Desi - Speak up when something's wrong if you just go home and complain nothing will change

Desi encourages and empowers more people to consume consciously in the sustainability community in Shanghai. She's always happy to share recipes, resources and advice. Read on to find out more about her life and thoughts on sustainability and more.

Where are you from?   Vigo, a coastal city in Spain.

What brought you to Shanghai?

I was living in the North of China before and it was highly polluted and I literally needed a change of air... and Shanghai has everything. I have always been interested in Chinese culture, everything Chinese seemed interesting to me. 

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability is not a new concept, it’s actually an old concept that we have long forgotten. Tribes in Africa, the Pacific islands and the Americas still know how to live in harmony with your environment. For a long time, we’ve learnt to live well and enjoy our lives on the earth but not that we’re part of the earth. We have been living on this planet instead of living with it. Living with it means respecting the environment, it gives you a home, air to breathe, food, water, and when you harm that, that's when it's unsustainable.  Sustainability is just a concept that revives the idea that we are one with the environment. 

What are you passionate about?

 I'm passionate about everything related to nature, health, cooking and the ocean.

How do you do to consume consciously?

I gradually trying to shape my consumption to an ethical way consuming. So, for example, in fashion, I used to be a shopaholic, now I've stopped. I always ask myself whether I need things or not and whether it's been made ethically. I try to buy natural and recycled fabrics. For food, I buy organic, local and in bulk which leads to no pesticides and fewer carbon miles in my food. It would be great to have more foods from home, but imported foods are not sustainable.

The first biggest change in my diet was for environmental reasons, I didn't have any health reasons, but the fact that the meat industry is putting so much pressure on the environment because of their emissions just drove me to stop supporting them. First I stopped buying pork and beef, then I started buying chicken from an organic farm every two months, so I'd eat meat once a week. I used to consume eggs every day, but now I don't consume eggs that often. When I buy them it's only from organic farms that I have visited and I know that the animals live in decent condition and are fed decent food.

One of the things we had the hardest time with was honey. I had honey that my mom gave me, but for the 21-day Vegan Challenge, we stopped eating it. We thought we'd need it in winter but we were okay without it. We didn't really need it for all our natural remedies in winter. A lot of people have a hard time quitting dairy. I don't mind eating goat or sheep cheese every now and then because the impact is much less than dairy from a cow. There are so many plant-based milk alternatives for smoothies and coffees you really don't need anything more.

In terms of kitchenware, were slowly replacing our plastics with wood, metal and cast iron materials that are natural and recyclable and healthy for us to use. Whenever I buy online I always ask if they could ship items to me without plastic, if they don't agree then I just buy from another shop that agrees. It takes a bit more time to shop, but you can still do it.

What else could you do to consume more consciously?

I'm trying to get off commercial cosmetics. I see the options zero waste people have for cosmetics like burning almonds to make mascara, and it's another unsustainable form of production. You create so much pollution to burn almonds. Right now I'm relying on cosmetics from organic brands, but of course, there's the problem of packaging.  When you find local handmade things it's more personalised.

Our cat also needs to go more zero waste. We started throwing out his waste with ours. When we buy cat food we try to get the biggest bag we possibly can to reduce the packaging waste. Having a pet, I can't even imagine having a baby, producing a lot of waste is difficult. Before you get a pet or have a baby I think it's important to plan how you're going to deal with the extra waste. 

When did you become conscious of your consumption?

A lot of people think they're environmentally conscious, like me. When I was at University I saw people wasting and I thought about the way my parents raised me, to save water, energy, everything. That's when I started thinking about how my mindset was different than other people. I wanted to be more eco-conscious. When I came to China I realised that the contribution I made was just being undone again by a system that gives you plastic all the time. It was really hard in the beginning when I couldn't even explain why I didn't want it.

Before moving to Shanghai I lived in a city that was far more polluted. That made me, my friends and my family think about China's waste problem as a whole, not just the air pollution. Factories, coal burning, trash incineration and it all amounts to many problems that I'm involved in, I was another participant in it. So when I came to Shanghai and I saw there were a lot of businesses and people with the same mindset, I tried to push myself to do more, to be better. 

How would more people becoming conscious of their consumption change the world?

Shanghai is a very good example of that, a lot of people are demanding more eco-friendly, environmental products, so that's a change in the market. In this capitalist world the market will see these changes and what would have been an opportunity for a normal, status quo business will be an environmentally friendly one, just because there's market demand. People have the power, even if they don't think they do. Every dollar casts a vote for the world you want to see. We have the power to create the demand that's going to create the offer. 

What’s the easiest part of consuming consciously?

Not wasting money. The way you manage your money is easier. If you want to buy a lot of things you have to start calculating if you'll be able to buy this and that. If you're not buying that much you know you're going to have savings,  it's less of a headache. 

What’s the hardest part of consuming consciously?  

Finding things. It would we great if we could have a Bulk Barn on every corner and we could buy everything in bulk or if all the stores around me had sustainable products made of metal or wood. Sometimes the things you want or need to buy are not available where you are, that's why you have to become a resourceful person. I would advise anyone in the 21-century to use the internet, there are so many resources out there to tell you about the alternatives.

Another hard part is making your family understand you. The older generation, born at the beginning of this plastic world, never had to question the status quo or how the world works. Our generation is more of a rebellious one, also because the environmental problems are taking their toll now. It's really hard to make someone who's lived that way for fifty, sixty years understand that it shouldn't be that way. Going back home takes a lot of effort and time. 

What are your top 3 practical changes?

  • Bring your essentials for the day in a bag.         
  • If you really don't want to give up meat, you can switch from beef to chicken.
  • Have a de-cluttering day, clean everything out. Get rid of the things you don't need and don't put more back. Replace the things you need when you run out.

What are the biggest challenges we face today in sustainability?

A lot of people expect the government to change things, that's their job, they run the system. But that's a very lazy way to think, and there are two problems with that view. Firstly, governments aren't the ones who have to change things. Secondly, people don't think they have the power to change things, they think they don't matter. People are the ones who have to change, doesn't matter if it's fashion or food. The government can't touch the consumer mindset. 

Unfortunately, people don't have their own opinions at the moment. They have the marketing guy's opinion who's getting paid a lot to make you think that this is what you want, this is what you should get. People in marketing are getting paid a lot to create wants and needs for a new consumer society. People's biggest challenge is to think for themselves. We have to get rid of all that brainwashing from ads, and just filter things. People have to think about what they really want in their lives. 

If the whole world was listening, what would you say?

Speak up when something's wrong if you just go home and complain nothing will change.  You already have the right to say when something's wrong, you just have to have the courage. If you go to a place that represents itself as environmentally friendly and they give you a disposable cup you have to speak up. Do it in a friendly way, with suggestions. 

What do you do?

I'm a full-time student, I'm writing my thesis on the role of the state in the green market economy. I also try to volunteer as much as I can with everything involving the environment and charities.