The world we live in is beautiful and complicated. As humans we have an innate desire to understand, to categorize, to put things in order- essentially to uncomplicate chaos. However, especially for those of us who come from a place of passion, this need to disentangle truths and beliefs can lead to a space of oversimplification.
We want things to be perfect- for problems to have one solution, for people to act in a predictable manner, and for us to have a semblance of control over our surroundings. Now, I know that this sounds esoteric and philosophical, but the notion of oversimplification spills over into many areas of our lives. Today, let’s talk product packaging.
Now, I know that sounded like a weird transition, but honestly the internet is a weird place. Over my seven years of blogging and more than that on social media, I’ve heard it all. In comments, in emails, in DMs, I’ve seen and heard a plethora of praise and criticism. Generally speaking I take it all in stride, but sometimes I feel the need to respond, to hold my ground, and to re-articulate my values. Supporting companies who are doing wonderful things for the environment while transitioning into more eco-friendly packaging are one of those specific things I will stand up and speak up for.
On Instagram I am rather known for my #FridgeGoals photos. They are one of my favorite things to photograph and arrange- it is a bit of an art piece for me; perfectly arranged produce, drinks, and meal prep are stacked neatly in glass jars, cotton mesh bags, and beeswax wraps. But I am not perfect and I’ve never claimed to be completely zero waste. But because these photos are so aesthetically pleasing they tend to do incredibly well on Instagram. And with that reach comes criticism.
The instance of criticism that I’ll be chatting about today happened back in February. Originally I had acknowledged it in the comments, but recently I have been getting lots of questions about my stance on packaging, why I still accept PR packages, and about blogging in general and whether or not it belongs in a sustainable world. My response then still holds true today, so let’s chat and expand!
(No need to read the text in the photo- I’ve transcribed it below!)
This whole exchange started because I laughed at the number of drinks in my fridge in the caption I created and a commenter responded with this:
Things that make me laugh : the amount of insane plastic will go to the ocean in the name of being hip and healthy 😂😂😂
Now, normally I’m totally fine with commenters and don’t respond to negativity, especially negativity which is essentially an insult in lightly veiled humor, but this felt like a teaching opportunity so I did respond, with this:
While I appreciate the sentiment, I am very particular about the packaged products that I choose to bring into my home. In this fridge there are four sources of plastic- produce stickers which are relatively unavoidable, nut mylk yogurts which I haven’t successfully made myself, hummus (admittedly an indulgence), and the @rebbl. All avoidable plastic is recyclable. I’m assuming you’re talking about this last source, the rebbl drinks. Rebbl is a certified b-corp that is not only committed to regenerative agriculture and donating a portion of its proceeds to an anti-human traffic charity, but is also run by people who are open to conversation about packaging- a conversation I had in depth with their brand rep while picking up this collection. By nature my profession creates a lot of waste and I am lucky enough to be in a position to be able to talk to these brands and help to create change in the industry. I want to support brands that support the planet, and rewarding those that do can affect the change that both you and I are looking for.
At the time I had just picked up a big shipment of Rebbl drinks from a local brand representative to try out. They are plant based elixirs, and very up my alley! So there were definitely more drink options in my fridge than there are usually, but as you can see from above, they had good reason to be there! However, the commenter responded with what is pasted below, which is totally fine, and everyone has their own opinion, but this is where I get SUPER passionate- you know me and accessibility and privilege!
thank you mostly for taking time to respond, I want to say I was an ex @rebbl client – consumer, I love the products but most deft not their packaging and their individual portion marketing. The oceans of the planet are in crisis, for so many generations we have been disregarding or ignoring our responsibility as consumers and we can’t afford this anymore. Even if the products are classified as recyclable it’s not guarantee that they will not end up floating on the waters. Is better to sacrifice this amazing healthy products if they are at least not investing or researching other packaging modalities. Most of this companies know that there are other options like @waterinabox but they don’t choose them because of product “appreciation”. Also as influencers our message has to be radical we need to what show what we are truly capable of create. I respect your message and don’t want this to feel like an ciber attack by any means, but your followers might feel after this pic that is ok to consume plastic and individual packaging because someone #healthy and #conscious like you does. For a general population this means: Individual water bottles, condiments, milk and nut milk products, berries and blue berries individual packaging etc…(Directly pasted)
The commenter has valid points. I go into depth about plastic pollution and how it affects everyday life (like dating in this silly post) often both on Instagram and here on Habits of a Modern Hippie. I understand that I am an example for many of the people that follow me, but when I articulate what kind of example I would like to be it is aspirational but achievable. So I respond:
I am in agreement with much of what you say here, but very much so disagree with the ‘radical’ approach. I feel that in today’s society the general populace is so culturally indoctrinated to accept that waste is a way of life that when they see the ‘extreme’ examples of zero waste living they think ‘there’s no way I can ever do that’ and so don’t even try. What I am aiming to be here is an example of relatability. Being a more conscious consumer doesn’t always mean the profound, radical changes that can often feel so unattainable- it’s small changes in everyday life that can add up to huge shifts. Also, taking influencers like myself out of equation, (aka me dropping all packaging) also takes me out of the conversation and thus the ability to affect change from inside the industry. I absolutely love that there are big voices in the zero waste world, but strongly believe that voices in transition are equally as important.
That, in a nutshell is a synopsis of my beliefs, my brand, and my purpose. It is why sometimes I feel the need to jump into the comment section and debate, different ways to impact the earth are necessary. Some people respond well to extremes, but many people don’t, so thats why we need both types of people involved to turn the health of our earth around.
You can’t DO everything: extremes OR support
One of my favorite quotes about zero waste comes from Anne-Marie Bonneau “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” I absolutely agree with this sentiment. In our society we are constantly bombarded by information and ideas about what we ‘should’ be doing, how we should be doing it, and how we should feel about it. And for so many people, that notion of an extreme, an all or nothing mentality, or the thought that if they try and “fail” they will get chastised for it prevents people from even TRYING. Zero waste isn’t something that can be implemented overnight, especially in a society that is built around a linear economy- the actual infrastructure needed for a circular economy, one that isn’t based on disposables, doesn’t exist here in the United States. So, as we transition we need to be gentle with ourselves, we need to give ourselves space to become more eco-conscious consumers and know that when you mess up, and need the plastic bag at the grocery store, it is okay. And if we feel this way about ourselves, why can’t we be as gentle with consumer companies that are trying to make a difference? Just like we can’t, companies can’t do everything either.
I like to put my money and my voice where my beliefs are, and where I think makes the biggest difference. What I believe makes the greatest impact might be totally different than what you believe, and that is absolutely okay. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to choose, everything would be sustainable, package free, and accessible for everyone, but that just isn’t the case. So it is up to us to choose our battles, our passions, and our actions. I do that in three ways.
Stay IN the Consumer World
One of the arguments that the commenter mentioned is that my message has to be ‘radical.’ However, if I decided to do that, I take myself out of the conversation and by doing that I am giving up the power to affect change from within the system. I strongly believe that we need to keep passionate, responsible, and well-intentioned voices in the consumer and marketing world because they are going to do the most good there. Without conflicting voices, there is no catalyst for change.
For example, because I am an influencer in the health and wellness space I get invited to some incredible events. One of these events was earlier this year at Expo West, a natural foods expo in California. While there I was invited to a panel that had the founders of companies talking about their products and what they were doing to help the environment and change the space. Some of these companies, while lovely, are use plastic packaging. So, when the Q&A session came up, I asked about what their plans were for sustainable packaging. Two of the companies on the panel said there weren’t viable options for their ‘hot pour’ products, but the founder of the third, Miyoko’s Creamery, very excitedly chatted about how many resources they are investing into finding an option and that they were making headway. She then proceeded to share that research with the other two companies, Forager and Noosa, both wonderful companies on their own. If someone hadn’t been there who cared and was passionate about change, this whole conversation and exchanging of ideas, contacts, and information might not have happened.
Because of who I am, what I stand for, and my platform, I am able to create opportunity to talk change on a regular basis. And that is absolutely not something I am willing to give up. And if that means that I accept PR packages in the mail I’m okay with that, and I really hope that you are too.
Support Companies in Transition
Up and coming companies in the sustainable wellness space, even ones that have been around for years need to fight their way into the consumer market against huge conglomerates and against incredible odds. Whether you are talking about the food industry, kitchenwares, fashion, or essentially any consumer-facing product or service, they need to find the capital and manpower to be able to create a product, package it, market it, and make their way onto shelves all while staying true to their their purpose and cause.
While I wish that every sustainability-based company that was coming into the market could have all funding they needed, it is just not possible. So along the way they need to make sacrifices- sometimes that sacrifice is packaging, sometimes it is labeling (think organic versus natural), and it can be something completely different as well. But if these sacrifices are for the greater good, and they enable the company to win marketshare from bigger companies who who quite frankly don’t give a damn about the environment, shouldn’t we support them? Popping back to my debate, that is how I feel about Rebbl. Yes, I’m not a fan of the plastic packaging, but I am a fan of what they’re doing, how they are providing healing modalities to their customers, how their ingredients are sourced, and that they are giving back a portion of what they make to enable others to have healthier, safer, and more fulfilling lives.
So think about the companies that you support, have you looked into why they choose the packaging or the labeling they have? One of these ‘in transition’ companies I love to support is Kashi! Kashi is a big name in the industry, but they have some products that aren’t labeled as organic. Generally speaking if I have the choice between organic and conventional I’ll choose organic. However, when it comes to Kashi, they have this incredible program that supports farmers as they transition from conventional farming to organic farming. It takes years of waiting after changing your farming methods before you can be certified organic, and in that meantime farmers costs are higher but their crops aren’t technically ‘worth more’ without the certification. Kashi saves the day.
There are so many companies doing amazing things from regenerative agriculture to using recycled ocean plastic that get looked over because their packaging isn’t perfect. So I implore you to do your research and support the companies that care!
Choose to Be Aspirational but Achievable
Being an influencer is a really strange job. If you don’t know my background, it is something I fell into, not something I strived to be. And because of that, I’ve crafted Habits of a Modern Hippie to be an extension of myself. I am honest, transparent, and who I am online is exactly who I am offline. I am the girl who brings her own jars to the bulk bins at the grocery store, but I am also the girl who is slightly terrified of safety razors so still uses a plastic one- I don’t find the need to be anything or anyone who I’m not and I hope that shows up across my content.
There are so many examples of incredible humans doing amazing things. Take my friend Andrea from Be Zero. She is one of those women who, after decades of being sustainable and working towards zero waste, can pick up her glass jar of trash and hold it in one hand. She’s wonderful, but that’s not me. I jokingly say that my tag line is ‘welcome to the health world, we are not that scary and you can still wear your killer shoes.’ I want to be an example for people who are just starting their journey. Whether they are trying to eat healthier, create less waste, or jump into yoga I want to be able to share examples of the different ways that you can transition, that it can be gradual and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing!
Supporting people on their own individual journeys is going to create a safe space to try new things on their own pace and within their own means, to screw up, and to jump right back in without feeling defeated or overwhelmed. There is no need to oversimplify- you can choose what you want to focus on and either move deeper into that specific space or branch out and incorporate more into your lifestyle. I recently received a direct message on Instagram that made me tear up, both out of empathy and happiness, part of it said: “I’m trying to make healthier choices but it’s not always easy or affordable. Sometimes it feels like there’s this club I can’t be a part of because I don’t have enough money for all the right foods. Thanks for making those of us who have it a little harder feel included.” When we create an atmosphere where people feel included because they ‘mess up’ or can’t afford what is happening- that all or nothing, radical approach we lose them. And more people people doing something is better than one person doing everything.
What You Can Do
This was a long one, but this conversation in the comment section of my Instagram page gave me the ability to explain who I am and what I stand for. So I challenge you to stand up for what you believe in, to support companies, people, and causes that you love- no matter if they are ‘perfect; or not to and be heard, be seen, and make a difference in your own way.