Last week Phil shared his personal journey to health, wellness, and environmentally conscious consumption and how it became such an important element of Great Lakes GrowthWorks’ philosophy and business. While each of us on the GLGW team shares these interests, we’ve also each approached it from a different angle. So in our own words, we’d like to introduce ourselves and the literal and metaphoric journeys that have shaped our perspectives and priorities.
Those of you who spent your formative years in the 80s era will probably relate to the idea that eating ‘healthy’ meant having food that was low in fat and calories. That was the mindset I grew up in, and with my legwarmers and Jane Fonda aerobics, it was how I evaluated food and its worth for many years. Fortunately, we (as a society) and I have evolved past this notion of ‘healthy’ food, and appreciate a much more holistic picture of how food works in our bodies. I’m sure we will continue to evolve our understanding of food, as is evidenced by the daily onslaught of new findings, research, and speculations about what to eat. It can be overwhelming. But I believe our knowledge and relationship with what we eat is a continual journey. This journey has shaped me both professionally and personally, as my interest in food and wellness often converges with the needs of my clients, particularly those in the food industry. It is a journey for them as well, challenged to deliver against what can be a dizzying array of needs for healthy, convenient foods that also taste great.
Prior to embarking on a marketing and consulting career that includes many clients in the food industry, I started to gain a stronger appreciation for food and its environment while spending time in Indonesia. On one hike, I was literally in the middle of a jungle where I could see coffee plants growing wild, smell the cinnamon bark on trees, and taste some of the most beautiful fruits in the world. My interest and knowledge continued to grow during an internship with a natural foods and supplements company back in the US. There I learned the power of herbs and natural remedies. Food – learning how it grows, where it grows, and the amazing things we can do with it continues to be something I really enjoy. I’m thrilled that I can find connections between that personal interest and my professional life as I help clients innovate, learn, and evolve as citizens of our food culture.
Being the American-born child of immigrants from a tiny, war-torn nation with extremely limited resources who worked extremely hard to achieve and spread security and stability, I was given access to everything that I could want while being given a strong sense of responsibility and respect for all that we had as far back as I can remember. My parents always showed us that wastefulness was not an option and there are many ways we could reduce, reuse and recycle: all organic waste was taken to a compost bin that my parents built in the back of our suburban yard and then used for gardening; all our clothes and toys were well taken care of and sent to other friends and family members who didn’t have as much; lights were always turned off when not in use and showers kept short. My mom taught me to sew my dolls’ clothes and bedding from extra scraps of fabric or old torn clothes. It was never overwhelming or weighted too heavily, just a natural rhythm of consciousness and creativity in the ways we can keep using what we already have. Probably more than anything, this has seeded in me a constant awareness of how I can better minimize my footprint and an enthusiasm for efforts and innovation that help spread this sense on a larger scale.
The role that Health, Wellness and the Environment have played in my life has grown gradually over time since graduating from college and moving out on my own and into the working world. Starting my career with a company like Johnson & Johnson, who cares greatly about these topics when it comes to the company’s customers, stakeholders and employees, helped to elevate their importance in my life. When you are supported by your organization to take part in Health & Wellness efforts, while also working day in and day out on businesses striving to be more environmentally friendly, it becomes easier to bring those elements into your life in both personal and professional ways. So, in my early adult life these topics gained importance for me personally and professionally, driven by my job and my ability to control these aspects of my life while living on my own. While the importance of these topics grew year in and year out, as I figured out the adult I wanted to become and what issues were most important to me, they moved to a whole other level when I became responsible for the health and well-being of another human being, my 17-month old daughter. Now I strive to not only set the right example for my daughter with my own personal wellness lifestyle actions (mainly what I eat and daily fitness routine), but also to make the wisest, most thoughtful decisions and purchases around what products (food, beverage, personal care, home care, etc.) our family consumes / brings into our home and incorporates into our lives in one way or another.
There are so many good reasons to care about the environment in and of itself and prioritizing health is common sense, but then my appetite for pizza always overwhelmed my common sense anyhow. If I’m honest, it is the social side of sustainability and a desire for quality/authenticity that inspires me most. Studying developing nations is the cause rather than the effect of my consciousness. The better I understood the complex dynamics of production, consumption, and globalization, the more difficult it became not to see beyond the product to all the people involved in and affected by its creation and sale. Items’ diverse origins were no longer unknown lands or faceless workers as life abroad connected me with people from over 80 countries. It all seemed to come together – better production practices are better for the environment and people (both socially and physically) and often yield a superior product. Then again, growing up next door to farms in Southern Michigan had already taught me the joy of consuming local products. Friendship with artisans reminded me how amazing it is to create something from metal, wood, clay, cloth, or bamboo. Learning about and supporting craftsmanship has become a priority for me and has inspired me to explore my own creative and productive potential. I didn’t always transition gracefully, like learning the hard way how to sort my trash and recycling in Japan. But even though it drove me crazy sometimes, it is now unthinkable for me to simply throw everything away in a single bag. I was raised to associate sustainability with the virtues of self-reliance, but now I also see it as a rich and diverse style of consumption that connects me with other people.
I first developed an environmentally conscious mindset after spending the summer of 2013 in Brazil’s Mato Grosso province teaching music and English at the Nazare Orphanage. The orphanage was located right on the edge of the Pantanal, the world’s largest system of wetlands, and I learned that nearly all of this land was owned privately by cattle ranchers and not protected by any environmental organization. Without government protection, the Pantanal was completely given over to roaming cattle that put enormous stress on this fragile ecosystem, and with the global demand for beef rising, there was more cattle in this wilderness than ever before. After seeing firsthand the threat that raising cattle in this area had on the environment and after learning more about sustainable agriculture, I decided to stop eating red meat entirely upon returning to the U.S. More importantly, however, I sought out other more sustainable options in other areas of my life, including taking public transit to the GLGW Office every day.
We would love to hear your stories as well! Please share your own perspectives and experiences in becoming more conscious of wellness and sustainability as a consumer.