Like many folks, I lost work when the pandemic hit, and I turned to my community’s food pantry. The food they delivered was surprising in both quality and quantity. But I grew up on freezer food and microwave meals, and though I am Mexican-American, I had no idea what to do with a bag of dried beans. Then I found an incredible cookbook, Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing, whose author Luz Calvo writes, “Cooking a pot of beans from scratch is a revolutionary act that honors both our ancestors and future generations.”
In 2011, Unitarian Universalists adopted a Statement of Conscience entitled “Ethical Eating: Food & Environmental Justice,” which explained that the current American food culture harms the environment, animals, and humanity. Fertilizers and over-farming, pesticides and factory processes, and methane and fuel emissions pollute the air, water, and soil. Cows, pigs, and chickens are subject to sickening conditions in factory farms. From migrant farmers to slaughterhouse laborers, illness and injury are more common than the healthcare needed to treat them.
For those of us who eat industrially produced food, the harm is no less real. The unhealthy Western diet disproportionately affects the poor and brown peoples to whom it is historically new. In her book, Recovering the Sacred, Winona LaDuke notes: “By the end of the 20th century, one in eight Native Americans had diabetes, a rate that is twice that of the non-Indian population.”
Natural disasters due to climate change—and the war in Ukraine—are creating food shortages across the globe, with a disproportionate impact on Indigenous peoples and the crops they rely on.
Food, which should be life-giving, is killing us. We are all involved with the problem, which means each of us can affect the remedy. And lucky for us, food justice is also an incredible avenue for dismantling white supremacy, making this not just a struggle against climate change, but for climate justice. Predominantly white, well-off UUs can support our Indigenous neighbors as they fight against corporate seed patenting, overfishing, and land theft. We can support Latinx migrant worker efforts to gain adequate pay, citizenship, and industry standards that poison neither farmers nor consumers. We can follow the lead of Jewish and Muslim communities who are thoughtful about how livestock is killed, as in the Islamic practice of humane zabiha. In urban food deserts, or where healthy foods come from expensive stores, we can support community gardens.
When we honor and nourish the medicinal ecosystem of food, the soil will moisten and darken. The water will clear and flow. The air will dance and cleanse. If we restore what we have harmed, all will heal and flourish.