Frugal Living Podcast: Frugal Environmentalism

Frugal Living Podcast: Frugal Environmentalism

In this episode of Frugal Living, host Jim Markus talks with Lauren Ferree, an environmentalist, a freelance video producer, and a social-media content creator. You can find the full text of the conversation below. You can also listen to Frugal Living with Jim Markus here, on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Amazon, on, or anywhere you go to find podcasts.

Read a Transcript from This Episode

Lauren (00:00):
So we have way more power than we think, we just play so small.

Jim (00:05):
This is Frugal Living. Real frugality can seem daunting. I need to save how much before I retire? You went how long since you bought a new shirt? In that way, it’s similar to environmentalism. Our consumption has a cost, both to frugality into the world where we live. And it’s hard to conceive of a situation where one person’s individual choices can make a difference. Except we can make a difference. We can evaluate, spending, saving, and the ecological impacts of our lifestyles. This week, my guest and I talked about the intersection of environmentalism and a frugal lifestyle. It’s a fun conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Lauren (01:00):
I’m Lauren Ferree. I am an environmentalist, a freelance video producer, and a social-media content creator.

Jim (01:06):
Have a Coke, you know, you’ll feel a little bit better.

Lauren (01:10):
Have a Coke. Treat yourself. It’s crazy out there.

Jim (01:14):
You watched a documentary today. You deserve this.

Lauren (01:19):
So good. I know that and when people, like I got a New York Times article that said eco saints turn on eco sinners, and like how we have to stop the gatekeeping and stop the divide. Because that’s what we do, right? We’re saying, but you use this, but you use this. And I have this one memory of a friend of mine. I was talking about how passionate I was about single-use plastic. And he came over to my desk and was like, “But your pen has plastic. But your laptop case has plastic. But your camera lens has plastic.” And I’m like, oh my goodness, isn’t this exactly what the big execs want us to do too? It’s like hypercriticize each other. But what about this? And what about this? Instead of being like, hey, owner of Chevron, like what about you?

Jim (02:06):
Yeah. I mean, it’s tough, right? Because there are legitimate things we can do, but we don’t want to point them out in others. Right? Like it’s not super helpful to shame someone into saying, “Hey, you know, you bought a 48-count box of single-use plastic bottles for your kid’s soccer game. You should feel bad for being a parent who cares about your kid’s hydration.” But we don’t need those, right? Like we don’t need giant, you know, bulk packages of water. There are better ways to do this. And I think my point, the reason I like these types of conversations is there’s a frugal reason to do this too. Why buy that again and again and again? Yeah, Sam’s Club will continue to sell them to you at dirt cheap prices, but you could just fill your water. It’s cheaper to do that. And you don’t have all this waste.

Lauren (03:05):
I can see the mom at the soccer game and how, yeah, I think people are so sensitive to criticism and it will never work. You know, like the shaming of like, you’re using plastic, you’re an eco sinner, you know? Instead of being like, hey, have you thought about a reusable? You know, I understand if you’re in a dire need and you’re, I don’t know, you’re on a road trip, your kid’s freaking out, and you don’t have the reusable water bottle, or like you’re nowhere near a faucet, whatever. And you run into a gas station or to a 7-Eleven and get your kid a water bottle. That’s not what we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about like the person who continues to buy. Water bottles are on their weekly grocery list.

Jim (03:46):
I think what I like about what you were saying earlier is the idea that it’s not about, hey, you have to change, this is something you have to do. It’s an invitation saying, hey, I like this. Here’s something I learned that changed my life. I think a lot of this was very popular back in like the 1930s. You know, Great Depression, everything you have has to stay. You need to keep it, because you need to reuse it, because you’re never going to buy olives again this year. That was the treat that you got. Now we have this great glass container we can use. And I think we’re seeing a little of that come back. But I think a lot more of the reasoning is sustainability.

Lauren (04:26):
So there’s a book called We Are the Weather. Have you heard of it?

Jim (04:30):
I haven’t, no.

Lauren (04:31):
I’ll send it to you. It’s mostly about how a plant-based diet can help reduce emissions and inviting more people into the plant-based lifestyle, but without criticism, right? Like if you still choose to eat eggs, that’s OK. But if everyone reduced their meat consumption a little, and we made it way harder for like the big meat producers and like the animal agriculture industry, in general, to make it a little bit more difficult to, you know, produce the volume that they do each year. And you do that with like, you know, removing the subsidies on corn. Like corn is so dirt cheap and we feed it to all the livestock. During World War II, like the war was something that like everyone could get behind. And it was like, oh, there’s this enemy over here. And we have to do everything. And taxes were something crazy, like over 70 or 80% or something, because all this money was going to the war. And he talked about how like, people started growing vegetable gardens in their backyard, so we could feed our people. Like that’s the camaraderie and the community and like taking care of each other, because there was an identified enemy, you know? It was like, we have to do whatever we can. And like you said, we have this one amazing glass container. It’s like scrap metal. Recycling was like, wonderful at its highest. I mean, I don’t know, compared to now. But because we needed it, like we needed all the material we could get. And I’m like, wow, if we… And his obvious symbolism was, if we could look at the enemy of World War II the same way we look at the climate crisis, you know?

Jim (06:05):
Well, that goes back to what you were saying too. You’re saying community is a very big part of this. I think we’re a huge country. The US is enormous. It’s the size of many countries put together. And I think, especially recently, we’ve been kind of at each other’s throats. We’re all the same country. We’re all the same people. We’re all on the same planet together. We need to look at this as one community, and then we’re going to be less likely to say, “Hey, you need to not use that plastic pen or your plastic, you know, lens cover,” and much more likely to say, “Oh no, I’m starting a garden. You should start a garden too. Gardening’s awesome.”

Lauren (06:42):
Yeah. I also think too, it just takes like innovation of like new materials. I’m like, OK, we all know that plastic is terrible. Right? And like, we all know that fossil fuels are like extremely damaging. We can have the same things. Like what if we say, yes, you can still air travel and you can still have pens, just like the material is something different. So the transition is like completely seamless. And I think you’re seeing that now with some of the alternative companies. And I’m working with one pretty consistently right now, and the focus to make it feel like meat, taste like meat, look like meat, you buy it in the meat aisle is like, we are trying to make it as seamless as possible. But the amount of land, the amount of water, the amount of emissions, like obviously the zero slaughter involved, the impact is huge, but like try to make it as seamless as possible for the customer. And you see them, you know, doing the Beyond Carl’s Jr. burger or whatever, like Impossible Pizza Hut or whatever it is. To be like, you could still eat what you want and it’s going to taste the same, but it’s going to have a far lesser impact on our people and the planet.

Jim (07:49):
Yeah. I’m a big fan of all of these things. And I think you’re right. I think a lot of it’s on the corporate side, what can we do to help people not have to change their lifestyle? Like how can we help people understand that it’s not a big shift because it’s really… The onus is going to be on them for most of this anyway.

Lauren (08:07):
Yeah. It’s this like tango, right? There’s like, corporations need to be regulated and incentivize and government needs to regulate. Right? But I, again, with individual action, I have a girlfriend of mine. She is like a leader in the zero waste movement. And she’s so wonderful. And she is always saying, individuals need to act so corporations and government can react. And I love that so much because it’s like, yes, if we use our voice and if we demand it, and if we take the thing that they value most, which is our dollar or our vote, away from them, then they will change. You know, like then they will start singing a very different tune, because those are the two things that they’re after. So we have way more power than we think, we just play so small.

Jim (08:55):
What’s one easy thing that someone without a lot of experience with sustainability or zero waste could do with a frugal mindset to improve their life?

Lauren (09:05):
I think the first thing I would say is start asking questions and just be like a toddler and just be like, but why, but why, but why? Right? Like kids are like, but why? Because when we start asking like, OK, why are emissions bad? Or like, what is an emission? What is a greenhouse gas emissions? And like, why does it take so long to be removed? And like, why is methane worse than carbon? And why does it live in the atmosphere for so long? You know? And why? And maybe those are a little too scientific, so we can go down on like a smaller level of why does eating plant-based produce less emissions than an animal-rich diet, and why? And why do cattle require so much land and water, right? So you keep asking why, why, why? I think it, again, like empowers the individual to create their own perspective and their own experience and their own understanding of what matters most to them. Because I think the beautiful thing about environmentalism, like we said, the intersectionality of everything, everyone is passionate about something. And I think ultimately it is all like intrinsically related to our life on earth, right? So, and environmentalism or combating the climate crisis is just about like regenerating and sustaining and protecting life on Earth. That’s it. For our generation and for future generations to come. So it’s like, find out what you’re passionate about. And then it will ultimately connect to the fight against the climate crisis in some way, shape, or form, you know? So I think start asking questions would be the first tip. And then, secondly, I recently listened to a podcast with Gina McCarthy. She’s our new, like, White House Climate Advisor for the new administration. And she is wonderful. And she is so New England. It is amazing. Like she has the thickest New England accent. I love it so much. But she talks about like, we need people plugging into their community, you know, and I feel convicted with this. And if anything, COVID made all of us just like, get in your house and stay in your house and you don’t talk to anyone, right? And obviously there’s like safety protocols behind all of that and a pure motive behind that. But we need to like knock on our neighbor’s door and be like, “Hi, nice to meet you, neighbor.” And I just moved. So maybe I’m feeling like, especially empowered to go do this. “Hi, I’m your neighbor. And we have a dog, if you ever want to come meet our dog,” or like, “Do you have a dog? Because we can watch your dog sometime. They can come over. And we’re going to start a vegetable garden. We’re going to have way more spices than we need. So like, do you like rosemary? Because we have plenty.” You know? Or just being more connected. Or like our neighbor, I know, has so many tools. So like you said, like, “If our bike breaks down, do you know how to fix a bike? Because you know, our chain just fell apart.” Or, “We surf, and I noticed that you have surf racks on your car. So like, what beach do you surf at? Maybe I’ll see you out sometime.” Just being more plugged into our community. I think, again, because when we understand, like you said, we are all humans on Earth. We are all part of the system, the ecosystem, greater ecosystem. So yeah, being connected would be my second tip. And then lastly, and I’m not like suggesting a certain political view on anyone, but I think just voting, or even finding out like, who is your state representative? Or who is your state senator, and what do they think on certain things? And like, I have my state reps on my Favorites list on my phone, and as soon as I see anything, like, they’re trying to build a new light train in California. It’s just like, I want to know what your stance is on this, you know? Or we have offshore drilling here in Orange County, and I’m like, OK, what are we doing to stop that? Because we all know what happens with offshore oil rigs. Or like, what are we doing to be… We’re in California, which is one of the most like robust climate plans in the country, or has one of the most robust renewable-energy climate plans in the country. So what does that look like on a local scale, in my district?

Jim (12:59):
I think a lot of people, probably the same people who are like, “Why vote? It’s just one vote,” kind of forget that on a local scale, your one vote isn’t out of hundreds of millions. Your one vote is out of hundreds. You could really sway a lot. Get your neighbors together, you have a voting block. And if they change locally, they can change nationally.

Lauren (13:20):
Totally. Yeah. Like your mayor’s your neighbor, like your mayor lives in your town, and your city council members are like in your same grocery store. You know?

Jim (13:29):

Lauren (13:30):
And yeah, it’s funny. It’s like, speaking at city council. I remember the first time I spoke at city council, I was so nervous. Cause I was like, what do I say? What do I say? And it was about a single-use plastic ordinance in Santa Monica, when I was in LA. And I was like, I don’t know what to say. And people are like, just share a story. You know, I clean up the beach every week with the Surfrider Foundation, and I’m sick and tired of seeing the to-go packages from all of these restaurants that are on the beach. And you see it, it is like the logo of this restaurant and it’s showing up on the beach. And I’m the one cleaning it up and I’m tired. And because we all know what happens when plastic gets into the ocean. I don’t need to tell you that, mayor, but I’m telling you as a constituent of your community, we have to change this and you have the power to do it. Boom, that’s it! It’s like, I didn’t share a statistic. I didn’t share like data or research or anything. It’s like, I just told a story on how I’m frustrated.

Jim (14:23):
I love that.

Lauren (14:24):
And that means a lot, you know?

Jim (14:26):
Stories are huge. Stories are everything. You had, I think, a story show up in The New York Times in the blog section about not having a car. I haven’t had a car in a decade. Tell me a story about not having a car.

Lauren (14:44):
Amazing, amazing! I love hearing folks who don’t have cars, cause I’m not an anomaly, by any means. And I want to be very frank about that. People are like, you’re not special. And I’m like, OK, thank you. It’s fine. Yes, I sold my car. I was paying off a student loan and I started like a challenge for myself in 2017. And I gave up something or I just focused on something, tried to create a new habit each month of the year. And in May of 2017, I was like, I think I’m going to give up my car. Cause I was walking to work. I was very, very fortunate where I lived walking distance of my work and my boyfriend lived in Orange County, or my fiance now, lived in Orange County and I would take the train. There was a train. You could take like the Expo line to downtown and downtown to Orange County. I was like, I feel like I could make this work. So I gave up my car for a month and my roommate locked the keys in her little box or something, and I needed a car one time to get to like a speaking arrangement. And I borrowed my coworker’s car. Cause I wanted to show that I had the community, the folks around me, the friends to support this challenge. Right? I only needed to borrow a car once. Everything else, I rode my bike, I took the train, I took… We had like Bird scooters. Did you have those? It’s perfect, like electric scooters that you rent with your phone on an app. So wonderful. And then we had Jump bikes, which Uber launched, which were like pedal-assist electric bikes. And you could just take one and it’s like 50 cents for a minute or something super affordable. Maybe even less. Maybe 10 cents a minute. Anyways, gave it up and then September rolled around and I was like, I think I can do it. I think I can sell it. And you know, you do the math, the car is like five to $6,000 a year.

Jim (16:27):
It’s so expensive. Insurance, gas.

Lauren (16:30):
It is so expensive. Insurance, gas, maintenance, oil change, car washes, like all the things. Right? And aux cord, like all the things. So I was like, I think I’m going to sell it, at least until I can pay off my student loan. And so that six grand, but then, you know when you’re like addicted to paying off debt or when you’re paying off debt, you’re like addicted to it. At least I was. How quick can I pay off this loan? So with like so much focus and saving everything and like little odd jobs and things like that too, I was able to pay off the student loan, which was like the most liberating feeling in the world. But then I was like, well, I haven’t had a car for two years. Like, what’s the point now? You know? I’m like, I don’t think I need to go back. And so now my fiance and I live together and he has a car. So I would say we’re more of like a single-car family. And I’m very fortunate that I live very close to my family. And so seeing each other on weekends or for holidays, it’s very easy to like get a ride home, you know, or for someone to pick me up. And I live like a few miles away from my sister, so I can like get a ride with her to our mom’s house. But it probably goes back into that earlier point too of just being more plugged in with my community, because I’m having to coordinate rides often. But it’s kind of sweet, right? My friends are like, do you need a ride? I’m like, yeah. I feel like a teenager. Yeah, I would love a ride.

Jim (17:50):
It’s the overlap of those three big themes that came up a lot during this conversation. It’s frugality, it’s sustainability, and it’s community. Well, thank you again for making time to chat today. This was an awesome conversation. And I’d love to talk to you again about any of this stuff. Frugal Living is brought to you by Brad’s Deals, creating the safest place to shop on Earth. That’s Special thanks to Lauren Ferree, Sydney Smith, and H. Borkowski. I’m Jim Markus. Thanks for listening.

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