For our final Green Moms interview, welcome Manda Aufochs Gillespie, otherwise known as the Green Mama. She’s got two kids, who are ten and almost seven. Perhaps most interestingly, she lives on a remote island off the west coast of British Columbia in Canada. She blogs at The Green Mama, which you can also find on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
As this interview was over the phone, I’ve edited it a bit for clarity.
Why is it important to you to parent your kids in a “green” way?
For me, green is about this combination, this holistic idea of health. Health is about the personal. Health is also about the global. And that when we are parenting our children, we are also parenting our future. We are becoming intimately involved in some small way in something that will continue beyond us. And so, in its deepest sense, there is actually no distinction between truly parenting the best you can and parenting green. They are the same thing. Green is really about this idea of being holistically seeing the world. The child is just a microcosm of the whole. If you’re really showing up to do the one, you’ll be showing up to do the other in some way.
What motivated you to care about environmental and social sustainability?
I grew up on welfare and in the Midwest. I was raised by my single mom. We’re also a mixed race family. I myself am white but my brother is black. I feel like when you live a little outside of the mainstream, because of in our case poverty and race, I began to see the world as being beyond just what my immediate experience. From very early, I became very curious about the dissonance between what I was experiencing and what I knew was available out there. I really believe strongly that everybody in the world ought to have access to health, to freedom, to true freedom of mind and body that comes from health and allows us to realize our highest human potential.
What are the biggest steps you’ve taken to be sustainable, especially as a parent?
There are a few major things that people can do that will have positive impact for their children that will hopefully ripple out from their families into the larger community. One of these is around food and eating. I feel like this is how a lot of people come to green; they become more aware of what they are putting in their body. That awareness will take you as far as you want to go. When you start to question how your food is grown, whether it really should be a privilege affordable only to the rich to eat food that’s not contaminated with known carcinogens, from there it becomes a very liberating ideology. … I would say for me, I’m very aware of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. I prioritize all meat and fat animal products, hopefully better than organic – whole, unprocessed, living the life of farm animals as those farm animals were intended to live. I’ve gotten very interested in fermentation. Also, making sure I have access to pure, clean water and trying to avoid plastics and packaging as best as I can in my food sources.
I’m not in any way ignorant to the fact that fundamentally, we have made food in North America a class issue. Where you must have time and money in order to make healthy choices for your family in this regard. … You can trade off time and money a bit, but let’s just be very clear that you need some of both. And that’s not fair. And that’s when I come back to my roots – freedom from toxins should be a fundamental human right and that shouldn’t be tied up in class.
Indoor air quality is something I really focus on. … Indoor air tends to be 5 to 7 time more polluted than outdoor air. We are the culprits of our indoor air pollution. Once again, this is a class dimension. There’s a lot of things that people can do to improve indoor air that are available to all. Opening windows, taking your shoes off, and avoiding any cleaning products that have a skull and crossbones on it. As you go up the economic ladder, you can also improve your indoor air by removing carpets, by choosing no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, by choosing better finishes by ensuring the furniture you bring into your house is real wood instead of pressed wood or used.
You can make huge differences in your own health by improving your indoor air quality and the health of your children. We see there’s quite an established link between indoor air quality and asthma in children, including in pregnancy.
Has there ever been a time when you felt like being sustainable conflicted with something that was best for your child?
I feel like if I were just doing what I might otherwise do that is best for the environment, I would not fly. On the other hand, I have taken my kids to live in Guatemala a few different times, we fly to see family, in part because it’s important for them to experience other cultures. It’s one example of what makes better people is not necessarily “better” for the environment.
What’s something you want to do to be sustainable, but haven’t been able to yet?
One of the big things that I am trying to do now that I’ve got space to do is is to grow my own food. And I’m working on it. We’re sort of clearing the way for a substantial garden. But it’s been a big deal. I don’t naturally consider myself a green thumb. I’m not even that interested in it. I’m doing it because I believe it’s going to be good for all of us. I believe that by doing it, the love and interest will come.
What’s the hardest part of trying to raise kids in a sustainable way?
Globally, what’s hard is that we’ve made it an end-sum game. Sustainability and healthy choices are connected to time and money. There’s this mindset that we’ve been allowed to hold that [sustainability] is a healthy person’s privilege. The more that you wake up to how important these things are, the more the insanity of the decision weighs on you as a person.
On the personal level that plays out by feeling the weight of the kind of tradeoff one has to make at times. Because of limited time, money, resources, support. I know how important it is that my kids eat well, but nevertheless, every time we go off island, I have to choose the best of the options.
What’s the most rewarding part?
We will do things for our children that we would never do for ourselves. We become it’s healthier, happier, more disciplined about our media, more balanced, more fit, more all these things in order to become pregnant, in order to have a healthier pregnancy and in order to model for our children what we want for them to see. At least I have found that I’ve become happier, healthier, freer – more the person I want to be. I might not have been as inspired or engaged enough to do it by myself.
[Talking about her work helping families be more green]
People who are pregnant or recently had babies, they’re inherently hopeful. The act of having a child is an action who breeds hope. They become invested in the action. People who never gave a hoot deeply, desperately care.
Thank you to all of the green moms that I interviewed for this series! I know you’ve helped me think about the many ways to be “green” and how that means different things to different people. If you missed them, check out the profiles of permaculture expert Jen, clean food-focused Caryn, vegan Julie, and environmental writer Sandi. Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook for more updates!