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Letters, Summer 2007
Readers respond to the Spring 2007 issue.
I was so pleased to see your Spring 2007 cover story “Ethical Eating” by Amy Hassinger. My family has been moving in the same direction as the Hassinger household over the past several years, and I completely agree with Hassinger’s assessment that the “persistence and . . . dogged dedication” required to eat ethically can be rewarded by great joy.
At my UU congregation I have been trying to draw attention to the issues that Hassinger raises for some time, and have been frustrated and puzzled by the lack of interest shown by ministers and staff as well as church members. People who may be passionately committed to social justice and public health do not seem to want to extend these energies to examining their own food choices or the choices of their religious community. I was glad to hear that other UU congregations are showing more interest in supporting local foodsheds. I hope your article will help move my own congregation further in that direction.
Claire I. Viadro
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
I found myself questioning Hassinger’s interpretation of the Seventh Principle (“Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”). In our culture and in this context, it is impossible to conflate the concepts of “respect” and “slaughter” without serious denial. How can we ethically live our Seventh Principle without being vegetarian or vegan? How can we revere the miracle of all life, including every cow, and pig, and chicken, and fish—and also butcher them? Respect for our web, our world, demands that we adopt an ethical position of care and compassion for all the resources and wonders of our planet: the soil, the water, the air, and the animals.
Fredonia, New York
While much of Hassinger’s article was accurate, I think there were some misleading statements. Eating locally is good. Vegetarianism is good. However, taking the present agricultural production system back in time is not always good for people, animals, or the environment. Most of the nitrogen pollution of our waterways comes from the manure of cattle. The worst way to handle manure is to have cattle running loose on a pasture. Even though some cattle confinement systems look bad to the romantic eye, it is actually better for the environment, health of the cattle, and production of safe food.
Unitarian Universalism has been my adopted religion when pressed to give a religion. However, as a veterinarian, I sometimes get disturbed because of the attitudes toward animals (including pets) and agriculture that are based on romantic, back-to-the-earth philosophies instead of on facts.
Judith B. Harvey, V.M.D.
Hassinger undermines the case for eating locally when she invokes a false history of American agriculture. While small farms certainly predominated before 1900, cash crop farming and consumption of food with distant origins were widespread by then. American farmers have always been capitalists seeking to escape mere subsistence. Thus eighteenth-century Pennsylvania farmers turned corn into saleable whisky and their nineteenth-century Vermont counterparts shifted to dairy when railroads linked them to Boston. Refrigerated freight cars (1867) brought a cornucopia of vegetables and citrus from sunny climes to the cold north. And by the 1880s, Chicago’s corporate meatpackers had supplanted local wholesale meat cutters throughout the East.
When we recognize this 200-year capitalist farming, food processing, and marketing history, we have a better framework for understanding how farmers and processors respond to markets, and thus how we as consumers can foster change.
“Ethical Eating” showed an insensitivity to class issues. It implied that those who can afford to spend twice as much for organic local food are the ethical people. Not everyone can afford the time or money to shop at the co-op or at the farmer’s market. Not everyone has the time or space to grow vegetables. Why is it OK for many families to drive 45 minutes for organic meat, but it’s not OK to have vegetables for many families transported by one truck?
I’d like to thank the Rev. Charlotte Shivvers, minister emerita of the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society, for a sermon, “Eating Our Way Through the Interdependent Web,” that played a crucial role in generating the idea for my cover story. Her invaluable advice also pointed me toward several of the sources I referenced in the article.
Galen Guengerich wrote an excellent article (“The Heart of Our Faith,” Spring 2007), but I respectfully disagree with his opinion that Unitarian Universalism should be defined by gratitude. A state of gratitude is a state of complacency. It will not help us fulfill our mission of promoting our principles. Our faith should be defined by wisdom.
Guengerich’s article brought back memories of my playground speech about my Universalist Church. When asked what my church taught and what I believed I would answer, “I believe that God is love, Jesus is a teacher and a friend, people are inherently good, there is truth I know and more I will know, service is required of me to live my faith, and in the end all will be well.” I learned as an adult that what I had understood was the Universalist Washington Avowal of Faith also known as the 1934 Bond of Union. And, in keeping with Guengerich’s assertion that gratitude should be the center of our Unitarian Universalist faith, I feel deep gratitude for my Universalist faith and for my teachers who gave me the words to express it so well when I was young.
Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong
Guengerich’s insightful analysis of gratitude could actually make it easier to find common ground between theists and humanists. Gratitude, as he articulates it, fits a wide range of UU philosophies, and it blends beautifully with our appreciation of the interdependent web of life. Let’s continue to learn from widely varied worldviews, while celebrating the positive values we share.
Rev. Chris Schriner,
The article “Help for Anxious Parents” (Spring 2007) offers some unique and valuable perspectives. However, one of the examples in the sidebar contains dangerous information about electrical shock. In “Home Safety,” the text implies electrical outlets and sockets are the same. They are not, and they pose different hazards. An outlet is the thing on the wall where you plug in a cord. A socket is where you screw in a light bulb. It’s rather unlikely a child would insert one finger from each hand into a light socket. However, an outlet presents a very different hazard. It’s easy to insert two paper clips, one into each slot, and it’s likely to be done with two hands. This can be lethal.
Canandaigua, New York
PURPOSES & PRINCIPLES
The proposed Purposes of the Association presented in UUA President William G. Sinkford’s column (“Our Calling,” Spring 2007) read like they were composed by a committee of old people. Too many syllables, no sense of action, and no passion. If the Purposes are to gain familiarity among our members, they must be simply worded and devoid of clutter. I suggest the following revisions: “To build and maintain the vitality of UU congregations; to extend Unitarian Universalism to all who yearn for a liberal religious home; and to increase the resonance of liberal religious values in our public discourse.”
Kimberly French’s “Looking Back” in the Spring 2007 issue contains an error concerning the transcendentalist Margaret Fuller.
Margaret Fuller, who perished in a shipwreck off Fire Island on July 19, 1850, is not buried in the beautiful Mt. Auburn cemetery. Neither her body nor that of her two-year-old son were recovered. There is, indeed, a fitting memorial to her in the cemetery. I have spent several hours there, in both spring and fall, enjoying the trees and flowers and attempting, in my small way, to find communion with the spirit of that most remarkable woman. To call her a “feminist” does not do justice to this towering figure who was the intellectual equal, if not the superior, to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
David H. Partington
Dalton, New Hampshire
In “Adoption’s Complications” (“Bookshelf,” Winter 2006), we mistakenly said that Sara K. Dorow, author of Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender, and Kinship, was the adoptive mother of a Chinese girl.
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