Hello everyone, welcome back! Today we are adding to our zero waste inspiration series today (check out all the other interviews HERE), talking to Jen Rivera Bell. She is a beautiful and conscious vegan mama to one year old Luna. Jen is passionate about both human and animal liberation, intersectional activism, empowering through decolonization, and minimalism.
Jen lives in Missouri, which is exciting because we haven’t talked to anyone in the midwest yet in this series, or anyone with a small child. My goal is to share regional, cultural, financial, and lifestyle diversity within the low waste/impact lifestyle so that hopefully you can connect with someone that inspires YOU personally and to share that living consciously looks different for everyone.
You can find Jen on YouTube here (she shares awesome videos on travel, zero waste shopping, vegan eating on instagram @jenriverabell, and her website here. All images shown courtesy of Jen’s instagram.
Hi Jen! Can you introduce yourself and share a little about your daily life/routine/ lifestyle?
Hey ya’ll! Well my routine is much like any other mom: try to go to the bathroom without having a toddler yell at you. Ha! But seriously, my life is pretty average. I am a work from home mama who loves to cook (mostly cause I love to eat), play outside with my little one Luna, and watch documentaries with my husband Zac.
Where are you located and how easy or hard is it to live low waste in your area?
I am located in the middle of no where Benton County, MO. It can be really difficult to be low waste here, mainly because of the isolation. We don’t even have a recycling center. But we make do with what we’ve got. We typically make a drive into Springfield (which is about an hour and a half for us) to get our bulk goods and drop off our recycling. Luckily there are some pretty awesome bulk stores out there so we are able to get tons of great bulk items.
Can you share a little about your journey to less waste? What inspired you + continues to inspire you to reduce your waste?
Once going vegan (about 5 years ago) I really started to dive in and research everything. I really wanted to have the a positive impact on the world, once I dug a little bit deeper I stumbled upon some plastic documentaries. That is where I was sold. When I saw the horrific environmental effects that plastic have on our planet I knew I had to do something differently. That’s when I found the zero waste/ low waste movement. At first it was very intimidating and very overwhelming but after a while I really got the hang out it. I continue to do my best in hopes that my Luna will learn to fight for what she thinks is right.
For people who may be reading this and are near you, where are your favorite resources in your area for low waste shopping? Farmers market, bulk store, refill shop etc?
I have only been in the area for a few months but so far my two favorite shops (both located in Springfield) are Mama Jean’s and Lucky’s. They have TONS of package free produce and awesome bulk sections. Once the warmer weather comes around I will be ready to hit all of the local farmers markets.
What’s your composting approach? I know this varies so much depending on access, location, city ordinances etc.- how do you compost in your area?
For us almost all of our food waste becomes treats for our companion pig Mowgli. Ha! Since we eat a whole plant based diet she loves eating the ends of our veggies, fruit that may be over ripe, and tons more. And for everything else we are in the process of building our composting bin.
What is your biggest source of trash still/ whats been hardest to find a sustainable swap for?
Food packaging was very difficult for us at first, it has gotten a lot better with our access to amazing bulk stores now. We are also eating a lot cleaner now so that is helping out a lot with packaging as well.
For your cycle, do you use a menstrual cup, reusable pads, or other? If so, which brand(s) do you recommend?
For my cycle I use reusable pads. Ever since first starting my cycle I was always very uncomfortable with tampons and once I was moving to a low waste lifestyle I was nervous about not finding an alternative. I was quite lucky to not have to worry about my cycle for a whole year after Luna was born. Ha! But once it started again my mom got me some reusable pads for Christmas which I love. I am actually not too sure on the brand.
For clothing, do you prefer to buy secondhand, support eco/fair trade/organic companies or both? Also, what is your favorite brand for ethical undies/bras?
I love buying both secondhand as well as eco brands. For the majority of our clothes and shoes I purchase second hand but I also really enjoy supporting different makers online. (I am a huge Etsy fan). My most favorite undies brand is Pact. note: shirt pictured is from Brown Wear Apparel.
You have a beautiful one year old daughter, Luna. Has it been challenging doing low waste with baby stuff? I know you cloth diaper and breastfeed- do you also apply minimalism to baby “gear”, toys, clothes etc?
It has been surprisingly easy to stay low waste with her. Since we cloth diaper that takes a huge number of traditional waste completely out of the picture. Keeping her things to a minimal just went along with our values. I can’t imagine it any other way. check out Jen’s baby essentials here.
Are there any supplements, herbs, foods that you regularly took during your vegan pregnancy and now during breastfeeding? What about for Luna- do you give her any supplements at this time?
For both my pregnancy and now while breastfeeding I take Rainbow Light prenatal vitamins and eat a ton of whole food plant based foods. Tons and tons of rice and beans and lots of greens! check out Jen’s vegan pregnancy here.
Is your husband on the same page with you regarding veganism, low waste and minimalism, or do you two peacefully coexist with separate views?
I am extremely lucky to have a partner that is completely on the same page on everything. We started dating when I was 17 so we have really grown together in life and have managed to teach each other so much. We went vegan together, then found out about minimalism (he is a much better minimalist than me) and embarked on the low waste lifestyle at the same time.
What inspired you to make the switch to a plant based diet and how easily did you transition? Do you have any tips to ease the transition period for someone wanting to make the switch as well?
My inspiration for going vegan was my Mowgli (our companion pig). We got her when she was a piglet and from that day we said we could no longer eat pork. From then we discovered just how incredibly complex and emotional pigs really are. We slowly started to leave all meat behind and then ditched dairy and every other animal product. We transitioned pretty slowly and incorporated more and more plant based foods into our diet. My biggest tip for someone who wants to transition is to really find foods that they love and eat those. I get messages all of the time from people saying they just want to quit because they don’t like what they are eating. If you love smoothies then drink smoothies but if a green smoothie makes you gag you can totally find something to replace it that is also plant based.
When you went vegan, was your family supportive? How did you handle food at family gatherings? I feel like I get this question so much- especially about older family members like grandmothers that maybe can’t understand the lifestyle, and the feeling of guilt/disrespect for refusing traditional foods previously shared communally.
My family was definitely surprised at first (as was Zac’s cajun family), but they are extreme supportive and now most of my immediate and extend family is vegan. My family and I love to cook, so recreating our traditional family foods vegan style is our favorite thing to do together. As far as family gatherings I would always bring food and share it with everyone. Zac and I are super blessed to have grandparents who understand our values and they love to make us vegan versions of our childhood favorites.
What are your favorite go-to easy dinners?
My FAVORITE go to dinner is rice, beans, corn, with avocado. We could eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ha!
Your parents are from El Salvador (your mom is so beautiful!) and you have been delving deeper into your true roots. Can you share a little about your journey with decolonizing, uncovering truth, researching and activism on this front?
Learning about my true identity has been one of the most impactful learning experiences in my life. I have always loved researching and history so it was almost inevitable that I would embark on my decolonization process. There had been so much history that we have been lied to about that learning the truth is liberating. I have so much to learn and so connecting with other people who are decolonizing as well has really helped me out on this journey. I feel it now my responsibility to stand up for those who are marginalized in our society. book pictured can be found here.
I love that you travel, especially with your babe…do you have any tips/essentials for vegan/low waste traveling?
Be prepareeeeeed (sang in Scar’s voice from the Lion King) Really tho. Haha. We ALWAYS have food in our food containers basically everywhere we go. It cuts down on packaging and also money, so it’s a win win. I always have our reusable water containers and cutlery. We usually stay in airbnbs so we typically have a kitchen where ever we go. So the first thing we do is locate a grocery store and get our essentials.
What are your favorite simple, accessible steps you recommend for people just starting out to reduce waste?
Ditch the disposables! Saying no to straws and plastic bags is a HUGE step in the right direction. No step is too small! We all start off somewhere so just start small and with a bit of research you will see how drastically you can cut down on waste.