The Food For Thought (And Action!) program started in the 1st Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon in March 2002. The intent was to bring to light the connections between dietary habits and societal well-being, empower congregants with information on what they could do, and motivate them to modify their eating and buying habits to promote positive environmental, social, economic and health benefits. Specifically, congregants were asked to: 1) eat less meat, at a minimum going one day a week without eating any meat or fish; 2) eat more local fruits and vegetables (in season only - May-November), at a minimum eating at least five meals a week that include local produce; and 3) eat more organic foods, at a minimum eating at least five meals a week that include organic food.
Particpants, who signed pledge forms, had the flexibility to take any or all of the three actions. They also could participate at any level in each of the three categories. For instance, if they already were going one day a week without eating meat, they could increase to two or three days. The campaign started with a mailing to all households in the church that included the rationale of the program, a fact sheet, pledge form and return envelope so people could enroll by mail. Congregants could also pledge following a presentation at a church service and at the weekly coffee hour table, where free samples of local, organic foods were served. The project ran for nine weeks. At the end, survey/evaluation forms were distributed two successive Sundays to gather feedback. Forty-four percent (44%)of the participants filled out the forms, which were designed with the aid of a professional pollster.
In all, 366 households pledged, an outstanding response. Ninety-two percent felt more informed, 95% fulfilled all or some of their pledge and 94% planned to continue the actions they had started. In addition, 52% took additional actions beyond what they had pledged, such as planting their own garden, visiting a farmers' market or joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture program). Finally, 62% told others about the program, with 16% telling four or more people. Out of the 162 participants completing evaluation forms, 58 wrote supportive statements, many expressing their gratitude that the church had initiated the program., , The Food For Thought (And Action!) program is already being considered by other Unitarian churches and other denominations. It is easily adaptable to any faith and a complete "how-to" packet, including the informational documents, is available by request by e-mail. The 1st Unitarian Church is happy to provide this program at no cost to anyone who would like to use it.