Profile: Francesca Price

By Shelley Bridgeman

Francesca Price believes people should embark on a sustainable way of living not out of fear, but out of wanting to enjoy life. Photo / Supplied
Francesca Price believes people should embark on a sustainable way of living not out of fear, but out of wanting to enjoy life. Photo / Supplied

Eco-journalist, founding editor of Good magazine and presenter of TV3's Wasted series, Francesca Price has just written a book about sustainable living. But, even with those impressive credentials, it's not always easy being green - especially when your own children parrot back your beliefs at inconvenient times.

A simple family outing turned into a classic environmental dilemma while trekking back from a swim at a west coast beach. "The kids noticed some oily plastic bottles that had obviously been washed ashore. 'Oh Mum, we should take those home,' [they said]. Of course, I was thinking: 'I don't want to take them home; I've got all your togs and towels and the picnic gear.' But then I thought: 'I can't now not take them; the birds could get them or something like that.' So of course we had to lug all these bloody oily bottles home and put them in the recycling."

In an era when earnest environmental messages are at an all-time high, Price's pragmatism, sense of humour and realisation that none of us is perfect when it comes to making worthy decisions are refreshing. Her theme is one of hope and enlightenment.

"A lot of messages are: 'You can't buy that top from China', 'turn off your lights', 'turn off the heater', 'don't drive; you've got to walk'. There's this idea that it's actually all about not having much fun, wearing a hair-shirt and being cold and miserable," says the 40-year-old.

"And I thought that was completely the wrong message because my experience has been that by living a greener, more sustainable life, I've really added to my life and it's become more fulfilling and more abundant and more joyous as a result."

Price's book, The Good Life: your guide to a greener, cheaper and more fulfilling life in New Zealand, deals with such topics as eating, shopping, parenting, the home, community and holidays. Full of useful websites, personal anecdotes and details such as where to buy organic food locally, it's a valuable resource for any aspiring greenie.

It also raises some ethical conundrums.

Did you know that a sustainably reared chicken, because it lives longer and eats more, has 20 per cent more impact on global warming than an intensively farmed battery chook? Or that in order to power your home "off the grid" photovoltaic panels - the production of which may damage local ecosystems - toxic batteries are required? And, what exactly is the point of an eco-resort if you have to fly thousands of kilometres to get there?

"Obviously we all need to make our contribution to try to stop climate change ... but ultimately I just don't think the way we've ended up living - by buying roll-ups to put in our kids' lunchboxes or something like that - is actually that fulfilling in the end. So much of this just doesn't feel right on some basic level.

"I think we have lost sight of the fact that there is a better, a simpler, more fulfilling, way to live, and finding our way back is not only going to be better for the planet but also actually a lot better for us."

Saving the planet was far from Price's mind while growing up in Takapuna in the 1980s. A self-confessed "mall rat", her love affair with retail therapy continued throughout her 20s and early 30s while working in London. But slowly she began to recognise an inner disquiet with such a materialistic world view. Becoming a mother was the impetus she needed to radically change her mindset.

Price's decision to offer her children only the highest quality foods led to a broader interest in sustainability.

"Obviously you feed them organic food because it's the best thing for their health. But then you start to think about what organics means to the environment, to the field that it was grown in and to the knock-on effect on the planet," she says. "You start to connect the dots and realise that there's no point looking after [the children] if you're not going to look after the world that you're bringing them into."

With a growing discomfort about "the whole consumer culture", a yearning for "the space and freedom" of her own childhood and a desire to "embrace the simpler, more holistic, life", she decided to come back to New Zealand after 12 years in London.

She returned to Auckland at the end of 2005 with her family in tow to discover a landscape that was not as pristine as she remembered - waterways were polluted and produce sprayed with chemicals banned in other countries. Environmental concerns hadn't quite caught on here either.

"Initially I was kind of shocked at how there wasn't much awareness around the whole green thing back here at that time. Al Gore's movie hadn't come out by that stage and the Stern report hadn't come out. And I really wanted to access a greener life and I couldn't do so. I didn't know where to go to connect with like-minded people or to find the food that I wanted to eat."

Four years of research ensued as she tracked down organic foods, sustainable cleaning products, clothing, floor coverings, gifts, paint, skincare and toys as well as car-poolers, farmers' markets and walking school buses.

These days Price lives in Titirangi, in a cul-de-sac full of residents who trade produce and borrow tools, with her TV producer partner and three daughters - Madeleine, 7, Eve, 6, and six-month-old Saoirse.

"I'm just constantly aware that the kids are watching the way I live and this is what they'll go forward with. Every time you take a plastic bag at the supermarket or any time you buy that horrible single-serve stuff you're being watched."

Kicking free from the treadmill of the consumer culture and harvesting her own vegetables have been particularly rewarding.

"The excitement of seeing food grow certainly rivals any sort of shopping high I've had in the past. It's a journey of discovery. And you try to do what you can do. But I don't think you should embark on a new and sustainable life out of fear. It should be out of wanting to enjoy life."

KEEPING IT GREEN

ROBYN MALCOLM

Activist

Robyn Malcolm is the first to admit that being a parent and a greenie is not always an easy combination. For starters, so many of the toys her boys, Charlie and Pete, want come from China smothered in plastic. However, a woman of strong opinions - she's an ambassador for Greenpeace and a keen Green Party supporter - she's not afraid to make a fuss.

"In toy shops I ask for a pair of scissors, take all the packaging off and hand it back to them" she laughs. Robyn also tries not to buy them - or herself - too much stuff.

"Through all the arguments about what is greener the big message seems to be use less" she says wisely. "I want my kids to be driven by a value system which is about respect for the environment they live in, not what they have or can have". She tries to integrate these values into everything she does with the boys. "Simple things like turning out the lights or not using plastic bags teaches them good habits from an early age."

Robyn has also fully eco-proofed her house - bravely getting rid of her clothes dryer - and invested in a hybrid car which she drives the 60 kilometres to the set of Outrageous Fortune every day. On the days she's at home Robyn prefers to walk to the shops or spend time with the kids at home.

As parents, Robyn believes we all have the opportunity to change the world.

"The responsibility of teaching our children means we are constantly re-evaluating and assessing what's important."

KARLA HANSEN AND CITY DOWN

kraftbomb.blogspot.com.

Walk in the door of Kraftbomb and first thing you'll see is a mountain of the most exquisitely decorated cupcakes. It's a welcoming sight at New Zealand's newest and hottest craft fair but the cupcakes are the just the beginning. Every stall offers goodies so unique and beautifully made, it does feel a little like a culinary experience. You want to snap everything up and take them all home to savour.

The founders, Karla Hansen and City (Felicity) Down, help this appealing atmosphere by being two very cool chicks in their 20s who share both a passion for craft and a passion for tattoos. Each comes from a long line of crafters and were taught their skills by their mums and grandmothers.

Karla thinks the explosion in craft over the past few years has coincided with the sustainability movement.

"People just don't want to buy commercial, mass-produced products anymore. They want stuff that's unique and hand-made where they get to talk to the people who have made it." The fair has been a labour of love and involved some old-fashioned bartering - Karla did a tattoo in return for the banner while City baked cupcakes to get a discount from the poster boys - but its success has made it worth the effort.

"We came along at just the right time" says Karla. "People were looking for something else".

Kraftbomb is held the last Sunday of every month at Grey Lynn Community Centre.

EMILY PERKINS

Vintage queen

As a successful novelist and mother of three you wouldn't think Emily Perkins had the time to look good too. But she does and it's mostly in second-hand clothes! Emily's enviable wardrobe is full of cocktail dresses found in op shops all over the world. Although she's the first to admit it's not all about saving the planet.

"I like the idea of recycling clothes but it's also a way of being able to afford interesting clothes and lots of them!"

Emily's favourites are the dresses from the 1970s and 80s. "Although you've got to be careful you don't look like you've just stepped out of a local amateur dramatic production" she says, laughing.

After 20 years of scouring the second-hand shops, Emily is a vintage veteran and can spot a killer cocktail frock in minutes. However she always alters items in some way - either taking up a hem or adding a couple of darts.

"I'm sure I've got enough clothes in my wardrobe to last me until the end of my life but I love having new things and it feels good to be giving something a second life or a fourth life. It means it's not obsolete."

Emily's favourite second-hand shops are Tatty's in Ponsonby, Auckland; Tango in Little High St, Auckland; Ziggurat Fashion Emporium in Cuba St, Wellington; Save Mart in West St, Palmerston North and the many stores in Oamaru - "The whole town is like a second-hand shop!"

Text extracted from The Good Life by Francesca Price, $39.99. Published by New Holland.

- NZ Herald

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