Resources for Sharing Information and Sparking Discussion About Vegetarian Issues With Your Congregation

A Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA) member, Charlie Talbert, shared this with the UFETA list the other day and I thought it was really well done and could be quite helpful for those that are interested. Please feel free to share with others.

Thanks for raising the vegetarian issue to your group. I’m happy to suggest some resources. Many who want to raise this topic in their congregation find that people often want to avoid the topic, which is unfortunate.

I was telling someone at GA last year about a workshop I had just attended at GA, with Doug Muder presenting. He’s a favorite Unitarian Universalist writer of mine. He made an analogy between effective advocacy and Captain Cook’s strategy for greeting island cultures that he discovered in the 1700s. Some of his crew would leave items of interest on the beach and row back out to their sailing ship. Afterwards the island inhabitants would cautiously approach the beach and investigate what the Europeans had offered them. They might then similarly leave items they considered valuable on the beach and retreat, giving the Europeans an opportunity to row back in and have a look. This careful, non-threatening approach facilitated communication and mutual understanding between these groups where who were wide apart in traditions, culture, and language.

As you probably know, some Unitarian Universalist congregations have experienced some controversy over the idea of banning meat in the congregation all together. I believe it’s ineffective to try to ban animal products at congregational functions. The suffering inherent in animal agriculture is too entrenched, too accepted by even Unitarian Universalists – who have a heritage of questioning traditions that institutionalize cruelty – to be challenged so directly.

Members of UFETA regularly share what’s going on in their congregations on this issue, and exchange information and ideas. Perhaps some members of your fellowship would be interested in joining the listserve. UFETA’s website is at http://www25.uua.org/ufeta/. Instructions for joining the listserve are at http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/ufeta

Advocacy can take two approaches that can be summed up by two words: unnecessary suffering.

It’s the “suffering” part that sometimes makes people squeamish. That’s why much of our denominational advocacy focuses on the “unnecessary” part – that shows a vegetarian diet can be tasty, satisfying, and healthy. We have presented “Cooking With The Compassionate Cooks” at my congregation here in Kenosha and one close by in Racine.

This DVD is upbeat, entertaining and full of information about nutrition, basic ingredients, and delicious but simple recipes. We have prepared some of the dishes demonstrated in the DVD and served them afterwards. We have also displayed the ingredients (e.g. tofu, seitan, tempeh) with information about where they can be obtained in our community.

The founder of Compassionate Cooks began her cooking classes at First Unitarian in Oakland when she was a member there. She is now well known in vegetarian cooking circles and has appeared on the Cooking Channel. You can see more information about her and her DVD at http://www.compassionatecooks.com/ .

Vegetarian food can be not only tasty and satisfying, it can be much healthier than a diet with animal products. People are increasingly accepting this, but the protein and other nutrient myths are still out there. No group I’m aware of challenges these myths more authoritatively than the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine. Their website offers a lot of useful nutritional information that can be downloaded or purchased for sharing with others www.pcrm.org/.

But showing the pleasures and health benefits of a vegetarian diet is not enough to persuade some people to consider their food choices. They like to eat animal products. They’re tolerant of those who don’t, but they don’t what to be “told what to do.” To them, this is a “freedom” issue, and freedom is fundamental to Unitarian Universalism. In my opinion, it’s an admirable “live and let live” ethic that – in this case – humans want to apply selectively: to themselves but not to other animals.

The moral issue is a sensitive one, but I believe it’s a legitimate one for religion to consider. In my observation, it’s usually the more conservative people who object to it the most, which is why Matthew Scully’s writings are so important.

Scully is a political conservative and former senior speechwriter for President Bush. His 2002 book, Dominion – The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, has influenced many people, including me. You can get an idea of his considerable writing abilities from his 2005 cover story “Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism – for Animals” for Patrick Buchanan‘s magazine, The American Conservative. www.matthewscully.com/fear_factories.htm. Our UFETA chapter has made this article available at our church. The word “conservative” can spark some curiosity in a UU congregation!

Our UFETA and Green Sanctuary chapters have also displayed this pamphlet www.veganoutreach.org/cc.pdf on their table. It has drawn attention particularly among our congregation’s younger members. Vegan Outreach is a primarily volunteer organization that hands out over a million of its pamphlets every year at colleges and high schools, primarily in the U.S. Its posters were used in the two-page advocacy ads that UFETA sponsored in the UU World in May 2006 and May 2007. (This May the UU World will have a statement signed by 40 or so Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians.) We also make available PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, which offers a concise overview of the issues and some very appealing pictures of veg food.

I would also recommend the DVD Peaceable Kingdom. It has influenced a number of people in our congregation, including our minister and her partner, who went from vegetarian to vegan after seeing it. It’s produced by Tribe of Heart www.tribeofheart.org/, and its other film, The Witness, is also outstanding. You can see a trailer for the yet to be released newest version of Peaceable Kingdom at www.tribeofheart.org/tohhtml/pk3previewhome.htm. Tribe of Heart is not distributing the older versions any longer.

If your fellowship has Christian members, then I would recommend materials from the Christian Vegetarian Association www.all-creatures.org/cva/ . Its DVD “Honoring God’s Creation” is wonderful. It includes Fr. John Dear, a board member of the CVA who coincidentally will be speaking at GA in Ft. Lauderdale on Jesus and the question of peace.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations provide lay led services. If yours does, then members in your fellowship may want to use the opportunity to provide a sermon. Some of these are available at the UFETA website under the “Resources” tab.

As you may know, one of two Study Action Issues that the GA is currently considering for 2008-2011 is “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice”. If it is selected as an SAI, this would present an excellent opportunity for discussion in your fellowship. You can find more information about it at www.uua.org/socialjustice/issuesprocess/currentissues/55648.shtml

Thanks for taking the time to raise this very important issue in your congregation.

-By Charlie Talbert, May 2008

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