In the words of UU minister Rev. David Bumbaugh, "The Seventh Principle represents our peculiar contribution to the religious agenda. It calls us to reverence the world, not some future world, but this miraculous world of our everyday experience." Cheryl will share her belief that truly living this radical principle would mean approaching our eating with a sense of deep respect. What would that mean to you?
The complete sermon can be read below:
It seems to me that among my circle of friends and family people are, more than ever, asking themselves some pretty challenging questions about their food choices — and struggling to find answers they can live with.
Perhaps the real question is this: What does it mean to eat ethically, especially if some of our values and priorities conflict with one another?
In a talk given by R
ev. Michael Schuler entitled “The Welcome Table, Common Ground in Ethical Eating” he writes: “For as John Franklin observes, ethics reflects our resolve to stay in tune with the world. I like that definition. Ethics reflects our resolve to stay in tune with the world. And because the act of eating does connect us most essentially with the world we inhabit, every forkful makes a statement about who we are and what we care about. And this requires us not only to choose what will work, but also what is right.”
This is a question that we all, as Unitarian Universalists, grapple with. How can we best demonstrate our respect for the interdependent web of existence with a goal of creating greater justice and equity in the world.
Novelist and farmer Barbara Kingsolver writes, "The decision to attend to the health of one's habitat and the food chain is a religious, a spiritual choice. Yes, it's also a political choice, a scientific choice, a personal, and a convivial choice. But it's also a spiritual choice. And the good news is that more and more people every year are catching on to this, and we are beginning to see more clearly the connection between eating, the quality of life we enjoy, the clarity of purpose, the experience of connection that we all crave."
Ethical eating as a spiritual choice – Yes and as a spiritual discipline. At least this is how I see it. A spiritual discipline. While the word discipline may want to make you run and hide, I believe that a spiritual discipline is meant to help us find our center.
Some of us believe that it is ethical to only eat plants while others of us believe that it is ethical to eat both plants and animals. Though I have my preference, I am not suggesting a single dietary approach. Because the truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect meal. And there’s virtually no way to eat 100 percent ethically and sustainably all the time.
What I would encourage is a heightened awareness of what we eat, why, and how our food choices affect the planet and its inhabitants.
Starting in 2011, UUs across the country committed to engage with eating as an ethical issue.
Delegates to the UUA General Assembly (GA) in Charlotte, NC, adopted the Statement of Conscience “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice”. The statement is comprehensive, calling Unitarian Universalists to strive to choose foods that minimize harm and are protective of the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in food production and distribution.
It’s not always easy figuring out how to eat ethically. Here’s how American author Lisa Scottoline describes her dilemma in her story she calls Eggistential.
“I have a problem to solve and I’m not talking about something really hard, like programming a VCR or marriage. I’m talking about what to eat. I used to eat everything including red meat - hamburgers, steaks, the whole thing and I loved rare roast beef with extra Russian dressing.
But the day Francesca was born and we started going to the petting zoo that had the cutest calf in the world. Brown eyes like melted Hershey Kisses, spongy nose as pink as the inside of a conch shell. In no time I’m naming the calf and visiting it way more than I should. After a time I felt too guilty to eat red meat.
As you know I have these chicks. They need a special fence with a top to protect them from hawks and stuff and so while the fence gets built I sit and watch over them like a chicken security guard. Now I can’t eat chicken. First off, they’re all cute plus they do cute things. They make adorable peeps and coos and each chick has a different personality. Buttercup is a show-off, Yum-Yum bosses everyone around and Josephine never shuts up.
So now I can’t eat red meat or chickens. I even look at eggs funny. Is a yolk a future Yum-Yum? When does chick life begin?
I’m not preaching at you, because I’m not even morally consistent. My car has leather seats and I own a leather jacket and I buy leather shoes by the boatload.
And tofu isn’t the answer because I’ve done everything possible with tofu. I rotate teriyaki sauce, soy and ginger sauce and even tomato sauce which could cause me to forfeit my Italian American credentials if it should come to light.
I make protein shakes but they’re going out of style and now I’m even getting sick of chocolate.
What should I do?
All I know is one thing. I’m not getting a goldfish.”
Personally, I have been a vegetarian for the past 30 years based on the following three considerations –
1) The Environment – Animal agriculture as an industry is responsible for at least a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It uses huge amounts of water. 2,500 gallons to produce one pound of beef. And deforestration to create grazing space for cattle is to me, just morally wrong.
2) Humane treatment of animals. Industrial agriculture denies animals even a minimally decent life, and
3) My connection to other animals and I would say especially to other mammals. If I have a soul, I suspect that other animals also possess a soul and one thing I know for sure is that, like me, other animals are intelligent beings.
To make things clear to anyone who asked, I would simply say: “I don’t eat anything with a face.”
For years, holiday dinners were strictly vegetarian. Still, I wrestled with whether or not it was ethical to continue eating cheese and eggs. I justified the eating of both in relation to the protein I would derive from these sources.
A couple of years ago, my conscience allowed me to include scallops in my diet because, I rationalized that scallops don’t have a face. When I started eating scallops it made things a little easier around family dinners.
A few months ago I broadened my fish consumption to include salmon which I find delectable. Again, I justify this with a consideration of the healthy benefits of salmon. Having had a health scare not too long ago, I thought that adding fish to my diet might be a healthy step to take. As well, while vacationing in the Florida Keys it makes eating out a whole lot easier.
But I am not happy with the fact that these fish have been killed and have felt pain so that I could enjoy them. My conscience is not clear. As Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Which is probably just as well. What my conscience dictates is not necessarily what your conscience will make room for.
Tom Regan, American philosopher who specializes in animal rights theory has this to say:
"In general, the most powerful forces in Western culture both religious and cultural, have combined to direct food choices towards animals and animal products. The cultural paradigm is animals exist for us. Why else would they be here? Every time an individual overcomes these forces and chooses instead to eat with knowledge and compassion, the power of one is demonstrated. It is as if that person has managed to swim up Niagara Falls. Every time this happens it is an inspiration.”
Whether we choose to eat animals or not I’m thankful for people like Jo-Anne McArthur, a Canadian photojournalist, humane educator, animal rights activist and author. She is known for her “We Animals” project, and for being the primary subject of the 2013 documentary by that name. I heard her speak at Durham Life Long Learning this past fall and was extremely impressed by her dedication to the project.
Drawn from thousands of photos taken over fifteen years, “We Animals” illustrates and investigates animals in the human environment: whether they're being used for food, fashion and entertainment, or research, or are being rescued to spend their remaining years in sanctuaries. Jo-Anne provides valuable lessons about our treatment of animals, makes animal industries visible and accountable, and widens our circle of compassion to include all sentient beings.
All of that is great for animals but what about our moral responsibility to plants?
Rebecca Rupp a PHD in cell biology and biochemistry and writer for National Geographic wrote an article entitled Ethical Eating: The Plants (and animals) are watching u. She asks - “Are some things too smart to eat?"
Maybe. Most of us aren’t comfortable at the thought of chowing down on such bright sparks as dolphins, chimpanzees, kangaroos or border collies. Then there are pigs, which researchers point out are inquisitive, attentive, social, and (relatively) sharp as tacks. And what about the octopus, which can outwit mazes, solve puzzles, and open the caps on child-proof pill bottles, a skill that eludes a lot of otherwise competent human adults?
But there’s also a whole other realm to consider: the plant kingdom. Are plants just so dim-witted that vegetarians are off the ethical hook?
Not so fast. Plants, it turns out, are smarter than they look.
Botanist Daniel Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows writes worrisomely, “Plants see if you come near them; they know when you stand over them. They even know if you’re wearing a blue or a red shirt. They know if you’ve painted your house or if you’ve moved their pots from one side of the living room to the other.”
If so, this certainly means that they know when they’re being picked and turned into ratatouille. Tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers and zucchinis; They’ve all got an eye on us. It’s an unsettling thought.
Attempting to eat ethically today can seem like peeling off the layers of a very large onion. You answer one question and there's another question beneath it, and another question beneath that.
To keep things simple, the following are straightforward goals that make sense to me taken from a paper on sustainable food systems by Dorothy Blair.
There’s no need to drive yourself crazy. But you might find greater peace of mind if you apply some kind of ethical view toward what you eat. I find that there is satisfaction in being an informed consumer. I invite you to consider ethical eating as a spiritual choice – Yes and as a spiritual discipline.
Read sermons by: