145: Rob Greenfield, part 1: Abundance without stuff (transcript)

March 1, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Rob Greenfield


My conversation with Rob is about joy, responsibility, community and values that you undoubtedly share. Rob Greenfield used to live like an average American. He saw the environmental problems we all see on the headlines but we all dismiss but then he decided he could no longer abdicate the responsibility of how he affected others or our world. I consider him a role model. Nearly everyone I talked to describes what I do as a big deal like I’m extreme. I’ll grant that I’m far from the mainstream because when I checked online I produce about 10 percent the pollution of the average American. But it’s not that big of a deal. The more that you do, the more that you’ll find typical American behavior now is extreme compared to how we’ve lived for all of history. And that’s not to say that we’re more happy. How we live today with the pollution, with the plastic, with the opiates, all that, it’s an aberration from how humans act. Rod finds joy, joy in living sustainably and responsibly toward others. He creates joy. He shares with everyone. Get to know people like Rob, watch his videos, see what you can do. Of course, do it in your style. You don’t have to do it just like Rob. Do it how it works for you. I do it how it works for me. And as you listen to this episode note how much he’s already done to act sustainably. Many guests I’ve had say, “Oh, I’ve already tapped out. I don’t know what more I could do.” He’s done more than almost anyone. Do you think that he’ll therefore not be able to come up with a challenge? So listen and find out.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m here with Rob Greenfield. Rob, how are you?

Rob: Pretty good. How are you?

Joshua: I’m very good. And I wanted to start this off with a little context that people who know me know that in the past couple of years I’ve switched to almost no food packaging, I haven’t flown in almost three years, I pick up trash every day. And a lot of people when they ask me about it they often ask me these similar questions over and over again and I sometimes get impatient not because I don’t want to help them or because I don’t answer them but a lot of times I get the same questions. It’s like, “What you do with the toothpaste lid?” and stuff like that. And sometimes I’m a little less patient responding to them than I ought to be not because I don’t want to help them but it’s so far… Like once I’ve switched I don’t want to go back and it’s hard for me to go back to that mindset of feeling guilty and feeling helpless. And also something that’s happened is that in the process I find more and more role models of people who’ve taken on the challenges that I have and are taking them on in bigger ways or have been doing it longer. So Bea Johnson was one of my guests a little while ago and she’s one of them. Rob Greenfield is another. And I’m going to let Rob talk about some of the things that he’s done but I’ve looked to him as someone who’s doing things that I want to do and making it easy for me. I don’t know if it’s challenging for him or if he’s also found that the more that I change, the more I want to keep changing. Anyway. That’s the context. Rob, you’re someone who’s been… How long have you been at it and what sorts of things have you done if you don’t mind giving a little context from your side?

Rob: Sure, yeah. Well, I started in 2011 and that’s when I really woke up to what’s going on in the world. You know I started to watch a lot of documentaries, read a lot of books, do online research and just started to realize that my life wasn’t what I thought that I was really destroying so much of what I love – people, animals, just you know ecosystems as a whole. And that’s when I decided, “Well, I don’t want to do that for the rest of my life.” I was twenty-five years old at the time and I wanted to live a life that was in alignment with my beliefs because my beliefs were always that I wanted to live on a healthy Earth and I just didn’t realize that I wasn’t contributing to that.

So I started to change my life and you know I started with lots of small changes and some medium changes, some larger changes and you know I’m sort of naturally kind of an extreme guy so I always like to take things to the limit. So I kept on pushing myself and you know starting to make big changes like getting rid of my car completely and then I biked across the United States on a bamboo bike and that’s when I started to do environmental activism. What happened was I started to feel like I was leading by example enough, that I was capable of being an activist, a lead-by-example activist that could show a different way. Since then, 2013 was my big environmental adventure, my first one, and since then that’s what I’ve been doing is a lot of environmental activism and adventures to really just catch people’s attention, inspire them, wake them up and inspire positive change.

So there’s projects like Trash Me where I live like the average American for a month and wore all the trash that I created to create a visual of how much garbage just one person creates. Diving in the thousands of other projects, the Food Waste Fiasco which is I’ve dived into thousands of dumpsters across the United States to show how much perfectly good food is going to waste and I lay it out in public parks to display. I lived in a 50 square foot tiny house in San Diego. So I’m always just you know finding sort of extreme things, extreme ways to catch people’s attention and inspire small changes within them.

Joshua: Well, first of all, I want to check. You said 2011 is when you started paying attention and 2013 was when you started getting active. So do I read right there was about two years of kind of processing, experimenting on a small scale before saying, “This is really something I want to do.”?

Rob: Well, two years of me changing myself first before becoming an activist. So I was immediately active. Once I realized the problems I was immediately decided I was going to be a part of solutions and started to change my life.

Joshua: And that was on a personal level? Not trying to change others, just trying to live consistently with your beliefs and values.

Rob: Yeah. That was really the main focus. I mean at the time, like I’m always excited to share things, so I’m sure I was sharing with my friends you know things that I was learning. But you know I really did focus more on just being the change first before I went out and you know really started to try to reach a lot of people.

Joshua: Now I want to put a frame around this. There is something that I say every now and then which is that I use an analogy to minimalism and I don’t know who exactly fits that label but I think it generally describes people who get rid of stuff. But when I think of minimalism, I think it’s a misnomer because the people that get rid of stuff, they may be getting rid of stuff but this stuff isn’t what they care about. What they really care about as I see when you read their stuff and talk to them it’s always about relationships and meaning and purpose and value and that they’re actually maximizing. So it’s a funny label that looking at what they don’t care about and gives them a label about it but it is in the opposite direction of what they really care about. They’re really maximizing joy and fun and relationships and purpose. And you’re talking about what you do in terms of garbage and things but I feel like you’re enjoying it. Like I’ve watched a bunch of your videos and I look at you with like piles and piles of fresh fruits that you scavenged from trees you planted. I feel like it’s really happy like I feel like it’s the opposite of what a lot of people think about acting on the environment. They think, “Oh, I have to make do without straws. Poor me.” I don’t think you’re wishing you had… Like you’re giving away stuff, right? I mean my picture’s you’re living a life full of abundance and happiness and joy and friends and things like that.

Rob: Yeah. And that’s really what it is all about. I mean everything that you give away or you give up what happens is that doesn’t create this void in your life of emptiness. What it does is it creates space for other more purposeful things to take that space. And so that’s you know what people imagine when they think of giving up they just think of, “Well, nothing else comes.” But that’s the opposite. Things flood in.

And so for me my goal when I set out was to live a happier and healthier life, to have a deeper purpose and to be more passionate about life and about existence. So for me it was never like, “Oh, I’m just giving things up to live a more environmentally friendly life.” No, it was about pursuing the life that I could wake up every single day and feel good about and go to bed at night and feel good about and not have this pit in my stomach knowing that I’m doing things that I don’t feel are right for the world.

So that’s what it’s really about. I’ve always been one that naturally focuses on the positives. And so that’s why when I learned of the problems that exist in the world which are countless, there’s so many, I didn’t feel doom and gloom. I mean I get that sometimes, I feel hopeless sometimes of course, but for the most part I look at those problems and say, “How can I turn these problems into the solution? How can I use these problems to have a deeper purpose and passion in life? How can I use the problems that currently exist to play my role in solving them and making the world a better place?” So it’s all a part of living a fulfilling life.

Joshua: Do you remember what was it like beforehand? Because I definitely feel like I enjoy… Take food for example. I eat so much more delicious now than ever before. And before I didn’t think that I was eating… Now I look back at like I used to like Thai food and I liked Mexican food and I would think of Thai restaurants and Mexican restaurants is very, very different. But now they cook from fresh all the time I feel like if you take some vegetables and cover it up with coconut milk or you take some vegetables and you cover it up with cheese, you’re still covering it up and just having comfort food and now it’s so much better. And sometimes I try to think what would have gotten through to me then that I wish I’d gotten earlier. Because everyone I know who goes this direction wishes they had started earlier. No one wants to go back. Everyone feels like their eyes are more open.

Rob: Yeah. I don’t know. I definitely feel the same way. And it’s not something that… I mean the reality is that before living this way I definitely enjoyed life. I have generally enjoyed life for quite a long time. So you know for me it wasn’t like I had to seek out a new way of life because I was unfulfilled and unhappy. It was really just that I realized wow, this fulfilling and pretty happy life that I’m living is causing unhappiness around the world for people, for other species. Like this convenient life that I’m living is destroying a way of life for other people and other cultures and other species. And so for me it was like OK, it’s just as simple as I can’t keep doing this but I’m not going to stop enjoying life like I’m not going to sacrifice the life that I have. So I have to turn this around and figure out how can I have a fulfilling life, how can I have a really purposeful life, how can I meet my needs and my desires but do it in a way that doesn’t harm other people.

And the good news is that… The reality is that you really realize that not only you can do all of that but you can actually live a better life because it turns out so much of what I was doing in the past I was doing it because corporations sold me on the idea that I needed it like Old Spice deodorant and something that I used to use and I thought I needed it and it brought me you know some sense of belonging. You know it’s part of mainstream culture with all their commercials. But I realized actually this corporation is not beneficial for the world, it’s actually destructive as were most of the corporations that were getting my money. But the alternatives it’s not that I was missing out like coconut oil is something that I use as you know as a natural body oil and deodorant and I love it. I love it way more than I ever loved Old Spice and it’s like everything has its impact. But coconut oil I consider you know basic oil, some basic human thing. And so yeah, I love it more and I feel good about it. And that’s the thing is when I know something like I understand it… You’ll never understand Old Spice deodorant much really in there because usually that’s hidden but coconut oil, and I’m actually making my own coconut oil now, I really understand that I feel a much deeper connection to it. It’s really a part of me. And so it’s just a whole another level of being compared to that consumerist sick way of just ultimately doing what you do because corporations have done a really good job at getting you to do it.

Joshua: Yeah. When I was a kid bottled water was viewed… Everyone viewed bottled water as some weird European thing. Why would anyone do that? And now they think that it’s safer and man, they have the marketers on that one. The marketers did by their standards a great job. And it’s funny that it’s not obvious. I also had this thing that I didn’t change because I wanted to improve my life at the beginning. I changed because I could no longer look only at the consequences of my actions that I wanted. I had to consider all of them. And to take an airplane flying… Yeah. I like to visit other places but I could no longer deny that there’s exhaust coming out of the plane and I’m contributing way more than my share for all these things.

And looking back now I feel like… I talked to a lot of parents and they always said, “Well. I can’t do this because my kids…” I’m like the changes that you made to your life when you had a kid are so much greater than the changes that I’ve made. I’ve never had to change. I’ve never gotten poop on me but I know if you change a diaper, you’d have to deal with that. And I feel like that’s a much bigger change and I’ve never met a parent who regretted having a kid. Maybe they exist but I’ve never met one. They seemed like overjoyed. I’m like that’s changed. It’s about responsibility.

But there is a funny thing that you mentioned that just because I stop polluting or reduce polluting that doesn’t necessarily mean that what I replace it with is going to be better. And I think most people are in a system that says travel is good, there’s absolutely no second consideration for it. And disposable is like well, you know if you recycle it, it’s no problem. And I think people think in that system if I stop doing things that, I like there’s nothing to replace it. But there’s another system and this other system the joy that you get so much more deeply rewarding, I think it connects not with just… Like one of the big things the marketing is saying like, “Your life could be better. It’s not that good. You’ve got problems. You smell bad. People are not going to like you because you smell.” And so you get something so it makes the smell go away or covers it up for some like that. And so it’s like telling you have a problem and saying, “We can fix it for you.” But there’s this other system of fresh fruits and vegetables and spending time with friends and that’s just like I don’t like you but the reward, the emotional reward is so much more deep and resonant.

Years ago when I was out clubbing like I live in Manhattan so I used to go out clubbing, I knew the deejays and we were behind the DJ booth with all this world famous people and stuff and if someone told me then, “Josh, a few years from now you’re going to get more… You’re going to like more sticking your hand in the dirt and picking a potato out of the ground on a farm with a farmer that you know, you’re going to like that more than what you’re doing now.” I would have been like, “No way.” But I wish now I had been picking potatoes out of the ground and potatoes aren’t really my favorite vegetables. I mean if I walked over to the kale or the collard greens or the fruit or the cherry tomatoes, oh my God. And then with the not flying, if someone told me what sailing would feel like which I’m learning to sail because I want to get places off of North America without flying or meeting people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise that are in my neighborhood because they’re just as different as people around the world, I would never have guessed it but it’s so much more… I don’t want to keep saying the same thing over and over again but I really like this better. It’s not obvious that that would have happened and I think a lot of people don’t realize that not polluting doesn’t mean only… From one perspective that means you’re giving something up. From another perspective it’s all this opportunity for growth and those things are things that I think generally tend to be like what we evolved to really enjoy and love and make life fulfilling and so forth.

Rob: Absolutely. I got to say that probably the most challenging thing for me is the flying aspect because it seems like most things in life there’s an alternative that’s fairly easy to switch to that you know drastically reduces your environmental impact but still allows you to do that thing you need to do. And flying is a whole different story. I mean if you want to go to Asia, for example, to not fly there and yet get there it’s a huge difference and one that ultimately like most people don’t have the time… Well, most people don’t live the life where they can just say, “Well, I want to go to Asia but I can’t fly so I’m going to take a boat and overland all the way over to Asia.” I could do that. But you know most people are in a different scenario from that. But I mean that’s the challenging one for me with speaking and you know trying to have the positive change that I want. I see flying as a helpful tool but I’m also like you know I haven’t done… I think it’s been a year since I’ve flown which is for me a while but that’s really the most difficult one is this idea of not flying. I have not taken that leap. I’ve taken a lot of responsibility for flying but I have not taken that leap of not flying.

Joshua: Well, you’ve ridden your bike across the country at least once.

Rob: Three times.

Joshua: Three times so that’s… I feel like you’ve done a lot there. Because I haven’t… The last big bike ride I did was decades ago and was Philadelphia to Main and back and I’m itching to do some like that again. That was a vacation though. I just found the more that I go without flying, the more that I like not flying. It’s to me like slow food versus fast food and it’s just the slow food is just more rewarding in much more than just the flavor. Of course, it’s faster to get takeout but I view that sort of like when I’m sitting with my nieces and nephews and reading them a book, reading the book faster is not the point. Like I could finish the book faster and then be done. But the point is to spend time with them. It feels like that to me. Like why would I want to read the book faster if the point is to spend time with them?

Rob: I agree. And the thing about flying is yeah, I mean maybe it means you’re not going to go to Europe this summer but maybe it means you can take a train you know Amtrak trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite National Park and that’s one of the most amazing places on Earth. For any of us that live in the United States the reality is that we can easily travel the United States for our entire lives and not see even a fraction of everything there is to see…

Joshua: And we would still see more than what almost everyone since the dawn of history has ever seen at all because most people never went more than I don’t know 20 miles of their home for most of their lives. I don’t really know the statistic there if there was one but we certainly can see a lot more than most people ever have.

Rob: Yeah and that’s a really important thing is everything… For me when it comes to sustainable living everything is about a matter of perspective and I try to zoom that perspective out as far back as possible from any narrative that is a mainstream narrative and just get back to the absolute basics. So for example when we think about life expectancy well, today you know the average human lives to be about 80 years old. So most of us say, “Well, I want to live to be 80 years old.” because that’s what’s the life expectancy. But one of the ways that I look at it is for ninety-nine percent of the human experience, actually more than ninety-nine percent, forty was old. I mean it’s only a couple of hundred years ago that becoming 40 years old was a long successful life. So when I look at it that way I don’t find myself by time and place with my perspective. I like to make my perspective more timeless and placeless. And so because of that I don’t need to live to be 80 to have a successful life and I’m 32 years old now. If I live to be 40, that will and from that perspective be a long and successful life longer and having more experience than most human beings that ever existed on this planet. And so that’s for me like one of the most important things to having a happy healthy life is to always look from that greater perspective.

Joshua: You know it’s funny that you mention that… One of the reasons people like to travel… A lot of what the system… I don’t know if I am saying this too glibly but this isn’t the people and they talk about how they want to explore the world and expand their minds and get broaden their horizons and things. And you’re speaking about a more broad horizon than I think they get from the traveling. A lot of people what they get… How do I put it? They go to some place and they go to the touristy things. Even if they don’t go the touristy things, they’re still meeting people that like communicate on Facebook. It’s like a kind of Facebook curated experience that yeah, they’ll see something slightly different but not that different. The kind of stuff that you’re doing is really much more broadening your horizons and the type of change in perspective that you describing is much, to my views, is greater and more meaningful than what you get from you know like a one week trip to Machu Picchu. Yeah, you’ll see something…

Rob: I agree with that you know one week trip to Machu Picchu is a whole different story. However, a backpacking trip with all of your possessions on your backpack and on an extreme budget around the world and not just going from backpacker hostel to backpacker hostel but like really getting off the beaten path where no one else speaks your language and you don’t understand the culture and if you can immerse like that, now that is part of the equation of what got me to where I am today with being able to zoom out because I have seen so many different perspectives and so many different ways of existence within the human race. So I agree but I think like quality immersive travel can be one of the most important tools to opening our minds. But again, the good news is we can do that without flying. You can travel the whole world without flying. And even in the United States alone any major city you can expose yourself to so many different cultures like Minneapolis, for example, has the largest population of Somalians and Ethiopians I think in the world outside of Somalia and Ethiopia. And a lot of those people just moved there so you can go there and you can immerse in their culture. And that’s just one example of how to immerse in other cultures because they’ve brought their world to you, to your back door practically.

Joshua: Yeah, I guess you caught on something I misstated. It’s not travel. It’s polluting. If you travel without polluting, you end up travelling in the way that you described. It’s not the only way to do it but you end up meeting people and depending on people and… So I’m a big fan of travel. I’m just also a big fan of taking responsibility and not hurting people in the process or acting like you’re not.

Rob: Yeah. So like slow travel basically is what you’re talking about.

Joshua: Yeah, yeah. It’s really like people get really transformed. Because I think a lot of the stuff that you see with the not slow travel, if we’re coining a term here if it doesn’t already exist, you know there’s all these studies that show that people who use social media a ton feel a lot of anxiety because you get these profiles of people who aren’t really that happy but they post these amazing pictures of all these amazing things they don’t actually… It doesn’t really represent their life that well and they’re all outdoing each other and they’re all…

And so I think a lot of people if they travel someplace and they’ll see these amazing… I don’t know, you see the Eiffel tower, you see [unintelligible] and see some beautiful things but they are not really getting into it. They’re just getting a curated… Curate is not the right word because you curate museum things and that’s really awesome. But they’re like following their noses with what the what people who find a way to profit off of getting you to do stuff you just kind of follow what they say. And I don’t to sound conspiracy-like, it’s just looking back it just felt like I was chasing what other people were putting forward for me to chase. It was craving like it was someone came back from someplace and say, “Oh, you got to try the food and blah-blah-blah.” And I was like, “I got to go there.”

What are you up to now? Because I think that you’re always, not always, but you’re often doing something that it sounds like partly challenging yourself, partly showing people what’s possible and yeah. When I read about it, it made me think about how I’d like to… There’s a few fruit trees in Manhattan and in New Jersey and I found places where I can scavenge really good fruit. And it’s amazing because like it’s in the middle of everything and I know where to get the stuff and it’s delicious. And you’re in Orlando?

Rob: Yes. Orlando, Florida.

Joshua: And you’ve been planting trees? You’ve been working with people to… What are you doing now?

Rob: Yeah. So actually I’m just at my one-year anniversary of living in Orlando which actually means it has been one year since I flew because that’s the last time I flew I got here from Europe. So basically I’m spending two years in Orlando and I have a couple of different projects going on. This spring I started a program called Community Fruit Trees and we planted 110 community fruit trees so far and what a community fruit tree is is it’s just a fruit tree that we plant in a public place, could be someone’s front yard along the sidewalk, a school yard, a church yard, a business on the median between the streets and the sidewalk, somewhere that anybody can access it and then it’s free fruit for anyone to enjoy. And the idea is to get past this idea that food has to be monetized and that food can be freely growing all around us and can be a community resource.

So Community Fruit Trees. I also started the Free Seed project and we send out free seed packets to people across the country to help them grow their own food. It’s basically like an organic garden starter kit with 20 different seed packs of greens, herbs and we’ve sent those to people in all 50 states now. And then I also started Gardens for Single Moms which is where we build gardens for single-parent families. So all of these you know help people to grow their own organic healthy food and get people started and then all that is a part of my bigger project which is Food Freedom which is where for one year I’m growing and foraging 100 percent of my food and the idea of it is to inspire people not to grow 100 percent of their food but to think about where their food comes from, to connect with their food, to start growing a little bit of their own. And you know I like to do extreme things that really catch people’s attention and inspire them to take some steps. And so yeah, that started on November 11, so it’s about thirty-sixtyish of growing and foraging 100 percent of my food.

Joshua: It’s so full and rich of stuff… Like I’m trying to think of like what would be more rewarding than to get people growing stuff all across the country that weren’t going to before. And people, presumably if they’re listening to the Leadership and the Environment podcast, leadership is important to them and you’re leading and because you’re in an area of I think global demand. I think everybody wants cleaner water, skies, land. Everybody wants more delicious vegetables and things. And what’s the response you’re getting? Do people tell you afterward about what they’re growing? Or maybe you meet the people with the… I don’t know if the tree has been growing long enough to for people to get food from them.

Rob: Yeah. Well, it’s been great so far. You know the response from people in the community has been really nice. Yeah, the fruit trees aren’t fruiting yet because it’s only been what? Most of them are around the eight months old or so and so they’ll start fruiting. Maybe while I’m still in Orlando I’ll get to see some of the fruit trees fruiting but the reality is that I will not personally eat the fruit from almost any of those trees and that’s really what it’s about – doing things that are making the community a better place whether we benefit from it or not. Of course, I benefited from it because I love planting fruit trees and I love helping other people. But a fruit tree is definitely a long term investment because that thing can be around for decades really. It can be around for even a couple of generations producing fruits. So fruit trees are amazing in that regard. But yeah, the response has been really great in the neighborhood. My personal garden has fed dozens of people in the community and I teach free garden classes and I’ve had at least one hundred fifty people at my garden classes and I send them home the seeds and plants and yeah, definitely people share messages with me of their meals that they’re making from food that they grew for the first time. And so it’s been really a rewarding and inspiring to see it actually working, to see people you know taking the lead and going and taking that step of growing some of their own.

Joshua: I have to highlight a man who’s choosing not to buy food is giving away lots of food. It’s not that surprising to me anymore that that would happen because I’ve seen the documentaries like Just Eat It and things like that when you look at how much food there is around us… How is it that you’re giving away food when you’re not buying food even though food is a big expense for a lot of people? For me certainly, for everyone.

Rob: Well, that’s one of the most special things about becoming a gardener is that food is abundant. I mean it is amazing how abundant food [unintelligible] my gardens. It’s just more food than I can possibly handle. And it’s just yeah. That’s just every experienced gardener that has figured it out and knows what they’re doing has an abundance to share and that has been what I’ve seen just through and through. And you know the reality is is that if we all started to grow some of our own food, we could be producing I think a vast majority of all of our fruits and vegetables locally you know for all American citizens. It’s truly not a miracle because you know humans have been eating food for tens of thousands of years but because we’re so disconnected from our food system, we’re so disconnected from food it seems like a miracle that food just grows. It just grows. It’s as simple as that. You put seeds…. I had a guy share two pumpkins with me, my friend Terry, and from the seeds, from those two pumpkins I produced a hundred sixty-nine pumpkins.

Joshua: Man, did you even water it or was it just rain?

Rob: Well, I did water those. I gave them care but you know on unused lawns you know area that was going completely unused before and you know able to produce that sort of sustenance. And I still have 60 of them sitting on the shelf right next to me that I’m looking at right now. And so they’ve provided a huge amount of abundance for me. And you know that hundred sixty-nine pumpkins if I did the same thing and I put the energy, I could turn out one hundred sixty-nine pumpkins now into over ten thousand pumpkins if I wanted to. And that’s just the true power of seeds. They’re much more powerful than money because abundance can be created very quickly with them.

Joshua: I just got back from a month away and before I left my windowsill I had some basil and some salad greens. The fruit stuff I took my mom’s to take there and I had a big feast before I left because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to water them while I was gone so I figure I might as well eat them. And you know so the basil’s really delicious. And it was all really delicious. When I came back there’s like a little bit of green left a month of no watering and I just started watering it and they’re growing again. I mean I guess you just need the roots to stay there. It’s really fascinating. Now I’ve got to put some habanero in there because I want to get some…

Well, anyway. Actually, in my experience it took me a long time to start planting stuff because I thought I needed to know more than I did and I wish I’d talked to you earlier because it was just a matter of putting seeds in dirt and I didn’t even have proper containers at first. And the only reason I have containers now is neighbors are getting rid of them. Otherwise, I’d still be using cups and yoghurt container things which work fine. But I mean I’ll take the free stuff that people getting rid of and it’s easy. It’s really fun. There’s something about seeing this first green… Now I mean I sound like an inexperienced gardener but whatever that’s what I’m. Just seeing those first green things pop up you’re like, “Oh. It’s going to come.” and then it gets bigger and yeah, I hope within a few years to make what I say now sound naive and like barely getting started because it’s as easy it is to get started I really want to keep growing and learning.

Rob: Well, that’s where I was really just a year ago. I mean I was fairly knowledgeable but very minimally practiced in growing food. And so just a year ago I didn’t know how much [unintelligible] does the plant need, how much water does it need, when do you plan, like all of these basic things. And by immersing myself in it I went from really not knowing a lot of those basics to now growing and foraging a hundred percent of my food. So you know it takes some time but at the same time the reality is you follow the basics, you talk to the locals, people who have been growing food in your area already and you listen to their advice and the plants grow. And it’s truly amazing how they just grow and they just produce a whole abundance of food.


Joshua: Yeah. What you’re saying reminds you of something that it’s gotten me in trouble a couple of times. I hope I don’t say it to too much in a way that gets me in trouble. But some friend sent me a link to some friend of his who was like, “Hey, check out this eco-tourism stuff.” And I look at the pictures and I don’t quite get the concept of eco-tourism because you’re flying… This is like flying people down the Amazon. It’s showing… I don’t know how to subscribe it. It’s a bunch of overweight obese Midwesterners on a boat in the middle of the Amazon somewhere and I have a feeling that that’s going to result in a bunch of cafes popping up on the side of the Amazon because people are going to realize that they can get money from the tourists.

And I don’t know what they’re getting out of it. I could read what they wrote on the site, “Oh, this is such a great experience. I learn about the world.” And then I thought about what I got out of planting a few herbs and fruit trees on my windowsill and I felt like… I looked at what they wrote and felt what I felt and I felt like what I got was at least the equal of what they got. But I was growing something and it wasn’t leading to… And it sounds like what you got it’s like… My stuff is small potatoes because I didn’t grow hundreds of squashes and I guess some people might say like, “Yeah, well. I want to do more important stuff and grow vegetables.” but it’s really rewarding and it’s not a 24/7 thing. It’s like for me I water them once a day. It’s no big deal. And if I miss a couple of days, it’s not a big deal too.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean what you said about eco-tourism, the reality is there’s almost anything that’s labeled eco is not. If you have to label it eco, then it probably isn’t. There are plenty of environmentally friendly things out there but if it’s being sold, then the reality is that a vast majority of the time that it’s just not. You know there’s so much greenwashing going on out there.

Joshua: Yeah. Trader Joe’s. Everything they have says the word “recycle” on it somewhere. Not everything but a lot of it I think. And their whole business model is packaging stuff. And I feel like a lot of people walk out of the sort of feeling like, “Oh, I’m so good for the environment.” when it’s just the word “recycle” is shown everywhere and they’re not noticing… I feel like that at the root of a lot of it is taking responsibility. And when I was a kid I didn’t like to take responsibility. But as I’ve grown older I’ve liked taking responsibility and as much as I don’t get to do some things I used to like to do and I have to do some things that I didn’t like to do. Like having a kid being responsible I find it improves your life. It’s a more mature than just pure fun which not to say there’s not a lot of fun in it.

Rob: Yeah, responsibility is not a sexy word but in reality that’s what it all comes down to. It’s being responsible for our actions like that to me is what it all comes down to being deeply responsible for our lives.

Joshua: Yeah. It’s a really rewarding feeling. You know something I do on this podcast, I’m not sure if you’ve got to listen to any episodes but one of the things I like to do is I ask guests based on their environmental values which I think you’ve shared a bunch is at their option I invite them to do something that they’ve been thinking about or maybe with me come up with something to do something on their values and come on a second time after they’ve had a chance to do it for a little while to share their experience. It’s funny because the people who do the most usually have… Actually, it’s a mix. I was about to say the people who’ve done the most sometimes it’s hardest for them because there’s no low hanging fruit left and some of the bigger things are more challenging but also some of the people who do the most also are the best at finding new things to do. But I wonder if you’d be willing to do something you’re not already doing as if you’re not already doing plenty. But it doesn’t have to you know fix all the world’s problems overnight and it can’t be something like education or awareness. It has to be something measurable and something you are not already doing. But I wonder if you’d be interested in doing something you haven’t really done and sharing how it goes.

Rob: The main thing that I am working on that I haven’t done yet is I have a goal of switching over to 100 percent natural clothes as in no synthetics, no plastic. You know most of my clothes are plastic and switching over mostly to hemp ideally but all natural fibers where the clothes are completely biodegradable. If I accidentally left one in the woods, it would over time just degrade in the soil. So that’s something I wanted to do for years and then I am working on. And that’s really like for me right now the only personal change when it comes to environmental actions that I really am needing to focus on and that comes to mind.

Joshua: What resonates with me… My winter coat it’s not all hemp but there’s a lot of hemp in it and when I found it I was so glad to find something like that. I didn’t even think about until I found it. And I wonder if we can make a SMART goal. If you want to make it the change for your whole life, maybe there’s some small version of it you could do in a short period of time to kind of get your feet wet.

Rob: Well, I have gotten my feet wet some because I switched over all my T-shirts and long sleeved shirts at least. So now it’s just like pants, jacket.

Joshua: Underwear.

Rob: Underwear, I’ve got synthetic underwear for sure which are quite comfy. The plastic gloves and they are convenient. I guess I could have a goal in two months having at least say 75 percent of my clothing by weight be natural fibers.

Joshua: And is that achievable?

Rob: Yeah, yeah. It’s just a matter of doing it.

Joshua: OK. And would this be getting in the way or would this be an opportunity to do something you’ve been meaning to do for a while?

Rob: It’s on my list of things that I need to do. So it wouldn’t be getting in the way.

Joshua: Okay, cool. Then after we hang up, if it’s cool then we can [unintelligible], then we’ll schedule a second conversation and hear how it went.

Rob: Sure. Yeah. Let’s say my goal will be to do it by… So two months would be January 20 to February 20, so March 1 will be the goal.

Joshua: Ok, so I will shoot for March 1. That’s really cool because you know I interviewed someone and I don’t know how that’s going to sound because I got to… You know one of the things about leadership is I got to work with people where they are and I said, “Would you be interested in taking on a challenge?” And she’s like, “No, no. We’ve already done everything we possibly can. All our cars are electric and besides I’m about to fly away on vacation.” And I was like, “I guess if you feel that you’ve done everything you can, I’m not going to…” I just didn’t find it helpful to point out in the moment how people could see things differently. But I do want to point out talking to you that I think a lot of people would say, “Rob, he’s doing stuff like most people aren’t going to get that far in their lifetimes.” And you get plenty that you can do more. Because you said something that I think or maybe I said it that if I change a little thing to meet my values and it makes my life better a little bit, I’ve gotten to the point where I figure that if I change a bigger thing, it’ll make my life better in a bigger way. And I look forward to these things, not away from them. Which is part of the reason I wanted to talk to you because you’ve been a role model and I want to come up with other things.

Rob: Sounds great.

Joshua: I want to come up with things, find the things I wasn’t seeing already. And now I want to make a bigger garden.

Rob: That’s a good one. All right. When we check in…  Are you in New York?

Joshua: Yeah. Manhattan.

Rob: Okay. So when we check in in March it won’t have been time to have made a bigger garden yet. So we’ll have to check in on that in the summer.

Joshua: Well, I will have planted the things and I will have to figure out what I’m going to put in because like I definitely want to put in the [unintelligible] and the jalapenos. I’ve got to put some fruit things in because the basil, the reason I had to feast just before I left was that I can’t eat it. I feel like I planted it, I care for it so fruit it’s like the plant is like eat this. Whereas basil is like the plant’s going to be dead. Well, it’s going to be eaten.

Rob: Well, on that note speaking of basil and food there is a big storm coming. I got to get out to the garden and harvest myself a lunch before I get soaking wet again for the second time today.

Joshua: All right. We’ll be talking again in a little over two months. Anything I didn’t think to ask to bring up? Where can people find you?

Rob: My website’s just robgreenfield.org. And then on social media I use Facebook, Instagram and YouTube primarily. And if you just type in Rob Greenfield, you’ll find me. It’s RobJGreenfield on Instagram – that’s my actual handle. So that’s where to follow along and to get inspired and join in on the journey.

Joshua: I’ll put links on so people can find it easily also. And look, I’ll be frank. A lot of things you’re doing I’m not going to do but that you do that that they’re doable and that they’re easy to do enables me to do things that I was meaning to do. So I recommend people watch all of… You know I don’t know if I’ve watched everything but watch a lot and you’ll find things in your life that you can change and do that were always there but you didn’t notice them. So I highly recommend following through on these links and checking out what Rob does.

Rob: [unintelligible] the good stuff on there.

Joshua: Rob Greenfield, thank you very much. I’ll talk to you again in a couple of months.

Rob: Alight. Sounds good. Thanks for having me on.


Rob is not buying food yet he has it in so much abundance that he gives it away. He lives in abundance. What makes his life seem impossible is a statement about how much we’ve bought into what corporations tell us. Don’t believe it. I recommend trying one or two things that Rob started with you know some of the early things, not necessarily what he’s doing now yet. Take it in your direction, do what works for you. Plant some seeds, water them, see what happens. It’s pretty rewarding. And the next thing you know you’ll find yourself polluting a lot less than the average American and your life will be full of more joy, more discovery, more reward than you ever expected.

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