A few weeks ago, a think tank called EAT, in conjunction with the famous British medical journal Lancet released a report with the rationale and outline of a “planetary health diet”: guidelines for eating in a way that would lower the incidence of disease, be nourishing, yet be ecologically sustainable for the ten billion people likely to live on Earth in the next generation. It is made up mostly of whole grains, beans, nuts, soyfoods, fruit and vegetables; some milk products; and small portions of meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Non-vegetarians and meat producers, commenting in the press, overwhelmingly hate it for not having enough meat. (To my vegetarian mind, it’s not vegetarian enough though individuals can swap out the meat for more plant protein.) On the other hand, its tight limits on sugar and palm oil point right at my favorite mass-market peanut butter, not to mention cookies. The silence on coffee, tea and chocolate makes me shudder.
In any case, despite the trades and open questions, the idea appeals to me: if each of us ate like this, there could be enough good food for everyone, and room for orangutans and clean water besides. I’m altering my choices to fit with this plan, even though this isn’t an act of personal, but global importance. So far, I’ve not been too successful. It’s an attractive way to eat, but sweet and palm-oily treats are too easy to get, and are very attractive. Of course, anyone who has been on a weight loss diet knows this.
But adopting this diet is an aspiration that is meant to benefit us all. It’s worth it to me to try harder. And those complaining about it tells me something: that they have more of the good things of life than other people, that they resent being asked to have less so others might have more, that they have the means to express their displeasure forcefully and publicly, and that public good must fail before private gain. So what’s new there? Perhaps the consciousness that they are us. If you have the resources to read this, you are very likely among the wealthiest people on earth, even if it doesn’t feel like that today. I don’t like giving up resources any more than I like giving up cookies, but there’s more at stake than comfort — and I’m grateful to have the means to make some choices.
Grand proposals like these point out the unfairness of how the good things of life are shared, or not shared. It’s easier to be angry at the sense of guilt or the risk of relative deprivation than to face up to the challenge of being fair, or as Jesus would put it, loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s one thing to regard the person next door as our neighbor, but it takes effort to extend that concept around the world, and even more to extend it forwards (or backwards) in time. And that’s how Jesus challenged his first students and us today.
This food plan is asking us to think of people we will never meet, and people who are not yet born. It asks us to care about non-human animals and the life-capacity of the natural world. We could ask the same about energy use, land use, the effects of climate change, the production of plastic waste, exploitative labor, banking practices or any of a number of material ways that the human race have been linked together, and then sifted into categories of winners and losers. The gifts of the spirit and the amazing, unseen spiritual ways we are linked together are not exhausted, as they come from God and are based in our creation, and we should consider them, too. If we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven” we should regard our love to neighbor as we regard God’s love for us. Where the spirit leads, the material must follow.
You way have heard this before. These are not particular subjects of Universalist piety, but are trans-Christian and broadly cross-religious. (I think it’s important to not get caught up on what’s distinctly Universalist Christian: that’s a path to sectarianism and insularity.) People who see the spiritual and immaterial ways the human race is connected won’t be satisfied by this defacto religion of things. Bear this in mind when you’ve recruited to believe that you must grab what you can, or to think that the world ends with you. Be wise, and be fearless.
May God bless us all deeply.
The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship Revival conference will take place on March 15 and 16, in Worcester, Massachusetts. See http://uuchristian.org/revival2019/ for details.
Please tell your friends and associates about the Universalist Christian Initiative. They can sign up for these updates at universalistchristian.org/join/.
(The Rev.) Scott Wells