Hey, Green Junkie!
Today, I am introducing you to the amazing Isaias Hernandez.
Isaias, is the founder of the Queer Brown Vegan and he is blazing a trail for young and old alike in his quest for environmental justice and a healthier planet.
He is here to remind us all that taking care of our planet and each other doesn’t have to be hard or expensive and that everyone has a role to play in ensuring that we all have equal access to our earth’s beautiful and natural resources.
I’m so honored to have him on this episode and hope you learn as much as I did.
In this episode we will discuss,
- What is environmental justice?
- How you can get involved in environmental justice
- The strategy of 3 when it comes to a green home
- Thoughts on eco-guilt, shame and perfectionism
You’ll discover that and so much more in this episode.
By the end of this episode, Green Junkie, you’ll be more informed and empowered to advocate for the environment and educate those who want help making the planet a better place.
If you love this podcast be sure to leave a review and share a screenshot of this episode to your IG stories. Tag @greenjunkiepodcast so I can shout you out and publicly say thanks.
Thanks for listening and being here.
Your green bestie,
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Produced by: Alecia Harris
Music By: Liz Fohle
Transcript for Episode 28
Stephanie Moram 0:07
I'm your host Stephanie Moram and today I have the pleasure of having a conversation with Isaias Fernandez. Isaias is an environmental educator and content creator of Queer Brown Vegan, where he discusses introductory forms of environmentalism, through videos, illustrations and graphic. He seeks to provide a safe space for like minded environmentalists to push forward bold climate action in his community. His work is closely centered in localization, sustainability and environmental justice. Before we get started, don't forget to subscribe to the green junkie podcast on whatever platform you listen to.
Stephanie Moram 0:50
Hi Isaias! I'm so excited to have you here today to chat with me. I have a full list of questions for you, as you know. So I think to get this conversation started, I would just really like you to tell my audience who you are, tell them about yourself. And how did you start your environmental veganism journey?
Isaias Fernandez 1:15
Absolutely. And thank you so much again, for having me. A little bit about me my name is Isaiah and I grew up in Los Angeles, California. So I am a SoCal person. But I think I've always had this very strong curiosity about my ecosystem, and learning about people, animals and stories that are really sacred to the earth. And I think that, you know, my vegan journey was actually quite interesting. I was in college, and I was studying in environmental science. And I remember clearly taking the food systems in agriculture course, in the course itself, we covered a very large issue of industrial agriculture, right, we talked about the pros of it, benefiting society, how it, you know, created large surplus of food and allowed for transportation that allowed for the cheaper cost of produce. But one of the cons I realized is the way that we were sourcing our meat, which was through factory farms, and the massive amount of slaughter and brutal violence that is committed on animals and people who have to work there, which are typically undocumented people of color, are really forced to work in these horrific working conditions. And so I would say that this class really opened me up to kind of challenge myself, like, why am I contributing to a system that it that is very harmful and exploitative, for a lot of non human animals and humans? So I think I really wanted to kind of challenge myself and ask, like, what are the things that I can help into fighting for animal liberation? And so I would say that's kind of where my journey for veganism started.
Stephanie Moram 2:56
That's great. So when you were growing up, it wasn't part of your how you were raised? Were your parents into the environment, or veganism? Or was it really, as you became more an adult that you dive into that specifically?
Isaias Fernandez 3:12
Yeah, you know, I would say that both my father and mother are environmentalist, they're originally from Mexico. And when they immigrated to Los Angeles, my whole life, we grew up in poverty, I grew up in affordable housing, a lid off food stamps, and lived near toxic facilities. And I think for them, they really told me a lot about their experiences working on farms or living on the land. And they really taught me a lot of this concept of localization of using resources that are the most sustainable to you in your own bio region. And that really stuck to me in a lot of ways. I think that my veganism journey was really explored later on in life. And this is because a lot of times in my culture, it's a very, it's in a lot of cultures, there's a lot of nonhuman animals or meat that is included in a lot of dishes. And so I kind of wanted to challenge those beliefs of like, what are some of the plant based foods that exists in my culture that don't really use any animal derivatives or animal byproducts. And so I would say that in trying to explore my veganism, it allowed me to connect more to my cultural stories and the cultural dishes that I would make growing up, and to really find these different alternatives that were sacred and natural to the production of our natural systems that we live in today. So it was a very mixed opinion. And I would say to my sister actually is vegan and she went vegan before me. And so she actually drove that message to me to within my vegan journey.
Stephanie Moram 4:47
And I remember I was on Instagram and I was watching I think it was watching a video or you posted something with your mom, and you guys were cooking together. So I'm curious. You're talking about traditional dishes as a family used to make that would be more maybe meat focus? Do you and your mom create like plant based vegan dishes put a spin on them to make them vegan versus have that animal component to it?
Isaias Fernandez 5:12
Oh, absolutely, my parents are so accepting of my vegan journey and my parents are actually plant based too, they really don't really cook with meas as much anymore as they used to. And I would say that, whenever I'm home, my mom knows that we have to cook vegan. And so she actually cooks with me. And one thing that we did in the holiday season (because I no longer live in California I live in New Jersey), is, you know, when we made tamales, we made them all vegan. And I think that it was a really great experience for my mom and I to kind of bond together over this cultural thing that we used to make growing up in the holidays and knowing the fact that like, you know, we're able to really switch out a lot of these products that we used to use for more better alternatives for the environment for the animals for our health, it really has opened their eyes to different possibilities in how they're creating their own food. And so I would say that it took a cultural shift for that. But I think that now I'm at a such a very great supportive space with my family supporting me.
Stephanie Moram 6:21
I love that your your mom and like your parents have like embraced it, and they're like, Okay, we're gonna do this together. If you're gonna come to visit, we're gonna do like a vegan meal together, because it's not all families, right? That do that they're like, “Okay, you can eat vegan, bring a canned chickpeas and some lettuce.” And then call it a day, right? Where I just love how your mom was like, No, we're gonna make this together. And we're gonna make a vegan version of it. So I just, I really appreciate that. So when I mentioned in your bio, when I was reading your bio talked about environmental justice, I would love for you to explain what you mean by that. And what is that? Exactly?
Isaias Fernandez 6:59
Yeah, so the environmental justice, it was coined and talked about in the 1960s. It can also be traced back into the 1940s and 50s. But during the 1960s, you know, there was this very high prevalence of environmental contamination going on, specifically towards black and indigenous communities. And the modern environmental movement that was very fixated on conservation, save the polar bears, we have to, you know, implement carbon tax, right? These modern environmental views never reflected to low income communities of color of what they were facing. And when we asked, well, what were they facing, we have to actually explore historical events and say, they were located or they worked at poisonous environments, such as waste incinerators, chemical factories, having oil wells outside of their homes. And so this spanned across from the United States and environmental justice, in the most simplest form is the advocacy and protection for all communities to have access to healthy air, water and soil. And there's an emphasis of people of color, not to say, Oh, well, white people don't deserve to have it healthy environment. It's to acknowledge that through history and how we have seen racism and segregation played a huge role in the United States, we can see that the documented cases of environmental injustice or poor environmental health standards are typically communities who are low income, and they are people who are black, brown, or people of color.
Stephanie Moram 8:40
And so when you say that part of your role as environmental justice, so you're out there advocating on behalf of these communities, is that correct?
Isaias Fernandez 8:52
Stephanie Moram 8:54
And what is it that you know, so you're an environmental educator, so what is it that what steps do you take to advocate for environmental justice?
Isaias Fernandez 9:05
Yeah, so I would say that as someone who grew up and in the environmental justice community, which I live near toxic facilities, I got involved in my local environmental justice organization, and part about organizing and, and building power and movements and identifying power imbalances in our local city politics, is recognizing how much of a barrier there is to voting, right? And when we talk, when we talk about voting, you have to think about the location, is it accessible to people to physically be able to be there and the number the number one issue that is a very prevalent issue is language accessibility. There are many communities of color who do not really fully understand always English because that's not their primary language. And there's sometimes some difficulty or barriers to understanding what the law policy is and how that can affect them. But I would say that now today, I've been involved as an educator online. My role on social media is to teaming up with local environmental justice organizations on Instagram or Twitter or Tik Tok, to help them run successful campaigns, or to help them navigate social media, and to really have action to call out politicians and political figures that are working for city governments. I think one case recently, what happened in New Jersey is what's happening in New York, New Jersey, where I teamed up with Iron Bound community Corp, and they're fighting against another toxic environmental industry that may be planted there in the next few years. And that communities already burdened with high rates of asthma due to other industries that exist there. And so part of my work is to ensure that people understand, you know, environmental justice organizations do not have the same funding as compared to Greenpeace, Sierra Club, you know, NRDC, like these are all top and conservation orgs that received the most funding. And so oftentimes to be able to fight against toxic industries, is you need power, community and money. And for me, I realized that affluent communities are really well aware that, you know, they're against housing development, because I'll ruin their housing property values. So they don't want any people in their communities, or they don't want a toxic facility because they pay extremist amounts of taxes on their property. So why not building a low income community where they don't have that much agency, and they're already disempowered? And so for me as being an EJ educator is more about you know, yeah, we're fighting for clean air and water. It's about No, this is morally wrong, ethically wrong, right. And we need to understand that no children, or no elderly person deserves to live in a poisoned environment, regardless of who you are.
Stephanie Moram 11:53
I love that you're doing all this. I love it. I know, you know, just I'm in Canada, right? So I'm about six hours from you, in Montreal. And, you know, there's still like organizations fighting for indigenous people to have clean water, you know what I mean? Like, and I sit here with my glass of water in my Mason Jar, drinking water, and we're having this conversation, and there's people out there that can't even get clean drinking water. And it just blows my mind that in 2022, that we're having this discussion that we're having a discussion that people can't get clean drinking water.
Isaias Fernandez 12:30
Stephanie Moram 12:31
It just, I it's just, it's just so crazy. So I thank you for everything you're doing. It's amazing. I know, you work with a lot of other great creators as well. And it's just, it's just really great work that you're doing. So I appreciate it. Thank you. And so, back to you're talking about your mom and your parents, I just wanted to come back to something else. I'm curious, who is your biggest supporter? And who do you look up to the most?
Isaias Fernandez 12:57
You know, this is such a great question. I would say that, you know, with families, right, I'm very privileged to have a very strong relationship with my parents and siblings, I think that it's a truly a privilege, especially the world that we live in today, and how a lot of us are divided by our values, our politics and other things. But I would say that, you know, my mom is one of my hugest role models, because one of the saddest things I usually tell people is that my mom put herself through college, she worked since the age of 14, or 15, to save up to go to college, because in her household, you know, they didn't want to invest in the girl's education, or they didn't want to fund you know, in her family, the girls college education. And so my mom saved up and she suffered a lot in order to get her degree to be a teacher. And the saddest thing was that a year after she graduated, she moved to the United States. And unfortunately, the United States is a very xenophobic and racist country itself for saying, you know, you're undocumented, therefore, your degree is invalid. And so the saddest thing was that you know, she was not able to teach and use a degree. And so my mom is college educated and she became my own educator, she became my Spanish teacher, my Spanish writer as a formal as a teacher, you know, she made me you know, write down things in English and Spanish five times each. Make sure that my cursive my handwriting was neat and appropriate. She really made sure that like I had a foundation as a second teacher at home to know that she was helping me and yes, she may have not known the English words of like, you know, what's number four plus four, but she knew what like the Spanish word of that was and taught me in Spanish how to count how to multiply and all of these things. And so I'm very grateful to have had a mom that really helped me do like build a foundation. And I would say to like, you know, it's usually the women in my family that have supported me the most and like been role models, because my sister is also like a role model in being the first one to be vegan, the first one to really critically challenge the systems that we live in today. And she majored in psychology. And she's different from me. But, you know, she really opened my world to understand that, like, we can't think about these systems one way, we have to think about them through a multi dimensional lens, and also ensure that like, we're really being inclusive of who we're talking about, like, who's being center like, are we centering woman in these conversations? Are we going to make sure that queer trans rights are going to be heard and these conversations, just really pushing out these very radical ideas on to my work I do today? And it's quite funny, because, you know, my mom actually joins my Instagram live streams randomly sometimes. And I'm like, Mom, please don't join. I get nervous when you when you see live, and she kind of laughs and she's like, No, I'm going to keep joining until I can't see.
Stephanie Moram 15:59
So cute. She's probably the one that's hitting all like the hearts on the screen yeah, that's, that's her right. That's your mom. So when I watch it, I'm like, she's the one that's hitting all the hearts. It's really cute. And it's, you know, again, like, I'm gonna say, I love this, but I do, the relationship that seems that you have with your mom is such a strong relationship. And it's, you know, it's brought you to where you are now, right? It's given you, she's given you strength, she showed you how to overcome things. And it's just it's, you know, it's really beautiful that you were able to share that with us. So thank you for that. I do have another question. Because I've got lots of questions. So an everyday person, somebody that everyday person, for me, somebody that doesn't necessarily live green doesn't think about the environment necessarily, as much as we do. Doesn't always think about their purchases, but they try to do their best, you know, they might recycle, they might compost. But what is what would you recommend to somebody that's just getting started on living green living sustainable? Like, what do you recommend people do like the first thing that they try to start implementing sustainability into their life?
Isaias Fernandez 17:03
I really love this question, I would say that the first thing to do is really tapping into your own personal lived experiences, right? And looking back at your family history, was there a point in your life where you would, you know, your family would instill this culture of reusing things or not throwing away or it was seen as a, quote unquote, a poor thing to do, but in reality was the one to save you the most money, right? I tell people that you really divided your sectors in life into three, which is your bathroom, living room and kitchen, and asking yourself, like, what is the one thing that you would love to change in that space? And I think for most people, that kitchens probably the hardest part. So I tell people, you know, be honest with yourself, like it's hard to buy plastic free produce, like do not, they shouldn't, you should never destroy your physical or mental health or lifestyle. But I will tell people look at one thing that you want to change in your bathroom and ask yourself, what is one thing that you've been wanting to try that you feel that you're able to make a swap? That's easy, and most of the times you I get into conversations, I tell people like, what's your favorite chapstick? What toothpaste? Do you use? Like? Or do you use shampoo? Like, what do you use to clean your body? Like, do you use a plastic razor? And these are really great questions to start off, because then you get people asking like, Hmm, actually, I don't even really, really know much about the product I use, but it's in a plastic bottle like, and I think that that that's what drives people is to get them curious and hooked on to these very small niche lifestyle topics. And that's what I would recommend, because I operate under the common denominator that everyone is trying is trying to be eco friendly. Like, regardless if I don't physically see it. I think mentally I can imagine that someone saying, oh, I want to eat a plant based meal today, or oh, I finally swapped out my family's toilet paper for bamboo toilet paper. And it's like, these are like the most accessible things for a lot of people to think about. And I think that curiosity eventually gets them to understand the larger issue that we're facing, like okay, well, we're talking about toilet paper, like why is toilet paper bad for the environment? And then you look into the fact of Charmin being one of the toilet paper brands is caused massive deforestation in Canada's boreal forests and violates indigenous sovereignty. And we like to think about Charmin the toilet paper brand as this like, you know, big bear that's holding toilet paper, but then you realize it's actually destroying ecosystems and then you get to know well, what is the process look like to create toilet paper and I feel that that education gets people empowered to feel like wow, I'm an expert in toilet paper now and I feel that it makes me happy to see the fact of like maybe you don't have the same political beliefs as gay. But I think you can wholeheartedly agree that the system that we're like the system that is designed with this toilet paper is unsustainable, and it's also destroying the wildlife and nature that you love.
Stephanie Moram 20:17
I think that is such a great point. And I want to go back to what you said, you said something along the lines of not to destroy your mental and physical health, basically, in the name of the environment kind of thing. And I love that you said that because I actually just recently did a podcast episode on eco guilt. And I would love to, you know, I don't I could read, I don't need to rehash my whole episode, people can go listen to episode number 27 on eco guilt, and you can hear my rant over there. But I would love to know, maybe just like really briefly, what what is your perception perception on eco guilt? And you know, because you said you shouldn't, you know, don't sacrifice your mental health for for the environment, right? Like, what is your perception on that?
Isaias Fernandez 21:01
My perception is the fact of like, I think perfectionism plays a huge role a lot in social media movements, right? Yes, typically Instagram, right? Because Instagram is very aestheticly curated. And there's a lot of conversations of like, Oh, my God, like, you know, you're you have to have a minimal lifestyle and like zero waste products, and I'm a maximalist, I literally hoard items. And I tell people, like, I have no shame in that just because I grew up that way. Of course, it's not to the point as a, like, massive hoarder where I don't I keep collecting stuff, either. Like, I've had to have conversations like that growing up my parents, but you know, as an adult, I feel like I need a lot of things not because, you know, I'm attached to them, just because it gives depth and space and creativity for me to imagine these things. But I think like the perfectionist lifestyle, does really did tear people away, because then they see themselves not living that lifestyle. And I feel that, you know, I've really exposed to my followers, like, look, I just use something plastic. And then people are like, why are you using plastic and I'm like, I literally have told people since day one that I use plastic in my kitchen. Like, yes, I actively reduce my plastic waste a lot. And I recycle. But honestly, that should not come down to me. So I would say that it's dangerous for some individuals. And I think that when you become obsessed with the lifestyle, you tend to forget what your main mission was. And it was to educate, to empower people to do small steps then having this like perfectionist lifestyle, and I think it's okay, for those people that do have those perfect lifestyles to exist, right. Like, maybe that's the one thing that they really love to do. And that's on that that's them, and they're physically and mentally well, but for me, I tell people, like, you know, live the most organic self, which is imperfect environmentalism, because our perfections are organic to this world.
Stephanie Moram 23:00
And, you know, it's like the, I know, when I started living more green, you know, bombarded with, like, oh, you need this, and you need this. And you need this, when, in all actuality, like, you don't need all that stuff. Like you don't need to go buy all the fancy mason jars and the fancy this and the fancy that you can just really use what you already have at home. And living sustainably doesn't have to look perfect. Like you said, it doesn't have to look perfect it. It shouldn't be messy. You know, you should have all mismatched stuff in your house. Didn't know what I mean. Like, absolutely, because you're reusing what you already have. You're making sure that that cup that you bought or the glass jar you're using, you use it till it breaks. So I think he's just you know, you hit the nail by saying it's, you know, it's a lot of the social media, you know, if you go to Pinterest, it's like, zero waste, and it's it's beautiful, but you're consuming so much to get to that zero waste. So is it really zero waste? Yeah, great. Like you're consuming so much to make your kitchen look really, really good. But you could have just used what you already had at home. Like if anyone opens up my drawers. Like, I don't have pretty organizers. I use like almond milk jugs. You know? And like old boxes that I have. Because why am I going to go spend money on like bamboo, this and bamboo that when I can just use a box to organize something in my drawers. So I think that's so important. You know, it's the whole perfection thing that I think people get lost in a lot of the time.
Stephanie Moram 24:30
Well, this was fun. This was awesome. I think I'm gonna want to have you on again. Every time I interview someone I'm like, I need to come back on because we could talk forever and ever. All the things. But I would love for you to tell the listeners where they could find you.
Isaias Fernandez 24:46
Yeah, you can find me at Clear Brown Vegan. I'm on all social media platforms like all of them. You can find me on clear brown vegan.com for any work inqueries for public speaking or fun educational workshops.
Stephanie Moram 25:03
And I will have all of Isaias' stuff where you can find him in the show notes. And before we close this up, you can stay connected with me on Instagram at Green Junkie podcast and don't forget to subscribe to the Green Junkie podcast on the platform that you are listening to. If you're curious about zero waste, living sustainable fashion, or wondering how to read food cleaning and product labels, I've got you covered. For direct access to me your green living expert, click the link in the show notes where you can ask me questions and get a customized plan on how you can live a greener life. You can hop on a one on one zoom call with me ask me your questions via email or we can have a conversation on voxer which is a web based app. You can call me your personal Green Google and you can pick my brain. Thank you for listening, and I'll see you next Tuesday Green Junkie.