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Elettra Wiedemann by Rana Toofanian

Winner of 2011’s Young Environmentalist award, Elettra is the founder of One Frickin Day, an initiative which matches a person’s donation of their time, service or salary with a charity in need.

The Avocado Dilemma

She believes the Internet has changed the way people relate to the environment and others — that once we are aware of the person that’s paid peanuts to stitch your sweater, it’s very rare for us not to care.

An American model who once got Lancôme to plant a tree for every bottle of serum her image helped sell, Elettra is also the founder of GOODNESS, a pop-up restaurant serving organic and ethically sourced meals. She believes the easiest decision an individual can make to decrease their carbon footprint is to source the ingredients of their food locally. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or an omnivore; locally and by extension seasonally sourced organic food not only tastes better, it removes harmful pesticides from agricultural ecosystems, and our body, and above all, has consumed less energy in its journey from the farm to your fork.

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Are there things you shouldn’t do that you keep doing? I keep eating avocados in the winter, and I probably shouldn’t.

How can the actions of an individual inspire collective change? I try to get my immediate sphere of family and friends involved. When I had people over for Thanksgiving at the end of last year, I spent a couple of weeks sourcing the entire meal from the local economy. That’s not like changing the world, but for those 16 people that are going to be eating my food it is, and for the farmers who are getting that money, it is. Those are the little things I try to do.

The internet is really changing the way people relate to these issues — the woman who is being paid two cents an hour to make your sweater, even like twenty years ago was very far away, but now she can be on your screen every morning. These people are real.

Where do you think we are right now in terms of being aware of how our actions impact the environment? I think that right now we are at the dawn of a new age. I think the Internet is really changing the way people relate to these issues — the woman who is being paid two cents an hour to make your sweater, even 20 years ago was very far away, but now she can be on your screen every morning. These people are real. These problems are closer to everyone. Once people are made aware of problems, it’s very rare that they say, ‘I don’t give a shit.’ Instead, they have that moment when they say, ‘My actions are affecting other people in this way, so I’m going to change.’

Are you optimistic about the future? I think I’m a realist. People don’t change their ways until they have food in their mouths and money in their pockets. Though I am optimistic in the sense that I think societies and people are moving in the right direction.

The carbon footprint of out of season food

On average, in the West, a fifth of a person’s carbon footprint comes from the food they eat. While transport emissions contribute a lot to the carbon footprint of food, other factors make it a little more complex to calculate than simply ignoring all imported fruit, vegetables and meat. If we zoom out to view the issue on a global perspective, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation recently calculated that 18 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions are a result of raising livestock — with the industrial rearing of beef causing particular stresses to the environment. However, a locally produced steak will still have a smaller carbon footprint compared to one from Argentina [unless you are reading this in Argentina]. And the same applies to vegetables too. Simply put, the best way to cut down on your carbon footprint is to eat locally produced ingredients in season, preferably sourced from farmers markets or grocery stores than in supermarkets. Websites such as the U.K.’s foodcarbon.co.uk help calculate your carbon footprint and gives suggestions on how to reduce it.

foodcarbon.co.uk

What do you think is holding us back from living more harmoniously with nature? Nature is a cruel place. We are very used to these urban landscapes that are hygienic, sterilised and easy to understand. But for years, centuries and generations, the world was a pretty scary place full of diseases and threats. Nature was this thing that had to be conquered and overcome, so people could live beyond the age of 40. Nobody wants to go out and pollute the air or the oceans, but a system has developed over time where people are like, ‘Oh, shit. This is damaging, but now we’re making money’. And these people want these products because we’ve told them they need these products. The system will just keep on going, going and going until one day, you have a disruptive technology that changes that.

How can people avoid apathy? I think apathy comes when people try to take on too much. I think it’s important to pick things which you feel you can sustain for yourself — such as the decisions we have to make when it comes to the food we put in our bodies every day.

What daily act do you think people could do to make society better? I think people could for one day a week support a local farmer, market or local butcher who sources from local slaughterhouses. I’m not a big believer that you have to be vegan to save the world because, guess what, that soy is coming from Brazil where they chopped down the Amazon to plant it.

I keep eating avocados in the winter, and I probably shouldn’t.

[Interruption] Mathew Stone: People eating tofu is not the issue — 95 percent of soy is grown to feed animals. I’m a vegetarian, and it’s one of the best things to do for the environment. But are you a seasonal, local vegetarian? I was a vegetarian too for many years for the exact same reasons, but when I did the research I found out because I was eating avocados in the winter, I was doing the same amount of damage to the environment in terms of carbon emissions as eating a steak. Health is a separate issue, and there are various shades of grey. But if your choice is between an avocado that has been grown organically in Israel and a steak that has been reared 40 miles away from organic feed, the steak is actually better.

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