I grew up in a Midwest, meat and potatoes house. We ate red meat multiple times a week, never bought organic food (it was too expensive), drove huge cars and only recycled when it was convenient for us (which, honestly, wasn’t often). We only talked about the environment on Earth Day; it was never something I was taught to care about. Yet, over the past few years, something changed.
I think it started when I moved to Los Angeles. With the seemingly-never-ending drought in Southern California, many of my friends and colleagues talked about water usage - something I had never thought twice about while living in a state surrounded by giant lakes. It was the first time that I was confronted with the reality that our natural resources aren’t endless. I’m not sure if I started caring because I wanted to blend in or because it was something I truly cared about, but regardless, it changed me.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and, as a result, I’ve been exposed to more than my younger-mind could have imagined. In the US we embrace the idea of excess and waste is hidden from us; therefore we don’t think twice about over-indulging or throwing things out. In many other countries, that’s not the case. In South East Asia, there was a pungent, acrid smell that seemed to pervade the air. I later found out that it was because locals had no choice but to burn their trash. When walking picturesque beaches, I was disappointed to see trash washing up everywhere. In small villages, I saw a level of poverty I had never been exposed to in the US. And, the worst, was the countless acts of animal cruelty that I saw everywhere. It breaks my heart to imagine what happens behind closed doors in the US.
While I’m far from perfect, traveling has taught me to appreciate and embrace sustainability. What does that mean though? It’s such a broad term that is used by many people to cover many topics. For me, it means living a life that has a positive impact on the environment, economy and community. I break this idea into two main pieces: environmentally conscious and community conscious.
I think this one is pretty simple, but basically, it just means that I try to live a life that keeps the environment in mind. This means wasting less, recycling/reusing more and being more animal-friendly. I’ve recently gone pescatarian (I haven’t been able to make the full jump to veganism or even vegetarian, yet), which feels like a more ethical choice for me. When I do buy animal products (such as eggs or milk), I look for items that are organic, free-range and cruelty-free. When I buy coffee, I look for beans that are shade grown or bird friendly, as it means that the coffee farm isn’t cutting down trees to make more room for coffee plants. I’ve started reading a lot more labels and doing more research before and during shopping trips. I also try to stay at eco-friendly hotels, do tours that support the environment and avoid animal activities (more often than not the animals are mistreated). Overall, I’ve become a lot more aware of how my actions can impact the world around me.
This might be a term I made up, but, for me, part of living a sustainable lifestyle means living a life that supports local communities and economies. I keep this in mind when I’m home and when I’m traveling. At home, I try to shop at local stores and farmers markets, avoid big-box retailers and visit local restaurants. When I’m traveling, I support locals by going on local-run tours and activities (that are environmentally friendly, of course), staying at boutique hotels and shopping at places where the goods are locally made. While I am sometimes a sucker for typical tourist hotspots, I do what I can to embrace and support local culture by finding off-the-beaten-path spots and destinations. No matter where I am, I try to support the local community with my dollars (and voice), therefore empowering local entrepreneurs, protecting their environments and valuing their culture.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on sustainability. What does it mean to you? Are there any major topics that I missed?