A Chat with Author, Producer & Activist Laurie David

A Chat with Author, Producer & Activist Laurie David

Jun 30, 2021

Jun 30, 2021

Last week, Lizzie Horvitz, Finch Founder, sat down with Imagine It! author, Laurie David, to explore the inextricable links between people and the planet. Lizzie and Laurie deep dive into the inspiration for Laurie's new book and chat about where the name ‘Finch' came from. Read along to learn about the value of activism, the risks of plastic water bottles, and the joy of focusing on progress over perfection. Check out Finch's Instagram Reels for the full recording, garden view and all.

About Laurie David

Laurie David is the author of the new book, Imagine It! A Handbook for a Happier Planet. For over a decade Laurie has brought her passion and dedication to a variety of important environmental and food issues, from global warming to America's overconsumption of sugar.

The Conversation

Lizzie: Laurie, I am so excited to be here and to finally meet you in person.

Laurie: I know. I like finding like-minded people; it makes me happy.

Lizzie: Me too, especially when we can be together and not through a phone or computer. I am obsessed with your book -- I think it's so good. I love so many things about it. You can flip around, chapter to chapter, and read what you're interested in. It's about progress, not perfection. It's just simple things people can do. Can you talk about the evolution of writing the book?

Laurie: Well, first of all, I wrote it with my girlfriend, Heather Reisman. We worked on it evenings during the pandemic. She owns Indigo Books. She's been selling books for many, many years and this is the first one she's written, so that was kind of exciting. She had a big, full-time job so she was available at night so that's when we did it and worked on it. I just wanted to have something that I could hand people that had everything I knew in it. Basically, everything I know from the last two decades of working on environmental issues is really in this book. The ideas will empower people to take better care of themselves, and the planet. Of course, those two things are completely, intricately connected -- I feel like we have lost that connection. You think of the environment as something else separate from us, but so goes the environment, so goes our health. They're one. I hope this will help people connect with that too.

Lizzie: Did you, like me, have a lot of your friends coming to you because you have this deep background?

Laurie: I'm an Evangelist, to some extent. Once I know something, I have to share it, even if it's a movie, or a great book, or a TV show I like. I have to spread the word. Once you see the truth, you feel compelled to share it. That's what this book is about. I'm trying to get people to do more, to make simple changes, to understand the wake that all these choices we make leave behind. Maybe now I can talk a little less, and hand the book out a little more.

Lizzie: What do you see people doing still that is your pet peeve, where you're like ‘this is such an easy change that people can make'?

Laurie: Everything. I'm on a Zoom call with my family -- who has lived and breathed with me my whole life -- during the pandemic and my sister picks up a plastic water bottle and takes a sip of water! In the Zoom call! For me, that's an example. If you are still drinking water from plastic bottles that's as basic as it gets, and I see everyone doing it. Everyone I see doing it, I have to say something. Here's the thing: most people don't understand -- they know plastic pollution is a problem, although I don't think they care that much about it for some reason. Maybe because you throw it away and you don't see what happens to it. but there's a massive health issue here. I see young women drinking from plastic water bottles and I'm worried for them. Of course, I have to go over to them and explain to them that there is a chemical lining this plastic water bottle that's leaching into the water. The second light hits that bottle a chemical, BPA, leaches into the water. I don't want people drinking from these things for their health. It's been linked to breast cancer and all other endocrine-disrupting things. That's basic, and that's one pet peeve. Literally, we could go three hours with pet peeves.

Lizzie: One step further than human health is that people don't think of plastic coming straight from petroleum and gas.

Laurie: This is the giant disconnect! This is it, right here. If we thought of plastic as what it is, a byproduct of oil, fossil fuel, would we want to eat out of it? Would we want to drink out of it? Would we want it all over our kitchens? Would we want it in our showers? What do we do? How do we get people to look at plastic for what it actually is? That I think is the challenge, and if we could figure out how to do that people would reject it more.

Lizzie: I think what I try to do is take away as many excuses as possible. What I hear when I get mad at people for drinking bottled water, they say ‘my tap water tastes terrible.' Which I understand, but then there's a Brita. EWG has an entire page that says how safe your water is, and if it's safe, you should have no problem drinking out of it.

Laurie: I don't think there are any excuses. I'm saying again, progress not perfection. If you're traveling -- fine, drink out of a plastic water bottle. People have plastic water bottles in their refrigerators, so they're drinking them in their kitchens. They go to a job every day and they're drinking from plastic water bottles. You have to bring your own bottle with tap water. There is more regulation on what's coming out of your tap than what they can put into plastic bottles, so that's a whole other issue. The first chapter in the book is on plastics. There are a gazillion great solutions, ideas, and easy swaps people can make. One thing I did recently that I never thought of before - I never thought of my kitchen sponge as being plastic.

Lizzie: We just wrote a Wiseguide on that for next week!

Laurie: Oh, you did? Well duh, the sponge is plastic! As soon as you start using a sponge the little pieces start going down your drain, and that becomes microplastics in the waterways. An easy swap for that -- if you want sponges, they're making them from walnut shells. There are all these new versions. I switched over to the solid, soap bar with the brush on top. It works so well, it's fantastic. It's all in the back of the book - you could do fun shopping in the back of the book with all these great products. Washing dishes is now more fun because of my solid soap, and the brush that I get to clean with.

Lizzie: That's what people don't get. You're not sacrificing, it's actually a better experience.

Laurie: The thing is, if we had to sacrifice, we should sacrifice because the planet is burning up, number one. Number two, none of these things are real sacrifices. I believe that when you get on this journey it's joyful. You feel better. You save money. It's a joyful process, and it feels good. The first time you ever compost is one of the most joyful activities you could ever do. They're joyful to do, and they're joyful to teach your friends to do.

Lizzie: So, what's one action to switch things around that you're having a hard time adopting or that is the most difficult for you?

Laurie: One real challenge for me is fashion and clothes. When I was researching for this book, I was shocked by how much the fashion industry is contributing to global warming. This whole mentality of ‘you need new all the time.' And, the textiles themselves and what they're doing to the planet. The water waste, the chemicals, the dyes that go into our water systems. And, of course, the shipping! So much of our clothes are coming from China, India, or Vietnam. All these things are contributing to climate change. Fast fashion, which is a whole new thing that came up in the last ten years. Clothes are considered disposable. What! Disposable clothes? All those things, when I started to research I was surprised by. Still, when I see something I want, I'm like, where is it from? I think about it: is it organic, what's the material? I don't necessarily always not purchase the item because sometimes it's hard to find out. But I'm thinking about it. I hope I get better. But also, the amount of things we're buying, so much of it ends up in landfills. That's a tough one for me, and I think for a lot of people, but that chapter will definitely shift your attitude about it.

Lizzie: I actually have to tell you -- I read that chapter. My best friend got married in Chilmark, last weekend, around the corner.

Laurie: I heard the music from it!

Lizzie: Did you? It was the first wedding I didn't buy any new outfits for. Rehearsal dinner, wedding, brunch the next day. Two years ago, I would've bought three different outfits. One of them was my Mom's vintage dress.

Laurie: Shop in your own closet, shop in your parents' closet, right? And your girlfriends'! And share stuff! There's a whole industry starting now that's exciting about resale, reusing, and renting clothes. With all these problems and issues there are exciting, new things that are popping up that we all have to support so that they'll stay and be around. In the industry itself, I don't see a lot of change happening, and I don't think fast enough. But I do see peoples' attitudes changing, which is a good thing.

Lizzie: I want to back up a little bit. What happened 30 years ago that made you become passionate about this?

Laurie: When I was young I was obsessed with littering and I hated littering. My mother was a chain smoker. In those days, they would smoke in the car. The ashtray would be filled with cigarettes, like flowing over. People, not just my mother, would take that astray and would dump it out on the street. I was obsessed with stopping littering. But, it really wasn't until I became a mom that I started to care about ‘wait, what am I eating? Is this going to impact my baby? Does everything have to be organic? What about the paint in the room?' I started to think about everything. That's the beauty of knowledge. Once the lightbulb goes off, you start to see it in every aspect of your life. That's where I hope people get to. And hopefully, you become an advocate. That's why in the book we have so many ways for you to write to the CEO, become an advocate.

Lizzie: I love your mock letter in the book. It could not be easier to copy everything down.

Laurie: Right? CEOs care about these letters. Hello Instagram. I mean, we all have influence and we have to start using it. You don't have to fight every fight and you don't have to care about every issue, but pick something. Try to be the change. It started for me when I became a Mom.

Lizzie: That makes sense. A lot of our followers and Finch users are new moms. They depend so much on social proof, these Slack channels, websites, and blogs. What did you do 20 years ago? Did you have a community of friends who were having kids around the same time to ask these questions to?

Laurie: There was no social media. I was one of the producers of an 'Inconvenient Truth.' Imagine promoting that film with no social media, nothing. You think now, how could you even make that happen? But, there were ways to do it. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and I was working in the media business, in television. I would have regular dinners or salons at my house with experts. I'd invite everyone I knew, and I'd feed them, and I always gave them a drink. I made them listen to somebody talk about certain issues. This was when I was first connecting the dots on global warming. So again, I had to make sure that everyone that I knew understood it too. Everyone that had SUVs at the time. The cars were getting bigger, but what were they doing to the atmosphere and environment? I dug in, and taught myself, and then shared it with everybody. We had a lot of salons at my house, and that was one of the ways that we did it. One of the easiest things people could do, by the way, chooseFinch-ers - is that what they're called? I love the name. I want to hear where the name came from. But the easiest thing you can do is become a member of an environmental group. Literally, it costs $15 bucks, $20 bucks. Then, you're starting to get educated by them. You're going to get emails from them, they're going to inform you about issues, and you're going to learn a lot. Also, they then represent you when they're going to DC and they're lobbying on certain issues. It's a very powerful and important thing to do - to join an environmental group. Hello, NRDC! We have a mutual environmental group that we both love. I'm on the board, you worked there!

Lizzie: I worked there. And now, my old boss's son is an intern at Finch, which is really cool.

Laurie: That's fantastic! But also, NRDC helped write this book. They're the experts behind all the information. Everything has been vetted. This book has been read and reread by every expert in the entire organization, so I'm very proud of it, I'm very proud of NRDC. I think they're one of the most powerful and important environmental groups in the world.

Lizzie: I couldn't agree more. It is filled with people that could have corporate legal jobs making four times as much money. They all just have great personalities.

Laurie: It's another reason to support an environmental group - these people need the support.

Lizzie: And they just got a new president!

Laurie: There's a new president. Do you know his name?

Lizzie: No...

Laurie: Me either. We'll have to look it up. He just got announced literally yesterday! He's wonderful, and everyone is really excited. Gina McCarthy was our last president, and now she's working for the Biden administration, so that's fantastic.

Lizzie: Amazing, I love it.

Laurie: So, how did you land on ‘Finch'?

Lizzie: I had a newsletter called Green Lizard because my name is Lizzie and my nickname is Lizard. I thought that was the most clever thing in the world. I was so proud of myself. I hired this amazing branding team, and they started designing the website. And they were like, ‘If you really want this to be Green Lizard, we'll make it work, but you're making our jobs much harder, to have to figure out how to draw a cartoon gecko on the website.' It didn't feel sophisticated, or the type of message we were trying to get across. We had a two-day, full workshop to try to think of a name, kind of all over the place. We came up with 60 names and narrowed it down. We love that our group is adaptable and can change around and live all over the world, in rural areas, in urban areas. Finches are one of the most adaptable species, studied by Darwin. We love that connection. I personally love Atticus Finch because I think he was such a leader in racial justice, and I think that climate justice is the racial justice of our time. We just loved all those connections.

Laurie: And climate justice and environmental racism are completely connected. I talk a lot about that in the book, too. That was something that I learned from the pandemic. That was when the lightbulb went off for me. As you started to see people of color disproportionately die from COVID, you had to say, well why is that? Asthma, breathing, lung problems have to do with where you live and what you live nearby. People of color disproportionately live near coal fire plants, highways, petrochemical factories, and the list goes on and on and on. Those two things are intricately connected as well.

Lizzie: I love that you brought that up. You talk about this in your book as well, but the environmental movement has had so many different iterations. It started with crunchy hippies, and was taken over by the Gweneth Paltrows of the world, who I love - I love Goop, I love what Gwyneth Paltrow is about. We started thinking that sustainability was only a privileged opportunity. It was meant for people that look like us. The fact is, Black people are more affected by climate change and they care more about it.

Laurie: They really do. I know so many Black activists now.

Lizzie: There are studies about this. The Yale Communications on Climate Change has recently put out a study that said that they are more willing to sacrifice more to help climate change. I think that it's really important that this next wave is intersectional.

Laurie: It's really important, and I believe that change is coming. I'm seeing it. You're making me think of that area called Cancer Alley in Louisiana, where, for some reason, these petrochemical companies think that they can just keep building more and more petrochemical plants in neighborhoods of color and that they're going to get away with it. Until now they have. Once you see clearly, then you can't stop seeing it. We have a lot of work to do. The lead pipe issue. Who is being exposed to lead in the water? How many other issues could you call environmental racism? We need to start owning that.

Lizzie: I couldn't agree more. Two more questions. We always ask this to every Q&A that we do because our community is also very resourceful. I want to know what has been your most successful DIY project.

Laurie: You should've let me know that you were going to ask me that! I have to think about that! What's yours?

Lizzie: I made a music video once, which might be the least successful DIY project but I'm going to go with the most right now.

Laurie: I've started to make my own teas. Mint grows like a weed. Why would we buy tea anymore? All you do is dry the leaves.

Lizzie: Do you just dry the leaves?

Laurie: Yes, you dry the leaves and then you put them into the little tea things, and then you have mint tea! And chamomile tea! And lemon balm tea! I'm making my own teas, so that's one thing. Growing my own herbs was a very successful thing. And gardening! I mean obviously gardening. That is one of the most joyful things anyone can do. Even if you have no space, you could have a few pots and you could grow enough kale for months in one big pot. Certainly, definitely grow your own herbs because who could stand to buy them in stores when they're wrapped to death in cellophane and they don't last? Take your herbs and always keep them in a glass of water. You can either leave those on the counter or put them in your fridge. They'll last two weeks, no joke. If you just leave them in that packaging and put them in your fridge they're gone in like, three days. Do you know what else you could do with it? You could use it as a centerpiece at your dinner table. You take the glass out of the fridge, put it at your table, and everyone can pick off the herbs they want to add to their dish. You have to start doing that!

Lizzie: Definitely. Last question, what are you working on right now, and how can Finch help you?

Laurie: Well, I'm trying to work on spreading the word about this book. I think that the other thing is to not only buy it for yourself but to give it to people. So, you're going to dinner parties this summer, you're staying with friends, bring this book and bring it to people. The more people that read this, the more of us there will be, and the cleaner the planet will be, and the happier.

Lizzie: That's such a great place to end. Do you have any other things you want to say that we didn't cover?

Laurie: No! Just that I love this community, I love what Finch is doing, and I think it is so critically important and the most important thing is to spread the word. If you're watching this on social media, spread the word about Finch, spread the word about the book, and participate.

Lizzie: Great, thank you, Laurie.

Laurie: Lizzie! That was so fun and great!

Lizzie: Bye, everyone!