I have always been a huge fan of Meryl Streep…for so many reasons. Of course, her talent as an actor is nothing short of amazing but her graciousness and thoughtfulness as a human being is something which endears her even more to me.
Her recent Oscar acceptance speech is a wonderful example as is the fact that she just made large donations to two Charities of her friend and fellow Oscar contender, Viola Davis.
(And by the way, she also joined the Green Carpet Challenge by wearing Lanvin’s first ever custom made eco gown. The gown is gold, full-length and made from Eco Certified Fabric.)
But Meryl Streep is also something else to me…she is my “Local Hero”.
As many of our readers know, Meryl has a country home in nearby Connecticut. Unlike some celebrities, she is described as funny, unassuming, unpretentious and is well-loved not only by her fans around the world but by her local neighbors as well. She shops in our local stores; eats in our local restaurants; hires local caterers; she is a member of our local CSA, Sol Flower Farms and buys organic meat from Herondale Farm. She is a community-minded and thoughtful neighbor and something else you may not know — she has been an environmental health activist since the late 1980’s.
I recently read an interview with Meryl Streep by Wendy Gordon (a well-known pioneer of the green consumer movement) on the website, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen. Wendy has known Meryl for many years. They met in 1988 when, after learning about the ozone hole over Australia while working on the film A Cry in the Dark, Meryl wanted to get involved with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and to help raise awareness about environmental issues.
At the time, NRDC scientists were working on a report about weaknesses in the regulation of pesticides used in food production. The report, released in March 1989, became known as the Alar Report (after the growth regulator used on apples), and Alar in turn became the symbol for lax regulations of toxic pesticides that could be found in and on common fruits and vegetables. Meryl and I worked together to create Mothers & Others, a campaign that rallied concerned citizens who supported NRDC in the fight for tougher pesticide residue standards, standards that—thanks to a law passed 10 years later—would protect particularly vulnerable subpopulations such as infants and young children.
We went on to turn the Mothers & Others campaign into an organization by the same name. The organization’s mission was to arm consumers with information they could take into the marketplace and into the halls of government to demand safer products and smarter, more sustainable production practices on the part of industry. We encouraged stores to stock organic products, and shoppers to support farmer’s markets and CSAs [Community-Supported Agriculture]. We distributed lists of rBGH-free milk and safer food and beverage storage containers. We published dozens of product reports on everything from paints and wood finishes to personal care products, home furnishings, and children’s toys. Mothers & Others was transformational, using the power of the concerned consumer to change the marketplace, everything from the way we grow our food to the way we make our stuff. And Meryl was a transformative leader in the environmental health and green consumer movements. She connected the dots for people, brought it home, made it personal. — Wendy Gordon
Here is part of Wendy’s interview. You can read the entire article by clicking here.
WG: Thinking back, what first drew you in to environmental health issues?
MS: Humans are very self-interested, I became interested in all these things when I was feeding a baby and had a sense that everything you do is going to have an outcome further down the road. So I was very conscious to try to do the right thing and do well by our kids. Being naturally sort of slovenly, I had to sit up and pay attention, because I really think about my work most of the time, and I love that. When kids came into the picture, everything I read made me think, “Yes, you are right, you are right,” and everything we know now about the developing brain, young children, the first things even in utero that you introduce into their little fragile developing systems will bear an outcome later on.
WG: What would you advise people to be mindful of today?
MS: The shopping. Before you take your food home, you need to consider where it comes from. It’s about being a careful consumer, the thoughtfulness applied to every decision. The idea that your food budget is a really important thing, maybe as important as your cable budget. Maybe you don’t need 20 channels of ESPN. Maybe you spend less over here so you can spend more on healthier, safer foods. Some foods may be more expensive, but they’re cheaper in the long run. It’s all about the long run, in my view.
WG: Do you buy mostly organic? Local?
MS: Yes. I buy organic, though not everything. I buy local mostly. I live in the city. I go to the farmer’s market. I do shop at Whole Foods, but I shop at my local Food Emporium, which carries a lot of things it didn’t used to, which is sort of wonderful. I remember back in the olden days when I had to drive 45 minutes for just apples that were not sprayed.
WG: Didn’t you help set up a CSA when you were living in Connecticut?
MS: We set up a CSA, and a food co-op and all those things. We still have a food co-op up there, but the food that we want is pretty much available. The farmers are growing it; they’ve been encouraged by the market, there’s been more attention paid.
WG: Do you pay attention to the meat you eat? Do you eat meat? Does it matter whether it’s organic or grass-fed?
MS: I pay attention to everything, Wendy. Yes, I eat meat. I really like meat. I eat much less of it, though. I try to get grass-fed, organic beef; the bison burgers I like‚ some of those are good. All the sourcing questions that I’ve been trained by Mothers & Others back in the ’90s to pay attention to, I pay attention to all that.
WG: And as for what you’ve taught your children?
MS: Mothering is full of boring things, full of things that you say that they remember— only, 20 years later. You see it now with my own kids; all they wanted was Fruit Loops and crap, but they don’t want that now. Information went in somehow, even though on their face in the moment they were going, “I hate you.” It comes back later. You just have to have faith that it will. You know, for me it was keeping them home if they were sick. It’s about the simple stuff, the basics: teaching them to use their imagination rather than play a video game, teaching them to go outside, showing them where the door is.
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Thank you, Meryl, for doing the right thing and being what Vogue Magazine called “a force of nature”. Your roles as eco-activist, supporter of women’s rights, mother and good neighbor are as compelling to me as any of your screen roles.