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Ethical Eating

Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice

Prepared by Diane Reed


When the 2008 UUA General Assembly selected “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice” as our Association’s Congregational Study/Action Issue for 2008-2012, they created a delicious opportunity for congregations throughout North America, in their ongoing free and responsible search for truth, and quest to respect the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part. By holding a worship service on Ethical Eating, we join with hundreds of other UU congregations who have and are considering this theme. Perhaps this worship service will inspire organized study and action in our congregation, and, in turn, that the study and action might change our lives, local communities, our faith movement and this planet.

On an individual level, considering this topic may provide a means to understand the global reach of our personal decisions, and a means to make easy, tasty, affordable, nutritious food choices that fit with our individual ethical and spiritual values and our common principles.

On the congregational level, this consideration of Ethical Eating encourages our congregation to address some of the most challenging social issues of our time: hunger and malnutrition, free and fair trade, labor and exploitation, animal rights and human responsibilities, neocolonialism and globalization, environmental degradation and climate change.

On the Associational level, the study of Ethical Eating provides Association leaders direction in their efforts to build a more just and equitable society.

If you visit the Web site for this consideration, Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice  ( you will find a number of readings, resources and sermon excerpts about the topic, all of it food for thought.

For example, in a sermon by Rev. Mark Hayes Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County, State College, Pennsylvania, Hayes cites “Dorothy Blair, whose area of expertise is nutrition education, shared with me a draft of a paper on sustainable food systems from that vantage point. The paper enumerates six goals toward attaining a sustainable food system. They are:

1. Eat lower on the food chain (which would have positive impact on health, land use, water quality, and soil conservation.

2. Eat and act to promote good farming/fishing practices (that is, reward those who do it right)

3. Reduce food processing, packaging energy (by eating foods as close to their original fresh state as possible)

4. Reduce transportation energy (by eating locally produced meats, milk, grains, fruits, and vegetables whenever possible

5. Reduce food waste (by buying sparingly and using leftovers)

6. Eat for social justice (by supporting fair trade initiatives that promote fair prices and sustainable production practices).”

Hayes continues, “The way we eat also intersects with issues of trade, labor, neo-colonialism, and environmental justice. I encourage you to consider all of these in coming months.

I’d like to touch on one more area directly related to how we eat: hunger and malnutrition. We waste about 3,044 pounds of food per second in the United States. Each year 27% of US food produced for human consumption is lost at the retail, consumer and food service levels. Globally, 4.3 pounds of food are produced daily for every woman, man, and child on earth – enough to make all of us fat. Yet every year, six million children across the globe die as a result of hunger and malnutrition – one child dying of starvation or malnutrition every five seconds. Hunger and malnutrition are responsible for more deaths in the world than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the human right to food, to secure personal health and well-being. The United Nations member states have agreed to reach eight international “Millennium Goals” by the year 2015, the first of which calls for major reductions in poverty and hunger. It has been said that the one major obstacle to eradication of hunger is political will.”


After the three-year consideration of Ethical Eating including many of the issues raised by these ministers, the UUA issued a Call to Action to individuals and congregations

Individual Actions

Recognizing that individual circumstances vary, we aspire to buy, raise, and consume food for ourselves and our families that:

  • increases our proportionate 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 as responsibly farmed or harvested;
  • 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 and safe working environments;
  • contributes to social harmony by encouraging communal eating;
  • promotes health, consuming food in quantities that do not lead to obesity; and

We advocate for the benefit of animals, plants, food workers, the environment and humanity by:

  • purchasing fair-trade certified products as available.
  • asking food sellers and producers to label where their products come from to determine distance of transport and whether the products were irradiated or contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs);
  • pressing food sellers to require that their suppliers certify the humane treatment of animals;
  • supporting legislation that requires the labeling of products that are irradiated or contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), 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; and
  • protecting and encouraging organic food production and its producers.

Congregational Actions

As congregations, we aspire to:

  • provide and sell more plant-based, organic, locally produced, and fair trade foods at congregational events;
  • promote economic accessibility to safe, ethically produced food by organizing members to work for food justice through activities such as: urging grocery chains to locate stores in low income neighborhoods, supporting local food co-ops, 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, world hunger, gardening, food preparation, and nutrition;
  • become a Green Sanctuary—accredited and include ethical eating in programs;
  • advocate for healthful food for school and other institutional meals; and
  • engage in direct action in solidarity with workers and labor advocacy groups to support agricultural and food workers.