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Beyond 'Sustainability': Nourishment for Moving Forward

From Sustaining to Thriving

Beyond ‘Sustainability’: Nourishment for Moving Forward

by Grove Harris

Photo: Grove Harris

Photo: Grove Harris

In the aftermath of the recent 2018 Parliament of World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario, I reflected on work with women, faith, and eco-justice. Dr. Vandana Shiva was a major speaker for the climate change plenary and a wealth of other sessions. Her expertise and energetic, prophetic, scientific voice moved the Parliament’s climate justice work forward.

I attended the 2012 UN convening in Rio De Janero where Dr. Shiva spoke for the Temple of Understanding for the first time, beginning a trajectory of work with the faith community.

I was on a panel myself and remember a young colleague’s point that all our talk of sustainability was off the mark. Sustainability is a concept to consider, set up standards to measure by, or maybe a societal goal to attain. But she reminded us that it is more useful to focus on what more viscerally sustains us. We cannot think our way into the future we need, but we can feel and embody that pathway. For this we need to attend not only to what sustains us, but what nourishes us. I’m told this is a feature of love; love is nourishing. Good company, good food, and hope are all nourishing. Good speakers, and seeing new possibilities are nourishing. Guidelines that support our intuition and our hearts are nourishing.

The Parliament plenaries were nourishing and are now available online for all to hear the variety of voices lining up calling for justice, for new ecological consciousness and action, for peace, for honoring diversity, and for the urgent need to stand against tyrannies of war, greed, authoritarian regimes, and hatred. They call for renewed action together, with peace as the only way forward. This nourishment is meant to fuel action.

At the Toronto Parliament, literal nourishment was offered daily in the communal meal (Langar) offered free to all by the Sikh community. The meal of rice, daal, beans, chappati bread, tea, and sweets is offered as a gift of service, sharing, and nourishment. It demonstrated what can be when spirit, grounded in radical equality, fuels service to community. It’s no coincidence that the food was vegetarian, and mostly vegan.

Voices for Change

Photo: GH

Photo: GH

Rabbi David Rosen spoke passionately about shifting to a plant-based diet for a whole set of moral and environmental reasons. Each religious tradition has stories and values that can be lifted up as we look to change entrenched habits and agro-industrial practices. We can reconsider the nostalgia of our familiarity with certain foods and make choices that nourish us personally and also nourish our environment, our sense of justice, and our future.

“It is my belief that this is the kashrut (Jewish religious dietary law) of our time because nothing else is kosher,” Rosen says. “Animal products in global industrialized food production are all in contravention of Jewish teaching. There are a few areas where you have farmyard conditions where people behave compassionately, but the industry as a whole, whether it’s the meat, dairy, or egg industries, all involve violations of Jewish ethics, in regard to tza’ar ba’alei hayim (the suffering of living creatures).”

I had the honor of being with Vandana Shiva at many of her panels, with her passion and clarity and integrated visions about what we’re up against and what we need to change. Seeing her in action is probably more nourishing than words I might write, so I suggest you view Dr. Shiva's recent address on “Earth Democracy” at Yale Divinity School, until such time as the Parliament has her talks available.

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In her new book, Oneness Versus the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, she encompasses Seed Freedom, challenging the industrial agricultural model, and now she’s taking aim at the system of concentrated wealth. Breathing free and eating free are both profound parts of nourishment; so is truth telling about the concentration of wealth and the dehumanization of structures of power.

Beyond Surviving

We are in a time of many calls for systemic change, back to balance, to “sustainability,” and hopefully to nourishment. The way the UN works for this is the 17 interlocked Sustainability Goals, a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity.” A number of UN Agency speakers attended the Parliament and spoke on panels with religious actors, all of whom are pushing for the revitalization of values in the heart of the UN, of religions, and of people.

Chris Peters of Seventh Generation Fund put out a “Platform for Action To Do More than Survive, To Thrive.” This plan comes out of Native wisdom, starting with a set of principles:

Living in Right Relation with the Land, Water, Air and all Species

Asserting our right of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to any development on our lands & territories

Noting with grave concern the continued degradation of the environment and Mother Earth

Opposing the exploitation of Earth's elements through market-based solutions to climate change

Recognizing the health and vitality of Mother Earth for bio-cultural diversity

Defending the land - Taking a position against Terracide

Protecting Water - Taking a position against Aquacide

Protecting Indigenous Peoples’ Earth-based knowledge systems and lifeways

Respectfully working together in right relations is essential for life to thrive

From these it derives seven action trajectories:

Photo:    Max Pixel

Photo: Max Pixel

1. RE-INDIGENIZE: And exercise sovereignty and self-determination. Restore and re-engage in ceremonies, cultures, and customs. Practice and reinvigorate traditional lifeways, languages, and governance;

2. REGENERATE: And nurture. Cultivate our own food and develop family/community-based organic gardening. Build cooperatives, collectives, and strengthen traditional food systems;

3. RECIPROCATE: And live respectfully. Honor and give back to Mother Earth. Practice fasting and discipline by consuming only what you need. Lower intake;

4. RENEW: And innovate and create. Engage in barter and trade. Focus on supporting Native-created goods and supplies from Native-owned and /or local businesses. Develop and support community-centered enterprises and economies;

5. REVITALIZE: And improve. Make necessary structural changes, repairs, and improvements to home and workplace that promote long-term stability, efficiency, and sustainability;

6. REDUCE: And conserve energy, water and all elements of the Earth. Choose at least one day each month to give Mother Earth a rest and increase this commitment annually;

7. RETAIN: And sustain. Plan for future needs by developing long-term storage systems for food, water, seeds, and other sustenance.

I find this language to be heart-centered, nourishing, and hopeful. Renew, regenerate, reciprocate, revitalize, and reduce all seem exciting and do-able. They point to internal awareness and can be applied on scales large and small. And the first term, Re-indigenize – isn’t that asking us all to find home? To understand that we belong on this planet, as a part of the larger earth community, with responsibility to our sacred place, our home?

I leave you with Chris Peters’ platform in the hope you will find it nourishing towards action. There is only one solution, the moral solution, which is also the practical solution. It is a selfish trajectory, towards our survival as a species on a challenged planet. There is no Plan B and no time to waste. Considerations of impossibility, of cost, of impracticality are off base. We must step into the solutions and thrive, participating in the needed changes and nourishing each other along the way.

Blessed be.

With special thanks to Grace Ross for her clarity and wisdom.