Erin Schrode sees the world through green-tinted glasses. An eco-Renaissance woman and “the face of the new green generation”, she’s a champion of all things eco. Since she co-founded Teens Turning Green at the age of 13, her youth-led movement has inspired her peers to take action for the environment. Ten years on, she’s leading the charge in the transition from conventional to conscious living. She speaks internationally to audiences of all ages and promotes global sustainability, youth leadership, environmental education, and green living. This green pioneer has never tried Coca Cola, but she’s certainly got a taste for positive change. Here, she shares her hope for the future of food.
How did organic become a part of your life?
The only thing my mom would let near my body was organic food, and I would go around the farmers market picking out the organic things. Growing up in Marin County, it was so accessible, and I was so blessed to have not only fresh foods but fresh organic foods.
When my mom was pregnant with me she read a book called Diet for a Poisoned Planet. My dad came home from work and she had completely “organicized” the house (yes, that's my word!). I was getting only organic nutrients from her, and as soon as I popped out it was all whole organic food. I’ve never even had a Coca Cola. I don’t know what it’s like to eat anything other than organic. Call me crazy, but it’s who I am, and it’s the way my mom raised me from before day one.
What do you see as the benefits of organics in your life? And in the world?
I am knocking on wood as I’m saying this. I’m an incredibly healthy person, and I don’t get sick. I’m strong and healthy – I’m 23 years old so who knows what’s down the road, but I’ve lead a really healthy lifestyle. Food is my medicine. That’s where I get everything that my body needs. I just feel alive, I have great energy.
I see it in friends who start eating organic foods, in their energy levels, and on a global level, too. We have one body, we have one world, and organic is the way to better both of them. I’ve seen a lot of farmers in really dire situations because of these really detrimental destructive forms of conventional agriculture. Organic is the answer. It’s great to see farmers embrace it for their families, for their health, for the health of the land, for prosperity, for happiness.
Your work in sustainability started with beauty products when you were just 13 – what was your reaction when you found out how unhealthy those products could be?
I thought I lived a really healthy life. I ate organic food, I drank out of glass water bottles, I carpooled. But Maybelline was a mainstay in my pencil case and Britney Spears was a spokesperson for Herbal Essences. And I was a teenage girl. I never thought that anything I was using to make myself beautiful was unhealthy.
Then I came across a study connecting beauty products to cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm. It didn’t make sense to me as someone who knew about the benefits of a healthy organic lifestyle. I felt a little cheated, and I thought that someone should be looking out for my health and wellbeing.
How did you feel after the success of your first “green campaign”?
We started Teens Turning Green (originally called Teens for Safe Cosmetics) because we thought our peers should know what we were putting on our bodies every day. And the response was outrage – we don’t knowingly do things that will harm our health.
At the time, we were beautifully naïve youth. We wanted to make a change and we weren’t fearful in the face of a multi million-dollar beauty industry. We weren’t influenced by lobbyists, money, or anything else but our health.
We led a number of campaigns. In October of 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger was ready to veto the Safe Cosmetics Act in California. A group of our campaign members went to San Francisco to lobby in favor of the bill. It passed, and I remember a statement came out that talked about the importance of young voices in this issue. I was 14 at the time – none of us were old enough to vote, but we still had a voice and a chance to make a difference in shaping the future. That was empowering.
As the “face of the new green generation”, your work is about much more than food – what place does food occupy in your work?
I’m a total foodie. I’m obsessed with food – it’s my lifeline. When I hear people say they just eat whatever, I can’t even understand what they’re talking about. We spend too much of our lives preparing and eating food to not think about it. Too much of our resources are devoted to food to not talk about it.
Food touches physical health, agricultural health, social justice, and politics; it crosses national borders, touches every man, woman, and creature on the planet; food touches all of us. I can walk into any room, any field, any corner of the earth and people have a connection to food. Food is a very easy entry point to talk to people about healthy living. They understand that what they eat is connected to how they look and feel.
I take such joy and pride in food. Food touches the lives of every single person on this planet. It affects our personal health, our world, and our policy. It’s universal, so let’s do it right!
What about farming?
I just think that farming is so exciting. I’m such a dork. It's the most natural process on earth; it’s so beautiful. To see such a resurgence in urban farming, small farming, family farming – to see a shift away from this horrible toxic industrial ‘farming’ (if you can even call it that) is riveting.
What do you see as the role of youth in growing a better food system?
I’m so inspired every time I meet a young farmer. Farming is the connection young people need – to see, to touch, to feel, to breathe with the land. I think we’re becoming so disconnected from the land. We have to show people that farming is possible, and that it’s something we value; that food isn’t something that’s made in the lab; that a better food system starts with healthy soil; that it takes all of us to reinvigorate and honor the role of the farmer.
How do you get people excited about sustainability?
I’m an eternal optimist. People like positivity and they respond to solutions. I’m not here to point out everything you’re doing wrong, I’m here to show you how to live a sustainable, beautiful, organic life. It’s a slippery slope, I tell you. Once I introduce people to one thing, they get hooked. When you start to think about energy consumption, organic food, agriculture, cotton, you start to fill in the blanks. It becomes an opportunity. That’s what I want to make sustainability for everyone.
How can people get involved in making a change?
I’m an environmentalist, I’m a green girl, but I have so much respect for people who take action in any aspect of their life. Find your passion, find your niche, and do what needs to be done. Educate yourself fiercely. Come up with solutions. Then be ready to fight, to put everything you’ve got into it. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s worth it. My motto is “dream and do”, and my advice to young people is to dream the most audacious beautiful visions you can, then get to work!
What do you wish the world understood about organics?
I wish people looked at solutions more holistically. I wish people could see the work and the love that goes into creating organic food. I wish people understood that our bodies function better on organic. I wish people understood all of the additional benefits for communities built around organic. When I think about what organic could do for the world, it’s a better, more peaceful, healthier place. It’s a more delicious one, too!
I wish, too, that people understood what real organic means. I want people to understand certified organic, what we’re actually supporting when we buy organic. That is the conscious consumer element. What does it stand for? What does it mean? There’s a rigorous process behind real organic, and we have to vehemently support the integrity of organic in the world.
What’s your vision for the future of food?
Fresh, local, organic, seasonal, non-GMO, and zero waste, baby. That’s my vision.
I want people to see the magic of food, I want people to see the amount of issues we can tackle and all the ways we can improve our lives. We have to go back to basics in so many ways. We don’t have a food system; we have a manufacturing system. Somewhere along the line we steered ourselves wrong and I can only hope we can get back on track. When 90% of the soy and canola we grow is GMO – that’s a scary precipice on which we exist.
This is a really pivotal moment in our lives. These are massive issues we have to take on. We have problems with our food system that are pressing and real – but we also have solutions. We’ve figured out that organic can solve so many of these problems. We can’t give up. My vision for the future of food is one where everyone thinks of themselves as an active player in improving food systems, from start to finish, from building healthy soil to healthy bodies.
Feeling the urge to go greener? Erin has us convinced! How can we be active players in improving food systems? Let us know in the comments, and if you'd like more green-themed content, sign up for our monthly newsletter - we'd love to see you there.
Photos courtesy of Erin Schrode