Encouraging people to eat less animal products and reduce food waste
Submitted by First Universalist Church in Minneapolis.
Four members of First Universalist Church were aware of the role of food issues in worsening greenhouse-gas emissions and created the Food Solutions Team in February 2020 as a part of the church’s Environmental Justice Committee. We launched the initiative “Honor the Earth and the Food We Love” to engage congregants in climate offsetting measures by eating less animal products and reducing food waste.
We chose to engage congregants in making these two changes:
- Minimize household food waste by improving meal planning and food storage
- Reduce household consumption of animal foods by substituting plant-based foods.
We know the high potential impact that congregant households can have by reducing their food waste and eating less meat and more plant foods. This impact has been verified by scientists as reported in the Project Drawdown analysis of the top 100 proposed climate solutions where food-waste reduction and plant-rich dietary substitutions are ranked #3 and #4.
Orchestrating our appeal was challenging. Some congregants did not understand the growing urgency of the climate crisis. The pandemic occurred right at the beginning of our appeal, so we pivoted to holding our sessions on Zoom, which meant we couldn’t gather and share food for over a year. With little attention by ministerial staff from the pulpit to climate issues, we were on our own to find ways to sound the alarm and recruit congregants to join us in our campaign to adopt food-based approaches to slowing the destabilization of the climate.
How congregants were engaged
We convened workshops on food waste and plant-rich eating. These included videos, lectures, and presentations by a professional vegetarian dietician, a county recycling professional with expertise in food waste, and a lay expert in the connection between food and climate change. We viewed and discussed the film Eating Our Way to Extinction. Participants pledged to make specific behavioral changes and to report their progress to the Food Solutions group.
We provided support to pledgers with periodic online gatherings to allow pledgers to share experiences, challenges, tips, and solutions.
We interviewed and videotaped 14 congregants and one church staff member about personal experiences reducing food waste and eating less meat and more plant foods. We produced a montage of the highlights of the interviews. These testimonials offered powerful accounts of how it felt to have made and honored their commitments on behalf of the climate. These testimonials have been used to promote and add to many of our programs.
We held five plant-based potluck gatherings to highlight the tastiness of vegan foods. All but one event was held outdoors. Each event featured a short educational interlude on some aspect of food waste or a plant-rich diet offered by a guest speaker. We had cooking demonstrations and talks by the owners of X-Marks and Wholesome Minnesota. We promoted these potluck events using several vehicles, including our Environmental Justice newsletter and the church’s weekly bulletin, embedding the recorded testimonials in our notices.
From March 2020 to December 2021, over 100 congregants participated in one or more Food Solutions programs. Although informal pledges were made at all ten programs, participants were asked to make written commitments and report follow-up results in five programs. Sixty-five participants submitted pledges identifying one or more specific actions they were prepared to take to eat less meat and more plant foods and/or to reduce food waste. Just over half of these pledgers reported taking 177 steps to curb meat intake and eat more plant foods and 135 actions to reduce food waste. Based on this participation, we believe we have succeeded in alerting many in our congregation to the climate impacts of foods.
We decided to engage youth in our congregation, so developed a curriculum for 6th graders in our Religious Education program. They will learn how all ingredients purchased, meals cooked and food wasted by their families profoundly affect the world’s climate. In each of the four lessons, they will learn about earth-friendly gardening and will cook a dish with others. They will be encouraged to eat less meat and more plant foods. Fun, professional teaching will be offered by collaborating with Midwest Food Connection, a Minneapolis firm. We are planning to make our curriculum available to other churches so they can replicate our model.
The 7th Principle of Unitarian Universalism instructs us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Improving the well-being of our planet through the Foods Solutions appeal was very much in keeping with our faith.
— Velma Wagner, Betsy Allis, Stan Sattinger, and Kira Berglund
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