Greenproof your life: Whole Terrain interviews Alexandra Zissu

Originally posted October 13, 2010

by Hanna Wheeler

Alexandra Zissu is the locavore movement’s cooler best friend. Located in Manhattan, she hangs out with the urban “tattooed and fresh-faced” artisan butchers and gives advice on the season’s most stylish, locally-made beauty products. At the same time, she has solid footing in the mommy world— using the experience of her own pregnancy to teach DIY baby food-making classes for young mothers, “greenproof” people’s nurseries, and write books such as The Complete Organic Pregnancy and The Conscious Kitchen.

Whether it’s food, fashion, or babies, Zissu writes from personal experience— helping readers navigate the how-to for a healthier and more eco-friendly life. Her upcoming book, Planet Home, was written with Seventh Generation co-founder Jefferey Hollender (whose essay “Big, Small and the Bridge Between” is featured in Whole Terrain’s upcoming volume, “Significance of Scale”). In Planet Home, the co-authors use a whole systems thinking approach to draw connections between home, health, food, and environment.

Zissu says she embarked on her adventures in “green” during her pregnancy when a friend suggested that she take baby steps towards making the inside of her home as pure as the organic apples and pears in her fruit bowl.

“I didn’t know what that meant so I started researching. All of this information started pouring into my lap. It was a real eye opener,” said Zissu.

These personal health revelations also increased her awareness of environmental issues. “There are so many people in the environmental realm and so many approaches,” she said. “It all has to do with the lens that you use.”

She describes those different approaches as ranging from wide-reaching causes to smaller, personal changes.

“There’s room in the movement for both of the approaches,” she said. Zissu uses the personal health approach as a door-opener. “When I’m speaking individually to mothers about making small steps, I do feel like I’m making a difference. I think there’s a whole untapped world of people who’d be willing to take personal little steps,” she said.

She says her upcoming book has something for everyone. “It goes through all of the places in the home,” she said. “It also draws the whole circle: the how and why. It talks about the necessary step of getting active.”

Zissu started her career as a fashion writer, and she still researches everything from sustainable ballet flats to organic shampoo. She’s found some individuals and companies that are advancing eco-fashion. Yet, she said, “The fashion world is always slower. They still faxed when everyone moved to email.” Zissu urges people to examine what they’re wiping on their faces or washing down the shower drain. “You’re not alone in your shower; you’re affecting people around you!”

One truly local example Zissu likes to highlight deals with lavender and bacon: the local pig farmer sells to the local butcher who teams up with the local herb grower to produce fine soaps. “That’s sustainable!” she said.

And speaking of those butchers. “The New York Times has decided that butchers are hot and they write about them a lot,” said Zissu.

She’s writing another book, The Butchers Guide to Well-Raised Meat, with the butchers at Fleisher’s Organic and Grass-Fed Meats. The New York Times described Fleisher’s proprietor, Joshua Applestone, as “a pony-tailed butcher with a porn-star mustache,” listing him as one of the “rock star butchers” in a July 2009 article.

“It’s not just heirloom tomatoes anymore. Now we’re moving into heirloom animals,” said Zissu.

Zissu says she hopes her books help people realize that even if they live in urban places or “aren’t interested in living in the ways of their grandparents,” they can still live in a sustainable way. “It’s very accessible,” she said.

It’s that accessibility and simplicity that Zissu stresses. “I get people who are so confused about how to store food. Where did we lose the capacity to understand that things don’t have to be wrapped in plastic?”

“I just focus on the simplicity of it all,” she said.


Bio: Alexandra Zissu is a writer, editor, speaker, and greenproofer. Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning and Greening the World You Care About Most comes out just in time for New Year’s resolutions on December 28, 2010. The Butchers Guide to Well-Raised Meat is due out at the end of Spring 2011. Zissu recently spoke at the Monadnock Literary and Arts Festival, co-sponsored by Antioch University New England.

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