Departures: Earth Practice

“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.” 

So begins the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2011 Statement of Conscience: Ethical Eating and Environmental Justice.  These few words offer an Earth practice for today.

Mindful of the miracle of life we share with all beings:  As we take our first sips or bites of sustenance today, let us pause over it and look deeply into the journey it has made.  This food began somewhere.  Do we know where?  It was cultivated well or badly by someones. Do we know who?  Do we know how?  This food was harvested, picked, cut, gathered, unearthed, slaughtered and in many ways prepared for human consumption by many, many human hands and mechanical means.  Do we know by whom, in what ways, humanely or inhumanely?  Do we know where and how far this food had to travel to arrive at our table? Do we know the local grocery store employees who unloaded, arranged and otherwise aided us in selecting our food?  Who has prepared this food that we are about to eat?

With gratitude for the food we have received: Let us hold the food that we are about to eat for our own health and offer gratitude to the plants, animals, farmers, fishers, harvesters, butchers, loaders, drivers, stockers, cashiers and cooks who bring this food to us for our nourishment.

Minimize harm and protect the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in food production and distribution: As we enjoy our food and drink today, what choices do we have that will allow us to decrease harm and increase health and protection for this great web of which we are a part and from which we receive?

Making ethical eating choices can be expensive, but they are not all so.  We may know that we are limited by income limitations, or by distance, or by limitations of travel in order to choose the best food options that minimize harm and protect all in the web.  Which choices can we make?  Which choices, today, can we commit to?  

With honor to the Earth, Mother of us all.

Bob Patrick

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5 Responses to Departures: Earth Practice

  1. Lydia says:

    Love it!

  2. Mark Causey says:

    Thanks, Bob, for reminding us to be more mindful about our eating. Speaking of the 2011 Statement of Conscience, here is something I am working on as a possible Action of Immediate Witness for the next GA. We could just as easily substitute “UUCG” for all references to “UUA” here:

    The Food at All Future UUA Events Should Be Plant-Based

    BECAUSE our Seventh Principle calls us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part;

    BECAUSE the 2011 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Statement of Conscience states that: “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”; and

    BECAUSE that same 2011 UUA Statement of Conscience expresses animal welfare concerns “about the Humane Treatment of Animals” which include “intensive confinement and abuse in CAFOs, and inhumane conditions during production, transport, and slaughter”; and

    BECAUSE that same 2011 UUA Statement of Conscience expresses environmental concerns which include: “methane produced by animals, including but not limited to cattle, sheep, and pigs; and the long-distance transport of food. Expanding agriculture and animal farming often removes natural habitats and reduces natural biodiversity….[and] the deterioration of the oceans and their life forms due to overfishing and pollution”; and

    BECAUSE that same 2011 UUA Statement of Conscience expresses food and farm worker concerns which include: “low pay, poor and unsafe working conditions, exploitation of undocumented workers”;

    WHEREAS animals in CAFOs suffer horribly undergoing routine mutilations such as debeaking, castrations, dehorning, teeth grinding, tail docking and similar procedures all without benefit of anesthetics, being deprived of sunlight, fresh air, often the ability to move and to express any of their natural instincts;

    WHEREAS the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its 2006 report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” lists animal agriculture as one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions (more than the entire transportation sector) leading to climate change, as well as the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion (especially water and soil),

    WHEREAS the placement of CAFOs adversely affect the health of those humans living in the vicinity in terms of air and water quality, and their location disproportionately affects disadvantaged peoples in terms of land values and overall quality of life, and because the workers in these facilities (mostly low paid, poorly trained and poorly equipped workers who are predominantly persons of color and often undocumented immigrants) hold some of the most dangerous jobs in terms of worker safety according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration;

    WHEREAS there is no compelling reason for human health, the environment, or for workers, for the UUA to lend its support to industrial animal agriculture by purchasing and consuming its products at any UUA events;

    WHEREAS logical consistency and our own UU principles of compassion and justice, both environmental and social, call us to put our values into practice;

    THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 2014 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association calls upon delegates to urge the UUA to set the ethical example for our congregations by ensuring that the food offered at all future UUA events, including all future General Assemblies, is plant-based and free of all animal products.

    This would be a modest first step.

    • Thanks, Mark, for sharing your proposal here. In the spirit of inquiry encouraged by our deliberate inclusion of the question mark in the blog title, I am inspired to ponder this, and I share the following (rhetorical) thoughts…

      ~ Are there ways of interpreting the UUA Statement of Conscience and remaining true to the spirit of the 7th Principle, other than the one you describe above?
      ~ Are there not compassionate, humane alternatives to CAFO-produced products which could be sought out instead of taking the drastic step of eliminating all animal-based offerings at all UUA events?
      ~ Is it right for those of us who have chosen to eliminate animal products from our diet for personal reasons of individual ethics to impose that choice on others by restricting their options?

      I’d also recommend to anyone wishing to learn more about these issues to seek out reliable resources and information. (Personally, I recommend the books Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend, and The Ethics of What We Eat, by Peter Singer. These are among the myriad resources available which aim to educate by presenting this issue from the authors’ singular perspectives.)

      • Mark Causey says:


        Thanks for your thoughtful response. Forgive my replying to your rhetorical questions.

        I do not believe there is any “compassionate” or “humane” way to kill an animal for food or to treat “it” as a commodity for “its” products, especially when we (all of us reading this blog) have other options to adequately nourish ourselves in ways that do not require such usage. I found the references to “slaughter” and “butchering” quite jarring in Bob’s reflection in the context of compassion. I do not see how we can compassionately separate a newborn calf from its mother, for example, just so that we can take the milk intended for her.

        I understand ethics to be about the ways in which we treat each other and live together. Thus I do not see veganism as simply a “personal” or “individual” choice. We should not forget that the animals have a stake in this as well. A choice to eat animal products involves more than just the individual (human). Not only is the animal eaten involved but there are also serious environmental consequences that affect more than just that individual.

        Ultimately it is not about “imposing” choices on others, but rather about helping us all to live fully and consistently into our own values of compassion. We are already imposing our choices on animals and the environment.

        To the resources you mention, I would add Melanie Joy’s “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows”, and Hope Bohanec’s “The Ultimate Betrayal” (about which you can read a stellar review on Amazon written by yours truly).

        In the spirit of compassionate inquiry,

        • Mark, we know how strongly you feel about this, and we have a great deal of respect and admiration for your passionate stance in defense of our environment and all of the Earth’s inhabitants.  Because we do not feel that this is an appropriate forum for debate, and I wouldn’t begin to believe that anything I can offer would alter your heartfelt convictions, I will refrain from specific response to the points you’ve raised.  But I want to let you know how much we appreciate you having shared your perspective.  Feel free to respond to my rhetorical musings anytime the mood strikes you. 🙂

          Oh, and thank you very much for your suggestions on additional resources.

          Blessed be.

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