The Eating Conscience


At our 2008 annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association held in Fort Lauderdale, the delegates selected one issue to be the study and action issue for 2008 – 2012.

Our process, for about the last decade, has been to select just one issue every two years. The selected issue is then the subject of nationwide focus among Unitarian Universalists for the next four years. We always have two issues before us at any given time. We are always in the first two years of one issue while in the last two years of a second issue.

For instance, the issue for 2006-2010 was “Creating Peace” (for the Statement of Conscience that resulted, click here).
The issue for 2004-2008 was “Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society” (for the resulting Statement of Conscience: click here).

Five proposed issues were on the ballot in Fort Lauderdale. The one that emerged with a majority of votes was: “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.”

For the next three years, Unitarian Universalists across the country engaged in various study and action, utilizing a resource guide assembled by the Unitarian Universalist Commission on Social Witness, and other resources they found or created. Through debate and discussion at the 2009 General Assembly in Salt Lake City, and the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, Unitarian Universalists worked toward articulating our stance.

Last summer, at our 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, a draft Statement of Conscience was further debated, amended, revised, and ultimately approved by much more than the required two-thirds of all delegates. (Read the Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience: click here.)

One product of our four-year process has been the creation of a wonderful and helpful website:
ethicaleating.uua.org. Check it out!

Our own – and my own -- Rev. LoraKim Joyner was active in that process from the beginning. She now serves on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s President’s Advisory Council for Ethical Eating.

(See lorakimjoyner.com)

I was on the Core Team that shepherded the Ethical Eating issue through many hours of “Mini-Assemblies” at our 2009, 2010, and 2011 General Assemblies. Those Mini-Asemblies voiced and heard information, reasoning, concerns; considered and debated and amended the language of the Statement of Conscience that would ultimately go to the floor for the entire General Assembly to further debate and amend.

It was a bit tough going for a while. People really didn't know what to do with the nonhuman animal piece - how do we care for them, and also care for all the human animals? We understood that environmental justice was the predominant issue -- which means not relegating the less powerful and privileged to unhealthy environments. It was like people had to choose humans over nonhumans, or had to choose to choose for themselves or for others people. Everyone was wondering if they would have to give up grandma’s special recipe that had been in the family for generations.

By the time we came to amend the statement, things had shifted. We had mixed our conversation about ethical eating in with our learnings about Compassionate Communication which helps us stay engaged when we are uncomfortable, triggered, and in conflict. And we had done the religious work.

You see it’s not about making a well articulated argument or gathering all the information we possibly could to convince someone else. It’s about opening our hearts to let in enough beauty, and enough tragedy. So people weren't so worried about the animal piece or dictating diet rules for anyone. Instead there was a sense of living into the question: How do we help each other live meaningful lives interconnected to all of life, preserving as much life as possible?

Unitarian Universalists do not have a univocal answer to that question. We still don’t. What has happened in the last three and half years is that we have lived into that question. A little.

Ethical Eating is complicated. It is a hot enough of a topic to sear the soul. But that’s just about the right temperature so that together we can whip up a heck of a batch of good eats – good for us and good for the planet.

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Part 1 of "Consuming Passions" (Rev. Meredith Garmon and Rev. LoraKim Joyner)
Next: Part 2: LoraKim: "Planet Chalice: Children's Story"

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