Hello! I’m Caitlin, and I manage Turning Green’s communications, including social media, blogs, and newsletters. I’m a fat, disabled, mentally ill, queer author and speaker, in recovery from an eating disorder, and an environmentalist. You could say I have a lot going on! We all have a lot going on, more than anyone knows or sees, including the thousands of young people worldwide who participate in Project Green Challenge each October.
This is my second year working with Turning Green during Project Green Challenge, and both times, it has moved me to tears. When I comment on student posts, I always talk from the perspective of Turning Green, as a team, as a united voice. And I say “We love this reflection” and “You’re so inspiring to us,” but I want you to know right now that you inspire ME. Personally.
Belonging in Environmental Spaces
It’s all too easy to be ableist, fatphobic, and racist in environmental spaces. People shame the use of single-use plastics in broad strokes, but some disabled people need them for accessibility. People assume that everyone can get outside to exercise, and that not doing so makes those people lazy, but it can be dangerous if you’re Black and fear someone could call the police on you just for being there. It can be hard to make sure that being openly queer is safe in environmental groups, especially when the narrative is sometimes “Don’t be so open about it,” forcing us back into the closet or expecting heteronormativity in food and farming. Outdoor activities like hiking or cleaning up a river aren’t as accessible if you have mobility or chronic pain issues. And it’s definitely not easy to be accepted in a world that thinks fat people don’t try hard enough and don’t belong — and has a discrepancy in access and pricing for exercise clothes that make it comfortable to go out into nature.
Small Steps Add Up
After PGC last year, I resolved to reduce my plastic consumption for 2021. The first time I went grocery shopping with this new resolution, I barely bought anything, because — I don’t know if you’ve noticed — just about everything is wrapped in plastic. Even organic fruits and vegetables come in plastic bags. After about a week of eating roughly half of what I’d normally eat, I realized that my personal plastic ban had caused a relapse of my eating disorder. It’s good, important, necessary to consider the environmental impact of your food. Whenever possible, I prioritize FLOSN foods — fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and nutritious. But I also need to balance that priority with my reality. I know that I’m chronically ill and can’t always cook my fresh food before it goes bad, so I buy frozen sometimes, and I don’t feel bad about it. I know that I’m recovering from ED, so I buy foods I know I will eat even if my appetite is being weird, and I don’t feel bad about it. I even buy definitely not-FLOSN foods sometimes, because if the choice is between eating perfectly-labeled foods or not eating at all, I choose survival.
And that’s what I love about Project Green Challenge. It’s thousands of students taking imperfect actions, learning how to do better, and taking small steps.
I can’t eat FLOSN all the time. I can’t always avoid fast fashion. I can’t entirely skip plastic in shopping. I can’t always live the eco-friendly life I aspire towards.
But I can buy zero-waste household items, shop local, pay a little extra for carbon neutral shipping, carpool, thrift my clothes and household goods whenever possible, buy plastic free deodorant, compost, grow a garden — and share about my eco habits with friends, family, and followers to lead by example.
And all of those things add up to make a difference. All of those things mean that I am doing my best, and your best does not have to be perfect. Your best also will be different each day, and that’s okay. That’s great.
So again, I will remind you — all of you students doing Project Green Challenge around the world this month — as I catch up on your changemaking social media posts each morning: You inspire me. Thank you. And together, WE are the environmental movement.