process is allowing everyone a chance to have input into decisions that affect them. Industry and economic inequality prevent people from having much control over how ethically and sustainably their food is produced, the amount of plastic they use, where they get nutrients, etc. Food systems must be democratized, wresting power from industry and empowering small-scale producers and communities.

Sixth Principle

"The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all"

A world community whose goal is peace, liberty, and justice for all is important in order to achieve food equity and sustainability. Through forums such as the UN, countries can share resources, knowledge, and solutions that empower their local communities to achieve common goals, with the recognition that none of us is free until we are all free.

Seventh Principle

"Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part"

We are part of an interdependent web of all existence. We don’t necessarily see soil, water, or air as being alive, though they certainly contain and sustain life. When we see ourselves as part of an interdependent web, not as owners of particular sections of it, we can create food systems and other infrastructures that are sustainable and that allow all humans to lead safe, healthy lives. This means caring for our whole environment – not just our individual needs and desires – and understanding that we are not separate.

Proposed Eighth Principle*

(*Adopted individually by some UU congregations)

"Journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions"

Dismantling all forms of oppression in ourselves and our institutions includes addressing food apartheid and other oppressive structures in society that prevent food sovereignty. A diverse multicultural Beloved Community will thrive only when people and planet are no longer exploited.

Organizations and Initiatives

These are some of the Unitarian Universalist organizations and initiatives addressing climate and food justice:

UU Ministry for Earth

The Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) has ongoing programs to help Unitarian Universalist individuals, congregations, and our denomination as a whole live more fully into practices that honor and protect our planet and all that live upon it. UUMFE has a wealth of resources for engagement in climate and food justice work, through Create Climate Justice and beyond! Learn more about UUMFE.

Green Sanctuary Program

Every Unitarian Universalist congregation can get involved with this program and take actions to become accredited as a “Green Sanctuary.” This means your congregation has ongoing activities and processes to reduce carbon emissions and make change for climate justice locally. The current iteration of the Green Sanctuary Program is called “Green Sanctuary 2030: Mobilizing for Climate Justice,” and it is described as “a roadmap for congregations to rise to the crisis.” With the recognition that food equity and sustainability are key ways to mitigate climate change and advance climate justice (see Food Systems and Climate Change for more), UN Sunday is a prime opportunity to involve your congregation in Green Sanctuary 2030. Find out how your congregation can become a Green Sanctuary.

Create Climate Justice

UUMFE led the development, in collaboration with the UU@UN and the UUA’s Green Sanctuary Program, of an online campaign for Unitarian Universalist climate justice organizing called Create Climate Justice (CCJ). The priority focus areas for CCJ are:

  • Strengthening Unitarian Universalist communications and mutual support networks for Climate Justice
  • Mobilizing UUs in solidarity with Indigenous front-line communities
  • Supporting the Just Transition to an ecological civilization through partnerships and civic engagement

The Create Climate Justice Network (CCJnet) exists as a platform to network with fellow UUs who are involved in climate justice action and to find and share resources and events. Get involved with Create Climate Justice!

Join the “All In for Climate Justice: Food Equity and Sustainability” Group in CCJnet to connect and share resources and opportunities with others who are passionate about this topic. Join the Group today! (You must be logged in to CCJnet for that link to work.)

UU Young Adults for Climate Justice

Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice (UUYACJ) is a network of UU activists aged 18-35 who are involved in climate justice organizing and who support one another through worship services, workshops, and activities in the wider world. If you’re a young adult, join the network.

Many Hands Peace Farm

As part of The Mountain Learning and Retreat Center, a UU camp in North Carolina, the Many Hands Peace Farm helps guests learn about regenerative agriculture. This is one example of a UU community using food as a way to advance environmental sustainability and support their community. They grow food for use in their kitchen and to sell at local farmers’ markets. Learn more about the Many Hands Peace Farm.