Long before it was the chic/popular thing to do, Meryl Streep advocated for consumers to seek out organic options in the kitchen. 21 years ago, the celebrated actress worked with Wendy Gordon of the Natural Resources Defense Council to create Mothers & Others, a group aimed at educating consumers about healthy foods and households products. The two recently reconnected, with Gordon interviewing Streep about her green lifestyle — and how she got there. Some highlights:
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 consciously 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 come 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: I remember you once saying that consumers need to be like chemists or toxicologists when they go shopping. What did you mean by that?
MS: I was being facetious to make a point. There are so many thousands of chemicals used to make and that are in our everyday products. Most of these have not been adequately tested for their effects on health. That’s what I meant. If I were a young mother now, had an infant, and trying to figure out what nipple to put on a bottle, I would be reading all these things, finding out what BPA is, I’d be reading about endocrine mimickers and reading all those things. I do lament the fact that I didn’t know anything about the problems with plastics when my oldest was born.
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.