Food matters for personal, public, and planetary well-being
The call for a just, sustainable, compassionate world food system has never been louder. Scientific writings and popular media link our food production and distribution systems to climate change and the energy crisis, and uncover deep-seated problems with our agricultural infrastructure. The connections among environmental concerns, economic justice, social justice, and food are direct and intricate. Many people are calling for politicians, business leaders, the agriculture industry, and religious institutions to assume more responsibility for the planet’s health. Ordinary people—not just environmentalists or those working for social justice and rights issues, but people who are busy balancing issues of everyday living—are recognizing that the true cost of food is far greater than what we pay at the register. Costs include global warming, pollution, destruction of ecosystems, degradation of the fresh water supply, and degradation of arable land.
Destruction of Ecosystems
Degradation of the Fresh Water Supply
Degradation of Arable Land
Questions for Individual/Group Reflection
Books and Articles
Jacobson, Michael F., and the Staff of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Six Arguments for a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-Based Diet Could Save Your Health and the Environment.Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2006. There is a tremendous amount of well-researched, well-documented, accessible information in this book that points the way to a more environmentally friendly diet. With a strong focus on environmental issues, the authors seek to protect our planet and our health as they address the costs of our current system of agriculture to the environment, our health, and to animals. It clearly illustrates that concerns about the most efficient use of resources, food safety, human costs rights, and animal mistreatment cannot be separated from the environmental issues. The book is particularly useful because it dedicates two chapters to making change: changing our diets and changing the government policies that promote the current unsustainable industrial agricultural system on which most of us depend for our food.
Singer, Peter, and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. St. Martin’s Press, 2007. This easily readable discussion of the impact of our food choices examines the grocery shopping habits of three very different American families and the ethical issues their choices raise. Without preaching, the authors explore issues of the environment, social justice, cruelty, and corporate deception. Clear analysis of the environmental concerns created by current industrialized food production and distribution practices make these issues easy to navigate. Of particular interest is the discussion of the environmental impact of food production on climate change, and on the health of our land and water resources. Careful attention is paid to the human cost of our food – including treatment of employees, child labor, forced labor, and cultural disruption. The enlightening discussion of food labels such as “Animal Care Certified” and “Organic” is very helpful as well. The complicated issues of whether to buy “farmed” or wild fish, “local” or “organic”, and “fair trade” or “free trade” are adeptly managed.
Pollan, Michael. “Farmer in Chief.” New York Times Magazine. 12 October 2008. 62- 71,92. www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html. In a open letter to the next president, Pollan lays out a policy to decrease the dependence of the food industry on oil, decentralize the food system and make more secure the food, and rebuilding America’s food culture. It is a comprehensive summary of how our food system was derailed, damaging our environment, our health and our economy. It’s an excellent catalyst for discussion.
Six-session course focusing on the connection between food and sustainability; use the link above, or see a sample here. In addition, Menu for the Future course books are available through a partnership with UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) and help to support the work of UUMFE.
Bartlett, Andrew Kang. “Energy, Food and You: On the Path to Reconciliation.” Church and Society. March/April 2004: 17 – 30.
Written by an Associate for National Hunger Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, this engaging article addresses the huge cost to our planet of the current industrial agricultural system. It offers sound arguments for a sustainable global (and local) food system. The system he advocates provides an excellent point from which to start a meaningful discussion of the whys and hows of sustainable, ethical ways to meet food demands with less impact on the planet and its inhabitants.
Brown, Lester. Plan B 3.0., Chapter 2. “Deteriorating Oil and Food Security,” Earth Policy Institute, 2008. The author relates how in the 20th century, a “fast growing supply of cheap oil led to an explosive worldwide growth in food production, population, urbanization, and human mobility.” In years to come, “Food will become more costly as higher oil prices drive up production and transport costs…. Diets will thus become more attuned to local products and more seasonal in nature.”
Co-op America. “Good Food: The Joy, Health, and Security of It,” Co-op America Quarterly. Summer 2003 (60). 3-18. This issue focuses on food choices for change as it examines how we can create a more sustainable food economy and a healthy environment. It provides highly practical information, including how to help low income families access good food, get healthy food in to our schools, and eat lower on the food chain. The benefits of organic and/or local food and food labeling are addressed.
Energy Bulletin, energybulletin.net
This clearinghouse for information regarding the peak in global energy supply publishes news, research, and analysis concerning energy production, articles regarding implications of peak oil, and a range of information about preparedness for peak energy.
Fritz, Hull, ed., Earth and The Spiritual Dimension of the Environmental Crisis, Continuum, 1993. This is a collection of essays, including one by Miriam Therese MacGillis on “Food as Sacrament” (p. 159-166) that helps us to view environmental issues through a spiritual lens.
Heinberg, Richard, Peak Everything, Chapter 2. “Fifty Million Farmers.” New Society Publishers, 2007.
The author suggests that the future may be like “a time not long ago when famine was an expected, if not accepted, part of life.” In a future with diminishing fossil fuels, “we will need far more knowledge and muscle power devoted to food production…[which] could mean the revitalization not only of democracy, but of the family and of authentic, place-based culture.”
Heinberg, Richard, “Threats of Peak Oil to the Global Food Supply.” 2005 Conference paper.
“Food is energy. And it takes energy to get food. These two facts, taken together, have always established the biological limits to the human population….The transition to a fossil fuel-free food system … is an immense challenge and will call for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society. But in the end it is the only rational option for averting human calamity on a scale never before seen.”
Heinberg, Richard, “Will the End of Oil Be the End Of Food?” www.alternet.org/environment/41023/
Richard Heinberg, peak oil expert, discusses what he calls our “fatal dependence on oil” and discusses directions toward sustainability that some farmers are taking. With comments.
National Council of Churches of Christ Eco Justice Programs. Sacred Food: Sunday School and Group Activities for Youth. www.nccecojustice.org/resources.html#foodandfarmingresources
A resource for use in religious education classes or other youth group activities, this book examines the miracle of our food and the interference of all God’s creation.
Nestle, Marion. What to Eat. North Point Press. 2006.
A nutritionist guides the reader though the labeling labyrinth and addresses many of the practical conundrums we face when trying to make healthy, sustainable, and compassionate food choices.
Pearce, Fred. Confessions of an Eco Sinner: Travels to Find Where My Stuff Comes From. 25 Feb 2008. Boston: Beacon Press. On his travels, Pearce examines the environmental, social, and economic costs of his “stuff.”
Ronald, Pamela C. and Raoul W. Adamchak. Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food. Oxford University Press, 2008.
This well-reviewed book suggests that merging genetic engineering and organic farming offers our best shot at truly sustainable agriculture. The authors have a strong sense of both the wonder of the natural world and awareness that if treated with respect and carefully managed, it can remain a source of inspiration and provision of our daily needs.
Sierra Club. “2008 Faith Report: Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet.” Sierra Club presents its first national report on the environmental engagement of communities of faith, The inspiring report highlights one exceptional faith-based environmental initiative from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Several UU congregations are mentioned.
Schut, Michael (ed.). Food & Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread. Church Publishing Incorporated. 2006.
A broad perspective from an ecumenical, Christian, environmental non-profit group, this anthology of essays and wisdom comes from many thoughtful people including Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, John Robbins, Thomas Moore, and Donella Meadows. Diverse and relevant topics as spirituality and food, genetically modified food, the industrialization of agriculture and its impact on the economy and the environment, food politics and hunger are discussed. It has a useful study guide.
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” FAO Magazine. Nov. 2006 www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm. This summary of a longer report discusses the complex impact of livestock on the environment and discusses its role as a major cause of serious environmental concerns including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, cultural disruption, and loss of biodiversity. It addresses the challenge of reconciling the rapidly increasing global demand for animal food products with finite environmental resources.
Well-Fed World. “Issues: World Bank and IFIs” www.wellfedworld.org/worldbank.htm
Discusses the threats of the Bertin Project in Brazil in which acres of rainforest will be cut down to graze beef cattle.
A Life Connected. Nonviolence United.
Gently describes impact of animal agriculture on the planet, its people, and its animals. 12 minutes.
The Future of Food. www.thefutureoffood.com
Documentary investigating the implications of unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered food for consumer health, small farmers worldwide, and the environment. Shot in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the film argues for organic, sustainable agriculture as an alternative to producing food through multinational corporations.
King Corn. Documentary about corn subsidies, two friends, and one acre of corn. 90 minutes. Available from www.bullfrogfilms.com or (800) 543-3764
“The Meatrix I”, The Meatrix II”, and “The Meatrix II ½.” This award-winning animated trilogy discusses factory farming, the dairy industry, and sustainability. Each piece is a fairly short 2 to 5 minutes. Includes cartoon violence. www.meatrix.com
Beyond Organic. Documentary about a farm and its long battle to survive in the face of rapid suburban development. It contrasts community supported agriculture and conventional chemical farming, and reviews principles of organic farming including fair labor practices, as their farms grow in size and power. 33 minutes www.bullfrogfilms.com or
Sierra Club Sustainable Consumption Committee. The True Cost of Food. Sierra Club. San Francisco. 2004. http://www.truecostoffood.org, 15 minutes. This animated DVD examines environmental, social, compassion, health, and other issues related to the cost, ethical and otherwise, of how we produce and buy our food. It is appropriate for children.
We Feed the World. Vividly reveals the profound problems of the industrialized world food system. 96 minutes. www.bullfrogfilms.com or (800) 543-3764
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. www.powerofcommunity.org, 2 hours, 7 minutes. Focuses on responses to the depletion of fossil fuels, including discussion of sustainable agriculture as an alternative to the fossil fuel intense methods of “conventional” farming.
Broken Limbs: Apples, Agriculture and the New American Farmer www.brokenlimbs.org 60 minutes. Second-generation apple farmers spend two years documenting how American small and family owned orchards have been overcome by “increasingly untrustworthy” corporations, and the hope to be found in sustainable agriculture. An ultimately upbeat film, it outlines ways in which any individual can play a role in saving America’s small, local farmers.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. www.cspinet.org/
Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a watchdog and strong advocate for nutrition and health, accurate labeling, and food safety.
Coop America . www.coopamerica.org
Focused on economic action for a just planet, this organization sponsors a Climate Action Campaign that includes reducing one’s food footprint.
Eat Your Greens. www.grist.org A weekly e-newsletter with a focus on environmental politics and policy.
FEED (Food & Environment Electronic Digest) www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/feed/
A free monthly email newsletter designed to keep consumers up-to-date on food production and safety issues.
Food Ethics Council. www.foodethicscouncil.org
The non-profit Food Ethics Council, based in the UK, challenges government, business, and society to make wise choices that lead to better food and farming. Of particular interest are links to innovation in agriculture, food distribution, an ethical agenda, and sustainable food distribution.
The Food Project www.thefoodproject.org/blast/internal1.asp?ID=422. Well-rounded list of films and videos for youth and young adults that focus on food and agriculture.
Grace Factory Farm Project www.factoryfarm.org
Project of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. Aims to replace factory farming in with a healthful, humane, ecologically viable, economically sound food production system.
KC Food Circle.
A good list of online food, ecojustice, and sustainability resources.
Food Fights. New York Times Magazine, 12 Oct. 2008. The focus of this issue of the magazine is food. Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Robert Kenner, and others address a wide variety of food issues, remaking the way we eat, an emerging Jewish food movement that considers sustainability, and a controversial Gates Foundation effort to improve agriculture in Africa.
A publication of the Organic Consumers Association, this twice-per-month email newsletter offers useful news related to justice, sustainability and health.
Presbyterian Church (USA). “How Much Does Your Burger Cost?” www.pcusa.org/food/issues.htm#burger
Discusses the water, grain, and environmental cost of a hamburger. Has very useful links to resources about food and the environment.
Prevent Climate Change: Farmers Markets.
Provides insight into the importance of supporting your local environment and shopping at farmers’ markets including low food miles and less CO2 emissions.
Resources for reducing impact of food choices on the environment, Activist Toolkit, SCC Book Reviews, Bibliography, Food and Energy Factsheets, Articles, Links, and Environmental Resources.
Reviews problems resulting from agriculture's impact on our environment including climate change, pollution, soil depletion, and water contamination. Outlined: pollution, effects of certain farming techniques, etc.
Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth. “Beyond Science: Ethical Religious Dimensions of Global Warming. June 2006. uuministryforearth.org/globalwarming/BeyondScienceGA2006.pdf.
Donald, Director of the Pennsylvania Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Study, examines the ethical implications of climate change. Presented at UU General Assembly June 2006.
“Global Warming.” Well-fed World. www.wellfedworld.org/globalwarming.htm.
Summary of UNFAO Report on the impact of animal agriculture, climate change, and anticipated effects on global hunger.
Earth Ministry www.earthministry.org
Programs to inspire and mobilize Christian Communities to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future. Their resource on this topic, Food and Faith: Justice, Joy, and Daily Bread includes a study guide for groups and individuals.
Forum on Religion and Ecology
This is the largest international interfaith project of its kind. With its conferences, publications, and website it is engaged in exploring religious worldviews, texts, and ethics in order to broaden understanding of the complex nature of current environmental concerns.
Water Footprint is a tool for people and groups to look at the amount of water they use.
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