Meghan Kelly is passionate about our power to create a just, compassionate, sustainable world for all, and she's pedaling across Canada to inspire others to positive action. Meghan grew up in Ontario and, as she says, is into "voluntary simplicity, sharing-based economies and recreating visions of success in the modern world." We first met Meghan when she participated in a session of our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life. We found her discussions and insights so intriguing and inspiring that we wanted to know more and to share her work.
Current hometown: Bicycle nomad and organic farms by summer, Quebec City by winter.
IHE fan since: Sowing Seeds workshop in Guelph, Ontario in 2005.
Current job: This year I chose to be job-free for a few months to take opportunities to learn and develop skills that will help me live more sustainably. I consider this an investment in ecological education, figuring that skills such as biking and agriculture may also reduce my need to work in the future through increasing my level of self-sufficiency. I've been doing WWOOFing, work exchanges, and occasional odd-jobs that fit with my ethics, meeting many of my needs through a sharing-based economy rather than a monetary economy.
Book/movie that changed your life: Animal Liberation by Peter Singer; La Belle Verte / The Green Beautiful by Colline Serreau.
Guilty pleasure: Fair trade chocolate.
Inspired by: Life, forests, and the potential to bring beauty and ecological diversity back to this earth.
Interesting fact: I practice "extreme gardening" as a hobby, growing plants in implausible places.
IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?
MK: The desire to become a well rounded eco-citizen and move toward a lifestyle that is in line with my ethics. I regularly attend talks and conferences about the environment and veganism, as well as doing research and watching videos to deepen my knowledge. I take eco-citizenship courses in Quebec City, where we participate in workshops offered by fellow students and local experts. By striving to become better informed and applying environmentalism in my daily life, I've organically grown into a role of running workshops, writing articles, doing outreach, and organizing clubs and events that will help others learn about humane living.
IHE: Last spring you spent two months bicycling around Canada as part of the Otesha Project, giving workshops and theatrical performances to young people to teach them about responsible, ecological living and to encourage them to take an active role in creating a better world. Tell us about that experience.
MK: With a group of 19 people I biked 2,000 kilometers across Ontario, living car-free in a nomadic eco-community as we rode from town to town to perform a play about sustainable living. The group of bicyclists included a range of exceptional individuals: foodies, farmies, vegetarians, altruists, poets, and activists. We were traveling as the “Ferocious Farm Tour,” visiting small-scale and organic farms along our route to learn more about the Canadian foodscape.
The bike tour was organized by Otesha, a youth-led charity that was started by two Canadian women in 2003. Otesha does humane education in Canada, the U.K., and Australia, encouraging people to make responsible lifestyle choices. They spread this message through workshops, through their book and teacher's manual From Junk to Funk, as well through organizing several theatrical bike tours each year. Their humane education is based on four steps: removing the blinders to have greater awareness of the problems afflicting the world; holding up the mirror to recognize our own role in these problems; empowerment through realizing our own ability to create positive change; and action through taking positive actions in our daily lives to create a better world.
On our Otesha bike tour, we performed the play "Reason to Dream" for more than 2,000 students, as well as several community performances for the public. The play focuses on a high school student who is trying to decide what to do with his life. During a dream sequence, the student learns about organic agriculture, fair trade, factory farming, sweatshops, unequal distribution of resources, and suburban sprawl. Upon waking, he comes up with solutions to integrate environmental living in his school and daily life, like having sweatshop-free gym clothes and going to the farmers' market. I enjoyed the play, because it introduces the students to a wide variety of issues, and to solutions that are accessible.
IHE: What has been the reaction of your audiences to your message? What has been most inspiring about working with young people?
MK: At many schools we did a follow-up after the play, where we asked the students to contribute ideas about how to build a more ecological society. It was particularly inspiring when we were at primary schools and could see that even the youngest students had an understanding of the problems and ideas for practical solutions. We also had the chance to meet high school students who were part of environmental clubs and eco-education programs. These encounters were especially uplifting, to meet teenagers who are so knowledgeable and committed to positive change.
IHE: Because you were traveling to all these communities by bicycle, that meant little gear and no props, costumes, A/V equipment, etc., for all your workshops and productions. How did you compensate?
MK: We had an abundance of human props. In our performance, I played the role of a chair, a water pump, a factory-farmed cow, a bird killed by pesticides, and a turbomatic smoothinator. We generally had 15 or 16 actors on stage, many of whom were playing props and creating soundscapes. The week before we started biking, we had a training week where we learned about projecting our voices, and how to create humour and visual impact without any resources. Every venue was different, and we tried our best to work with whatever situation we found ourselves in.
IHE: On your blog, you talk about the importance of upcycling ourselves, “turning from agents of pollution into agents of environmental change.” Say more about what you envision.
MK: I envision a world where individuals move intentionally and steadily toward genuine sustainability and an ethic of earthcare. In recent years, humans have invented a plethora of new ways to be environmentally damaging. From the moment I was born, from plastic diapers to sweatshop clothing to food produced by multinational corporations, I was raised in a society where environmental destruction from our day-to-day activities is the norm, and where environmentally-responsible behaviors need to be actively sought out and learned.
So, I view us as default "agents of pollution," well-intentioned people who are born into a world that functions in an unsustainable way, contributing (somewhat unwittingly) to clear-cutting, strip mining, landfills, water pollution, and so on. There are some changes for the better that are happening at a societal level and governmental level, though I don't believe that simple gestures like recycling are going to be enough to find a balance. To move toward a world that will meet the needs of ourselves, future generations, and the animals and plants with whom we share the earth, I believe we need to generate an attitude of embracing the transition, being open and motivated to making significant positive changes in lifestyle, and to becoming agents of environmental change within our communities.
I'm trying to start with myself, by greening my own mode of living, feeling that we can best share what we practice. My blog follows my experiments, thoughts, and observations as I attempt to optimistically embrace the post-carbon era. Some of these experiments are practical in nature, such as learning to travel long distances without fossil fuels. Others are somewhat ridiculous in nature, such as installing edible micro-gardens all over my bicycle. I figure that environmentalism should be enjoyable, so let's have fun with it.
IHE: Much of your humane education work, from filmmaking to teaching workshops, is focused around food. What draws you to use food as a catalyst for positive change?
MK: Food is necessary for living. We consume it every day. For almost all other forms of consumption--gasoline, electronics, energy, clothing, Christmas gifts--I would advocate minimal consumption, plain and simple, with responsible consumerism being secondary to reducing our consumption. With food, we're daily consumers, and while we often eat for necessity or pleasure without considering the source of our food, it is frequently produced in a way that causes animal suffering, rainforest destruction, loss of biodiversity, river contamination, human exploitation, and topsoil loss. So, this is an area where conscientious consumerism can lead to great improvements!
I became vegan when I was 19, which I think is the most significant step we can take for animals and the environment, though I still lived on a diet of imported, packaged food. Later, after learning about the impacts of industrialized food production, I made a solid effort to seek out local, organic and unpackaged food sources. I started growing some of my own food using vegan-organic growing techniques, and sharing this knowledge with others through goveganic.net. It may take some time to find (or create!) these alternatives in our communities, though as daily consumers, I think this is one of the areas in which we can make the greatest impact, and be co-creators of sustainable bioregional food systems.
IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?
MK: At any given time, I generally undertake one or two large projects in positive lifestyle change, to focus on gaining new skills with a decent level of ease and competence, such as eating local, learning to garden, and learning to preserve food for the winter. This year I've been focused on the physical feat of traveling long distances without fossil fuels, and have some hopes of continuing to cycle in my region through the upcoming Canadian winter. In future years, I hope to commit myself to forest gardening and permaculture design, because I envision thriving food forests whenever I see a monoculture, and feel these are the most comprehensive and positive ways that I can steward a little piece of the earth.
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