Candidates for UUA President answer questions from Food Justice Ministry, Part 1: Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
Food Justice Ministry has invited each candidate for UUA President to respond to the following set of questions:
It is FJM's view that each of the candidates should have the ability to amend their answers based on reflection and, if it seems apt, in reaction to what the others are sharing— in other words, these can be living documents that are foundations for conversation if the candidates want to use them that way.
Here are Rev. Frederick-Gray's responses.
1. Please describe any obstacles to greater UU involvement in ethical eating and related environmental justice issues (http://www.uua.org/statements/ethical-eating-food-environmental-justice) that the President of the UUA can and should address.
I am reminded of the scene from the movie A Few Good Men and the line “You can’t handle the truth.” The realities of the human and environmental consequence of our food industry, the degree to which all of our lives are complicit and intertwined in a larger system of environmental degradation makes it very difficult to face honestly and fully the issues of environmental justice. It is heartbreaking and can feel overwhelming to the point where denial is a legitimate mechanism for coping.
In addition, another significant obstacle to greater UU involvement in ethical eating is the degree of personal action and change that is asked of in the Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Statement of Conscience. This Statement of Conscience hits us at home with the choices we make everyday. Rather than dealing only with issues of policy and institutional changes, it asks for significant changes in our individual choices. This requires education, a spiritual kind of awakening and disciplined commitment.
As UUA President, there are two areas that are within the purview of the President to encourage a deepening of our efforts to implement the Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience. First, the UUA can bring these thoughtful guidelines into the food choices and catering we supply at the UUA and at UUA events. I was inspired by the decision at a national UU Ministers Association event to make a vegetarian diet the main choice throughout the event, with individuals having to specially request meat as a dietary need. These kinds of choices, when we make explicit the ethical guidelines behind them, can make an impact on both consumption and awareness among UU leaders.
Second, the President has a role in making strategic choices to further our values in the world. A key commitment of my leadership and platform as a candidate for UUA President is the importance of partnership. The resistance at Standing Rock is especially on my heart at this time as a model. With respect to environmental justice, we have an opportunity to partner with indigenous communities and communities of color on the front lines of the movement to protect the resources of the earth and offer a new paradigm of how to live, work and eat. Partnering strategically with indigenous groups against resource extraction (for example), positions us to develop an intersectional approach, increase the momentum of an emergent issue, educate our own people, and push against the kind of policies and practices that continue to foster environmental degradation and support overconsumption and unsustainable living practices.
In the end, when it comes to ethical eating and environmental justice, the approach needs to be two fold, with a focus both on personal choice and consumption and a second on the societal and institutional choices and values.
2. What role would you assume as President of the UUA in helping UU's "walk the talk" of Statements of Conscience once they are passed (this is not restricted to the SOC on which we focus)?
I am grateful for this question as it reveals a key disjunction within our larger UUA organizational structure. A major adaptive challenge I see for the UUA is that our organizational structure can foster competing and sometimes disparate priorities. For example, the UUA President is accountable to the Ends set by the UUA Board of Trustees. The Statement of Conscience process has no official relationship or accountability to the President or to the Ends of the Association. This means that there can be a lack of alignment between priorities coming from the President and staff and those coming from the Congregational Study Action Issues and Statements of Conscience. Given our limited financial and human resources, this can lead to frustration of leaders who have worked hard on issues that then find no real long-term traction, attention or resources from the UUA.
As a key participant in the support of the Congregational Study Action Issue “Immigration as a Moral Issue” and the resulting Statement of Conscience, this justice issue effectively filtered across many aspects of our Association. This was in large part due to the urgency of the moment, with SB 1070 in Arizona and a spate of copycat laws around the country, the call to create our 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix as a Justice GA focused on immigrant rights, the partnerships built between UUA staff and immigrant rights organizers and this CSAI’s specific application to multiple strategic Ends of the Association that call us to engage in partnership to counter systems of oppression and develop our capacity for multiculturalism. The confluence of all these efforts pulling in the same direction amplified the power of each part and created tremendous education and resources from both the congregational and national level on this area of study and Statement of Conscience.
The problem is our organizational structure does not specifically create or foster such a confluence. We see the power of what happens when we have alignment, but it is happenstance. Too often we adopt issues at General Assembly that we do not have the resource capacity to adequately nurture for the long haul or do not get sufficient support and traction in our congregations.
A key platform of my vision for the UUA is to be organized for impact. This is a moment of great urgency, when we need greater clarity and alignment within our Association so that we might bring the full power of our resources to respond to the urgent issues of racial justice, mass incarceration and global climate change. We need to develop long-term focus, strategies and partnerships to work on these issues for the long haul so that we might be able to make real and measurable differences.
How can we reimagine the way we do justice, so that the issues we choose are a reflection of our long term vision and Ends within the limits of our resources? How can we create a structure that supports long haul focused efforts and partnerships to bring about real and measurable change on behalf of our values? How can we create a structure that allows us to really walk our talk, and move our values from statements into powerful commitments that include education, positions, action and advocacy? As President, these are the questions I want to engage across the Association.
3. What can you share about how your personal perspective has evolved on food as a social justice and climate justice issue?
The beginning of my interest in food as a social justice issue began during my first job after college. With a degree in Molecular Biology, I applied at a temp agency and was soon working for Monsanto. Yes, you read that correctly! I worked in a genetic research laboratory for the agricultural research and development departments of the company. While at Monsanto, I began my own personal research on the ethical and moral issues surrounding genetically modified organism (GMO’s), terminator seed technology, Roundup Ready crops, and monoculture species development. This research began my first dive into food issues as both social justice and environmental justice issues.
During my experience at Monsanto, alongside my own ethical concerns, I also saw that many of the scientists in the field were motivated by a desire to do good in the world – to address issues of hunger, poverty and food shortage. This awareness created a foundation for understanding the limits and problems of demonizing the opposite sides of an issue and the importance of trying to move change by beginning at a place of shared values with people of integrity and compassion.
More recently, I have been influenced to embrace a more prominent voice for environmental justice and care for the earth through the indigenous leaders in the Phoenix congregation and the partnerships I have made with indigenous communities beyond the congregation. These relationships, as well the work of Joanna Macy, have opened my heart and my courage to speak more frequently about the realities of environmental justice and to incorporate more fully the imagery of life, creation, and earth in my preaching and prayers, both public and private. The foundation of gratitude for the earth, for life, as the beginning – modeled in the ceremony of indigenous leaders – has enriched and deepened my own practice and the place of environmental justice in my spiritual and prophetic life.