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UUs make lifestyle changes for 40 days

Campaign honors 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
By Donald E. Skinner
6.7.10

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Cathy Reich

Cathy Reich, of the UU Fellowship of Missoula, Mont., is preparing vegan "meat" as part of the 40/40/40 events at the fellowship. (Susan Eakins)

Jamie Johnson made a bold commitment April 18 to bake all of her family’s bread for the next 40 days rather than buying it, as a way of cutting down on packaging materials and food transportation costs. That made her one of hundreds of Unitarian Universalists who committed to a daily action for 40 days in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

The 40/40/40 campaign (congregations were urged to involve at least 40 friends and members) was embraced by at least 45 congregations, said Rowan Van Ness, program associate for environmental justice for the UU Ministry for Earth, a coordinator of the campaign. The campaign ended May 27. The exact number of individual participants is unknown, but the 40/40/40 Facebook page had 809 fans. Results are still coming in.

UUs were asked to commit to lifestyle changes over the 40 days for the sake of the Earth, with the hope that many people would continue those changes after the campaign ended. Many of the changes involved food since one of the principal sponsors of the campaign was the UUA’s Ethical Eating Core Team. Ethical eating is a Study/Action Issue adopted by General Assembly delegates in 2008. UU congregations will study ethical eating issues until 2012.

Johnson was one of 43 friends and members of the UU Church of Greater Bridgeport in Stratford, Conn., who made 40/40/40 pledges. Those pledges ranged from “plant a flower in some barren spot each day” to “start using cloth diapers.”

Jessica Mikes, coordinator of the efforts at Bridgeport, said she started the ball rolling by finding several people, including Johnson, who were willing to be involved and having them share their stories with the congregation on a Sunday morning. “They got up and just talked from the heart and the congregation took to that,” she said.

Johnson said her bread making turned into an “amazing experience.” She described how she spent her 40 days learning to make sandwich bread, pizza dough, piecrust, and rolls. Her experiences included spending a day with a woman from church who taught her to make bread, reaching out to an aunt who had Johnson’s grandmother’s bread recipes, holding a bread workshop at church, and discovering that her five-year-old twins liked her bread better than the store-bought kind.

Will she continue making bread now that the campaign is over? “Absolutely, although I won’t be as intense about it—and I won’t make soda crackers. Those were the worst!” She said the 40 days of bread making also became a good way to talk to non-UU friends “about who we are and what we stand for.”

Mikes, a vegetarian for 15 years, went a step further and became vegan for the 40 days, giving up all animal products, including dairy and eggs. She said she hasn’t decided if she will continue that. Her fiancé, Michael, began taking a coffee cup to work rather than paying the 50-cent a cup charge for refills in a disposable cup. “We figured out that will save us $390 a year,” she said.

The Bridgeport congregation also held a session on building a compost bin, visited a farmers market, held a dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, did a recipe swap and a seed swap, showed food-related movies, and had an electronics recycling event.

“We really created community,” said Mikes. “Everyone was excited and happy to do something that didn’t just benefit the environment, but every person and every family.”

Melissa Owens was among 53 people at the 150-member UU Church of Elgin, Ill., who participated in 40/40/40. “A lot of our members were already committed to environmental actions and they were enthusiastic about taking another step,” she said. “We had people who cut out processed foods, who tried to eat lower on the food chain, who used cloth bags, and who chose not to eat fast food on a road trip.”

Many of their stories are on a blog, newuu.com/40days that the congregation started and that Owens coordinated.

Owens chose to cook double batches of food—most of the ingredients obtained locally—and freeze half of it for later use. This allowed her to use fresh ingredients and reduce her use of processed and packaged foods. She said other participants were challenged by some of their tasks, but generally enjoyed learning about new ways to live. “There was a couple that saved all of the packaging from the products they bought. That was a huge eye opener for them. What I liked about the campaign was that it provided another step people could take without having to think too hard about it. If you add a step like that every year, then in a couple of years you’re really making a difference.”

The idea for 40/40/40 came from the Rev. John Millspaugh, co-minister of Winchester Unitarian Society in Winchester, Mass., and chair of the UUA’s Ethical Eating Core Team.

Millspaugh said he was pleased with the ways that congregations adopted the program. “They took our idea and ran with it and made it their own,” he said. “They adapted it and created their own resources and that was exciting to see.”

He said the program will be offered again next year, but with a different name that is yet to be determined. “We do intend to run a similar event for people who are interested in exploring how their personal choices have an impact on the earth we share.”

Mandy Neff, the director of religious education at First Parish in Cambridge, Mass., and her family reduced their use of disposable food packaging, buying whole fruit instead of fruit cups, fresh produce rather than anything shrink-wrapped, and making juice from frozen concentrate rather than buying juice boxes. The family also developed a practice of saying grace at dinner.

“It was a bit of a challenge to get five people on board,” she said, “but once we started and talked as a family about why we were doing this the kids really supported it. We have every intention of continuing.”

She added, “The real surprise was the appreciation that came out in the family for each other. Saying grace brought a thoughtfulness, particularly for the younger ones, about each other and what we are sharing. One of my sons now goes around saying, ‘Daddy, thank you so much. You’re such a good cook.’ He’s really taken the message to heart.”


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