My Climate Practice: Skipping Cheap Meat and Breaking the Shopping Cycle
My Climate Practice is a series where we talk to the folks using Commons about their climate practice and what a sustainable life looks like for them. Today, we're talking to Myra Gupta.
Myra is an educator and animal lover living in New York City with her corgi. She is a Managing Director at Teach for America, a social justice advocate, and a firm believer in the power of collective action, human ingenuity, and seeking small and mighty next steps. These are some of her current climate practices:
When did you start trying to live more sustainably? What was your motivation?
My mother has always been a big inspiration. She's really into gardening and has always been mindful of sustainability. She installed solar panels in our house before that was a thing everybody was doing.
A couple years ago, I got kicked into gear a bit more when I did carbon coaching with Sanchali Pal (the founder of Commons). Another factor was seeing the wildfires in California. My parents live there, so seeing that made climate change feel more present and immediate.
There was even a time when a wildfire was next to their property, and they had to get out hoses and everything. It was really scary. Obviously, I knew about it on an intellectual level and believed it was important, but there is something about seeing the effects and making the connection in your day-to-day life that can be really powerful in a hard way.
How do you use Commons in your climate practice?
The offset subscription, Climate Neutral, is one of the main ways that I use Commons. I use the app to keep track of finances, stay informed, and have information to build awareness and make choices, like offsetting. In particular, I like the offsetting my travel. It's so easy.
Sustainable clothes shopping
What was your motivation to start shopping more sustainably? What were your shopping patterns before you started shopping sustainably?
Sometimes I would haphazardly buy things. There was this cycle: see it, want it, have it. And I wasn’t proceeding intentionally through that cycle.
I would see something and skip right to “want it” then “have it.” They felt like logical conclusions instead of thinking, “What do I have? What is the grand scope of what I have? Do I use everything I have? Is this something that I will cherish and get great use out of?”
I was getting rid of clothes and noticing that I had not thoroughly worn or loved them, and that felt kind of empty and hollow. I don't like the idea of not using something enough to justify its creation and lifecycle.
What is your approach to intentional shopping?
I don't think I've bought clothes in the last year, which is actually great because I like what I have. Over the years, I've kept an inventory of everything that I have in a spreadsheet.
It helps remind me when I don't need something new. I don't need to give into the “see it, want it, have it” craven, capitalist cycle. It reminds me that I actually have a lot of things, and I can enjoy them more.
I don't think that I should never buy anything, but I think it's good when all my belongings are in alignment ethically, and I enjoy them.
Tell us more about this closet spreadsheet.
One Saturday, I just decided — let me get a spreadsheet, go through my closet, and list out everything. I was surprised that I found things I'd forgotten about.
Now, if I'm window shopping or browsing online and I see something I like, I'm much more likely to look at my spreadsheet and see I already have something that serves a similar function in my closet.
I find it helpful as a way to create inspiration in what I already have. Even if I don't need to buy a new thing, maybe it'll re-inspire me to wear something that I haven't worn in a long time.
How does thrift shopping fit into your sustainable shopping practice?
I never really thrifted until I went with one of my best friends, Nadja. She's been secondhand shopping her whole life and has the most amazing wardrobe. We made it one of our rituals when we were living together. We would go to a dumpling place that we loved, and then we would go to the thrift store not too far from our apartment.
When I would walk into a thrift shop, it was hard to find things. But I learned a lot from her. You always walk in with an idea of openness, but also think about how you want to feel with something new. And then you follow what calls you.
I can't take any credit for that. That was all learning from Nadja and watching how she does it.
Has your style changed at all since you’ve tried to start shopping more sustainably?
Honestly, not really. I always gravitate towards the same things over and over again, and I have just embraced that more. Maybe every now and then, I'll branch out, and that can be a fun new experience. But it's nice to feel like I know my style, I like my style, and I'm always gonna like what I wear.
I don't think anyone's ever described me as trendy. I'm not pressuring myself to wear something that's not a style that I will always want.
Eating less meat
How often were you eating meat before? What were your feelings toward meat?
My family's Bengali and Bengalis are known for loving meat and fish, so that was always the default growing up. Specifically fish. We're big fish eaters in my family. But the conversation about eating less meat was not a part of our family for a while.
When did you start eating less meat, and what were your main motivations?
A couple of years ago, I read an article in the New York Times by Ezra Klein where he talked about the “cheap meat” industry. It highlighted the environmental concerns that come with harvesting huge amounts of meat for a growing population while also making it cheaper. He also talks about ethical concerns with the quality of life for animals — or rather lack of quality of life — and the health impact of diseases, antibiotics, and all that kind of stuff.
The way Ezra Klein phrased it in his podcast is that cheap meat is not actually cheap. It's just that the cost of meat has been pushed onto animals. And I found that phrasing to be really persuasive and compelling.
My family — we're dog lovers. We're obsessed with our animals, and so there was this dichotomy or hypocrisy of loving animals but not thinking about what that means for our consumption. I was ordering meat as a default.
So in the past couple of years, that's shifted. I don't think meat is the default any longer.
How often do you eat meat now? Why does this cadence work for you?
I try to give myself four allocations of meat per week, which is a random number. I don't think I meet that most weeks. I think what's shifted most is the default.
Let's say I'm at this really incredible restaurant, or a friend is cooking me dinner. I don't want to feel too rigid around those kinds of things, but I have a meaning and reason not to eat cheap meat.
Having that filter has been really helpful and makes me feel better about it ethically, health-wise, and environmentally. I appreciate the experience a bit more.
I probably only eat meat a couple of times a week now, except fish. That's a different category for me that I want to work on.
What are some of your favorite meatless meals that you like to cook?
I love breakfast. That's my favorite meal. And I have the most delicious eggy breakfast ever. I make it most days, and it makes me so happy. I just do a big veggie stir fry, make some eggs, and a piece of toast. That, to me, is a perfect meal.
I don't feel any temptation to add bacon or anything to that. It feels so complete as it is.
How did you learn about greening your utilities?
I found out about it through Sanchali. I didn't know that you could keep your existing utilities but reroute through a green utilities provider.
What’s your living situation in New York?
I'm a renter in Brooklyn. I've moved a lot in the last couple of years, but I love my current apartment in Dumbo. I live by myself with my dog.
How did you set up green utilities as a renter?
It was so easy. I just looked up what was compatible with my building, and Arcadia was the only one that was compatible.
You just need your address and your credit card information, and they handle the work with ConEd (my NYC power supplier). It probably took no more than 10 minutes to figure it out.
It's a one-time setup. Even when I moved apartments, it was very easy to switch Arcadia to my new apartment.
Have you noticed any change in your electric bill?
No I haven't, but that's okay. I think the overall charges are pretty much the same.
Have you noticed a change in how you use energy since you made the switch?
I've always been pretty conscious. I turn off the thermostat anytime I don't need it or at night if I'm not in my apartment. I have a travel ritual when I'm leaving of unplugging everything. And I’m good about turning the lights off.
What climate practice are you excited to start in the future?
There are two things that I'm interested in. The first one is figuring out what it means to grow your own food in a city. I don't have outdoor space, but I get some sunlight. I grow microgreens in my apartment, and whenever I get scallions, I'll put them in a jar and they regrow, but that's the extent of my city gardening. I'd love to learn more about what is possible and easy to grow for food.
The second thing is fish. I’m Bengali, and we love fish. It’s my favorite food. I don't see a world where I would ever not eat fish. Anything could happen, but that's not really something that I see anytime soon. So what is more sustainable fish eating or pescatarianism look like?