Resolution 4: Better Food and Farming

Resolved, That for the good of people, the Earth, and all living creatures, the 169th Convention of the Diocese of California supports better farming practices and healthier diets;

Resolved, That this Convention encourages all congregations to help people make mindful, informed food choices in their daily lives, generally, and for church events, specifically; with such recommended food choices designed to support optimal human health, an unpolluted, diverse and vibrant ecology, and high animal welfare;

Resolved, That this Convention recognizes that because individuals have vastly different cultures, nutritional needs, and preferences, no one diet should be dictated, while the vilification of particular foods is misleading and unhelpful;

Resolved, That eating daily meals and at church events is an opportunity for practicing radical hospitality and should be regarded as a time for pause, refreshment, and communion with our fellow humans, for the joy of partaking of the bounty of the earth, and for nourishing body and soul;

Resolved, That congregations should assist people in identifying and prioritizing the best food choices, under the following guidelines:  Food should be nourishing, minimally processed, farmed in ecologically sensitive and humane ways, and to the greatest extent possible, come from the surrounding region; and

Resolved, That the Secretary of the Convention is directed to make a copy of this resolution available to all congregations within the Diocese.

Explanation:  A growing number of people in the US and around the world are inflicted with diet-related diseases.  At the same time, agriculture has steadily increased as a source of environmental contamination.  People’s dietary choices can have a dramatic effect on their individual health and can help improve farming methods by financially supporting farms, ranches and food companies that are engaged in ecologically sound practices.  

This dire situation has led some to call for a reduction in consumption of meat, especially red meat, as a solution.  However, more and more evidence suggests that foods derived from animals are not harmful to human health and are invaluable to maintaining a healthy weight.1 At the same time, some the world’s leading soil scientists and rangeland scientists now advocate that soil health is the single most important factor in agriculture’s contribution to climate change and that well-managed grazing animals are vital to creating and maintaining optimal soils.  According to UC Berkeley biology professor Lynn Huntsinger, nearly half of the earth’s land surface cannot be used for crop production but is well-suited for grazing, making grazing animals (animals from which dairy and red meat are derived) indispensable to feeding the world’s population.

Because of the indispensible benefits of grazing animals (cattle, sheep, goats, and bison, among others), Richard Young of the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust urges that red meat is actually a far better choice for the environment than pork, poultry or fish.2 

There is a growing body of research supporting the conclusion that the world's rangelands are an invaluable component of climate-friendly agriculture.  In July 2018, UC Davis released a study concluding that California's grasslands are actually more effective carbon sinks than woodlands.3 Most of California's grasslands exist and are maintained because of grazing.  Without cattle, many of these lands would be developed into parking lots, housing, and strip malls, and they would be less biologically active and diverse from the ground up. 

Mainstream media coverage presents a vastly over-simplified view of what is actually an extremely complex question.  We must take a holistic, systems view.  Farm animals, like all parts of agriculture, can cause environmental damage when improperly managed.  But well-managed animals are a key part of an ecologically optimal food system. This point was brought home by a watershed analysis in 2016 in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation when several of the world’s leading rangeland and soil scientists collaborated to argue that well-managed grazing actually has the potential to effectively reduce climate change impacts from the food system.4

Submitted By: St. Aidan’s, Bolinas; Nicolette Hahn Niman, Alternate Delegate (nicolettehahn@yahoo.com); Nancy Zacher, Delegate, St. Aidan’s, Bolinas.

Notes:

  1. See, for example, a July 2018 peer-reviewed study that found dairy fat has no link to heart disease and other problems and provides various health benefits. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180711182735.htm, and a July 2018 op-ed by a cardiologist urging that carbohydrates are the true culprit in heart disease:  https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jul/8/fatty-foods-dont-cause-heart-disease-bread-and-pas/  "The mistaken belief that fats cause heart disease stems from weak, outdated research," he notes.
  2. https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/red-meat/?5cZ
  3. “The Role of Ruminants in Reducing Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint in North America,”  http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.refs
  4. [See “The Role of Ruminants in Reducing Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint in North America,”  http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.refs] In short, “It’s not the COW, it’s the HOW.”

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