Climate & Clean Energy
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121. QueerBrownVegan

Published on
June 14, 2022
Show notes

In Episode #121, Quinn’s got a fantastic new guest to help answer his favorite question: “What can I do?

Isaias Hernandez – or, as he’s known pretty much everywhere on the internet, Queer Brown Vegan -- shares the mic today. He’s built a massive following using an intersectional approach to reach people through empathy and education.

In this series, we look at how young people are using their passions and lived experiences to participate in this transformational moment in history. Isaias exemplifies this by taking his passion for the environment, his frustration with the inaccessibility of academia, and his skill for graphic design, to create the kinds of educational content he wished he had access to when he was younger.

Isaias has taken every aspect of who he is and incorporated it into that educational platform. From understanding his own role in the food system, the way that humans are exploited in agricultural systems, and the inevitability of climate change, he looks to his own interests and what makes him unique, then shares it with the world.

Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to questions@importantnotimportant.com

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Transcript

Quinn:

Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit. Folks, there's a lot going on out there. Clearly, you're trapped inside again because you live in the East Coast of Maine and there's wildfire smoke outside your door. Our world is changing every single day. We give you the tools you need to feel better and to fight for a better future for everyone. We're going to give you the context about something specific straight from the smartest people on earth, and then the action steps you can take to get involved and to support them. Our guests are educators, and doctors, and scientists, founders, and CEOs, and investors, journalists, astronauts, policymakers, activists, you name it.

Quinn:

Some quick housekeeping. A reminder, you can send questions, thoughts, and feedback to us on Twitter @importantnotimp or you can email us at questions@importantnotimportant.com. I love hearing from everyone. Conversations with you all are truly my favorite part of doing this thing. Number two, you can join tens of thousands of other smart people. You can subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. 10 minutes, every Friday, super easy, you're all caught up most important science news, some really helpful analysis and again, our bread and butter action steps. And third, you can hunt for a new impactful job on the front lines of the future at importantjobs.com. On the other hand, if you work for a company or organization already doing that work or looking to hire people to do that work, you can list your open roles there for free and get them in front of our entire community of shake overs. Again, that's at importantjobs.com. And folks, if you're new here or you're just catching up with everything, because life is fucking crazy, check out some of our most recent episodes here.

Quinn:

You find an incredible conversation, two actually last week, how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke by understanding what's in it and what you can do to protect your body, your kids, your family, maybe the most impactful conversation we have released yet. People are just loving this thing and they're sharing it everywhere. A conversation with Alex Steffen, how to really think about the moment we're in and what's coming, a conversation about what can we do to improve the problem with fucking mosquitoes, which are now everywhere again. And also how to buy carbon offsets and whether they're bullshit. And of course, you're going to want to hit the subscribe button so you can get that conversation we got coming next week with Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, who's the new Twitter Ethics Chief, and what she is doing to build a backbone of ethics there and in other places. Folks, this week's episode is another in our informal new series called What Can I Do?

Quinn:

And these episodes, boy, they are, I think, a helpful and a valuable and an inspirational way to look at what young people and maybe someday not so young people, we're only two or three into this, of how they're using their passions and their skills and their lived experiences to participate in this great transformational moment, to feel better for themselves and to drive some systemic change.

Quinn:

I'm so excited today to share my conversation with someone who inspires me all the time, Isaias Hernandez or more notably a known on Instagram and everywhere else QueerBrownVegan. Though as he puts it, those are the same thing. Isaias has built a tremendous following over almost or maybe even over at this point, a 100,000 followers on at least Instagram with this intersectional approach to again, being queer and brown and vegan and using empathy and to educate folks, again, on Instagram and all these other platforms I really don't understand because I'm like the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones. I'm ancient and falling over, but I learned so much regardless. And I think you'll be just as inspired as I am right now. So please enjoy my conversation, be inspired by my conversation with Isaias Hernandez, QueerBrownVegan.

Quinn:

My guest today is Isaias Hernandez. And together I am excited to dig into a more youthful and energetic intersectional and inspirational approach to bringing people into this. Some people call it a fight, some people call it a way to heal the planet, bring the people together, get through what is a very transformational and obviously very complicated and at times intimidating and scary moment. I truly believe following folks like Isaias is what's going to get us through this. So excited to have him here today. Isaias, welcome.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. Thank you so much again for having me, Quinn.

Quinn:

Yeah. Absolutely. Isaias, if you could tell the people real quick who you are and what you do.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. Hi everyone. My name is Isaias Hernandez. I'm also an environmental educator and the creator of an educational platform known as QueerBrownVegan where I create introductory forms on environmentalism through illustrations, graphics and video series.

Quinn:

That's amazing. That is like the most well put together statement. If someone asks me what I did, I would just stammer for 20 minutes and not have a series about anything. So you're already blowing me out of the water. I think it's awesome. I'm one of those idiots on Instagram who occasionally there's a picture of my dog or something like that, or an accidental picture that my child took and yours is not only inspirational, but obviously so professional and well-considered and it's impressive. It's impressive. And that's ignoring the actual content itself, just literally how you're able to hold it together is amazing. Isaias, if you could, we'd like to start with one sort of semi ridiculous tongue-in-cheek question, but it does set the tone a little bit. Instead of saying, tell us your entire life story, I like to ask, Isaias, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Isaias Hernandez:

And I really love this. So I would say that I'm vital because I am part of the resistance that has always existed to create a regenerative just world. And so I believe that education for me is one of the strongest suits, but it's both an empowering and dangerous tool of how we navigate language. So I say that education is the true wealth that we all need.

Quinn:

I love that. That's incredible. And I think that's, to me, at least part of what is so cool, because as we were just saying offline, again, especially this week and lately in the past couple of years, there's so many folks who've come to this from every walk of life, whether they're a big CEO, who's worried about their company or someone in a family or a person who's by themselves or they're young or they're old, whatever it might be. The question is just always what can I do? And that might be because you were trapped at home with COVID a year ago or now or it's climate stuff or heat or whatever it could be. And again, my usual lazy answers like, well, what can you do? And I try to help folks understand that they're never going to be more effective or more excited or more committed, more diligent about whatever it is however they want to get involved than with something they're already into.

Quinn:

And again, the vehicle could be anything. It could be marching, it could be making signs or investments or Instagram, whatever it might be. And you are so inclusive and intersectional. You've already got almost a 100,000 followers, which is incredible. I would be terrified if that was the case for me but there's been this thankfully such a groundswell of support and encouragement, certainly not everywhere yet, but for environmental justice, right? To pick one sort of umbrella term. And you have done such a hell of a job building a case and an example for an intersectional perspective on this, right?

Quinn:

Like you said, it's QueerBrownVegan. You've created this safe place for more people to not only come out and learn, but also to say like, "Oh, I can educate from my lived experience and I can make an impact maybe if I get enough people to listen or even if I'm just shouting into the void, whatever it might be." So that's what attracted me to you and why I'm so excited and honored to have you on, one of your many 100,000 followers. Isaias, you said... Gosh, I can't remember when it was, but I've been taking notes forever, once said environmental education is a human right. I'm curious if, at least, in that moment, but then also just more broadly, did you mean a right to provide education or right to receive it or both? I'm curious how that fits?

Isaias Hernandez:

I would say both because our educational system in the United States specifically was designed to make people comfortable than to be uncomfortable. And this is true in to how people are witnessing and reacting to the ecological crisis, because the way that environmentalism is often presented is very siloed, right? It doesn't include humans as part of nature. It often preserves natural systems as these unique systems that are delicate, but yet we're not part of those systems. And so I believe that when people now are trying to grapple with the emotions about climate dynamism or climate injustices hitting their own neighborhoods, a lot of people are in this state of freeze or frozenness that they don't know how to best respond to things. And so I think when we talk about environmental education, it should encompass everyone's lived experiences, but we understand that racism that is often banded. Some educational schools are critical race theory. These are kind of the conversations that are left out. And so a lot of students right now feel so disconnected, overwhelmed with what to do because of the lack of education system that has supported them to find their own paths.

Quinn:

I think that's... I mean, these tools... Again, I know most of your audience and correct me if I'm wrong is Instagram based, but these tools have been around for a while now, but like you said, whether it's the algorithms and we've spent a lot of time, I have at least tried to learn and think about these algorithms and what they mean and all the very many ways they're broken. We're having another conversation this week with someone about that. There's a lot of people trying to do the right thing, but holy hell, there are a lot of people who're just barreling ahead without any consideration for it, but let's back up.

Quinn:

I'm sure you've got this question a 1000 times, but again, my goal is to eventually work towards action steps that people can take to even if they just want to follow you on the day to day or they want to get involved in some way in their own way. But could you just take a minute and talk about, I guess, what prompted you to start your feed that day, but also a little bit about your lived experience that got you to that point?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. So I grew up also in Los Angeles, California, my whole life, and my parents had immigrated from Mexico in 1980s. I grew up living in San Fernando Valley area and I lived predominantly in San Fernando, Pacoima and Sylmar. And throughout my life, I lived in affordable housing. I'm taking the Metro to school and just realizing the amount of pollution that was nearby. And until I was later older in life, I realized that the chemical industries that were nearby my house were actually polluting us every day. And so I think, for me, it started in high school when I learned about environmental justice, right? I had this passion and curiosity for the environment, but I didn't know who to ask questions to. I didn't have mentors to ask like what does climate change look like to us? Because often it's presented of it's happening in the global South or countries that were heavily exploited.

Isaias Hernandez:

And so these conversations were often siloed in others to be like, oh, it's not happening here in the United States, so don't worry. And so I think that's really what kind of pushed me to learn more. And I had this idea of like, to be an environmentalist, you need to get a college degree. And so I went through college and I went to Berkeley, got my Environmental Science Degree. I realized how inaccessible academia as a whole, right? It's so inaccessible. It costs so much thousands of dollars. And I would say that low-income students have one of the largest struggles to really survive these institutions, For them to be sustainable in their physical and mental mindset. So upon graduating, I worked multiple jobs. I actually worked for creative industries like Creative Agency. So I created it back in 2019 because I felt like my degree was going to nothing, right?

Isaias Hernandez:

I couldn't go to grad school. I couldn't afford it. I was like, I can't. This isn't really realistic for me, I'm not going to get in debt for like a $100,000 for the next 10 years of my life. Like that's unrealistic. And so I decided to pivot and go into social media and say, okay, I have some graphic design skills, very minimal, but okay, let's do these series where I wish I could have learned this when I entered college so that I had some understanding when approaching these conversations regarding conservation rights, indigenous rights, environmentalism rights, injustice centered conversations. So when I created QueerBrownVegan, it was designed through my own educational experience, right? One is like the color coding, right? It's not because I'm rainbow and I love rainbows, right? It's because I took notes in college color coding. So that was really impactful for my educational experience.

Isaias Hernandez:

And so a lot of generations, the millennials students are very visual learning based, right? Nearly I think 50 to 60% of human population best learns visually now. And so that really has helped me to shape my career, who I am as an environmentalist. And so that's really kind of what got people interested at these like very simple phrases and simple topics. And also most of the times there was never really a real answer to it. It's more about let's discuss this topic together, but there's no solution to this because I want to hear what your solution is to it, because I believe that environmental education is complex and unique because it depends on each person's environment.

Quinn:

That's so interesting. I mean, that's the application of it. It was, I went to university, it's prohibitively expensive. I couldn't go any further, which is what so many folks are facing right now, whether they've already gone further and realized like there's no version of paying this back. And so they're crushed by debt, but you were still able to take this look and go, "Well, I did learn color coding. I have worked for Creative Agency." Essentially you weren't... And this is often what I try to help folks feel okay about. Again, I'm like this like ancient millennial, but you weren't some kid who was like, "I'm going to download Instagram today and start just posting rants." You considered not only your lived experience and your family's history and your own educational experiences, but also, okay, these are some professional tools I have, which I think is again, using that phrase myself, I feel like that can feel exclusive, right?

Quinn:

I think we've all had some version of that. Something that we've been working on whether you're writing or you've been on Tumblr, whatever it might be forever. I mean, I'm not going to ask how old you are. I'm sure you're younger than me because that's got to be the easiest answer. But most of us grew up at this point with a camera in our hands, right? Like we've all been taking pictures, which is entirely different than the generations before us, right? So I feel like those things are just more inherent than we realized. So I love that you thought, okay, I'm going to start with this series of things I wish I'd learned, which is, again, I don't want to say like clickbait, but it applies to so many people and that's the good version of clickbait, right, it's people going, "That's me." Like I have to read this thing because it matters so much.

Quinn:

I've a couple of friends who are very successful screenwriters and they have a podcast with 50, 60,000 people and they don't take ads and they don't do anything because their whole point is like, nobody can afford film school, we should just give this to people on a podcast because it's crazy that they should have to think like, I can't get this education because I can't afford it. That's just untenable to them. Unfortunately, it's just one of the very many ways this country is built.

Quinn:

So I want to talk about your feed a little bit. So you make an effort or at least this is the way I've gathered it, so please correct me wherever I'm wrong. That's my entire job that seems to alternate between education and context about bigger movements. Like again, it's QueerBrownVegan, so there's Greenwashing, I think there's a Rainbow-washing, there's Vegan Capitalism, which is obviously a big one these days, but also I love like the more day-to-day stuff like Vegan Enchiladas, which I could not have clicked on quicker than I did, or paper tape. We can share recipes later. I've got an amazing one. It's fantastic and involves sweet potatoes.

Quinn:

I'm curious, actually, just mechanics wise, just to get nitty-gritty for a second. Again, because you really professionally consider these things, do you pay any attention to analytics or feedback on your post and where you see a lot of engagement? Because I love that you actually tackle both of those things, like a more comprehensive view, again, because it's intersectional in nature. Because again, we talk here a lot about that kitchen sink approach to fixing this thing. So I wonder how much you pay attention to that and how much that drives the work you're doing.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. So I think the first thing is I've made this like distinguishment that QueerBrownVegan is Isaias Hernandez in some sense, right? Like I'm not a corporation, not an organization. So that allows kind of the more humanization process throughout my content. And so I believe that I do 50, 50, right? 50% lifestyle, 50% education because we have different people that are interested in different things. And I think the important thing about being like an intersectional vegan or environmentalist, however we may call it, is that I get to pull people from different audiences that typically wouldn't follow me for certain reasons, right? I have some people that just follow me for the educational reels. I have some people who just follow me for the food recipes. I have some people who just follow me for my foraging videos, right?

Isaias Hernandez:

And so I told myself like, if I'm able to pull these people from different audiences into these conversations, then they're willing to actually take that a step further and educate those around them. And so I believe that that's one of the biggest things that kind of was both a pro and con in my end, right? I remember a professor telling me that I'm too diverse in my skillsets and that's one of my flaws, but I've really understood that yes, that was kind of limiting to hear that back then and kind of it did mess me up at one point in my career, but I really changed it to be like you know what? I like all of these topics. I like math, science, writing now. I love to do all these other things. So I'm going to show it to my audience and show them like I'm not perfect at it, I'm not the best at it, but I'm going to work on it actively and have this active mindset rather than trying to dehumanize myself and only stick to one thing.

Isaias Hernandez:

And so I believe that's one of the benefits that QueerBrownVegan has is that I get to have these different conversations from different people. And when it comes to measuring impact, I would say that I try to always remind myself like, I'm really thinking for the audience. I don't look at numbers as much as like a large reach anymore. I usually just see the impact by the conversations I have with people, whether it be through the comment section, whether it be people messaging me and telling me about their school project or them wanting to meet me on Zoom.

Isaias Hernandez:

I feel that this is one of the most important things about mentorship is that you actually give it back. Because I remember at younger age, I had different mentors and they were all great and they gave so much to me. And so how do I give that back now that I'm not in an academic institution. Now that I'm not in like high school, how do I give it back to others so they have some validity and some reassurance to know that people like me are doing this out there. And so that's really what has helped people throughout the processes is to validate their lived experience and help them through that.

Quinn:

I mean, I love that. There's this... Again, I don't want to say it's people trying to game a system again, talking about algorithm stuff, but you see I'm a little more focused, probably too much so, on maybe the Twitter side where some of the more obnoxiously high brow and entitled political conversations might happen and things like that, or people doing entrepreneurship of a different sort that's probably a lot less creative. And you'll see things like, oh, this is how to build your profile and put in there like, I'm the vegan guy or I'm the queer guy or I'm this. And so it's the first thing people see, so the people go, "Oh, this is what I'm going to get and this is what I'm going to do and this is how Isaias you should design your feed so that this is what you're talking about and people know and I get it."

Quinn:

But again, and this is part of why besides me being half terrified all the time, but also excited about the future, because I do believe there's room for both even in weeks like these, why we do not just climate stuff, which as you know is like this enormous umbrella of shit anyways. But also we took on COVID because we had already been talking about pandemic preparedness and living situations and genomic testing or we talk about antibiotics or pediatric cancer because I hate cancer but it's also because... And this is what I love about, like you said, from Enchiladas to Greenwashing, like it's so important and this is what I had to learn. And again, it feels like a Wizard of Oz a little bit when the curtain's pulled back, you realize just both how intersectional all these systems are for better or worse.

Quinn:

And a lot of times these days it's worse, but also that they were designed that way and they've just gotten completely out of hand. And so that's why we focus on all those different things so that I understand for myself so that I can help other people. And like you said, employees and mentorship to help folks understand why marginalized people in Los Angeles got destroyed by COVID so much worse than everyone else. And it's because they have pre-existing conditions from living and going to school next to uncapped oil wells for 30 years or their bedroom's hotter. And that's what happens.

Quinn:

There's a great writer for... And I've talked about this endlessly on the show, but great science writer for The Atlantic named Ed Yong. And he wrote just tremendous coverage throughout the pandemic trying to help folks understand the virus and the disease, but also the anthropology and the sociology of why we were acting the way we were as a people and individually and to hear this quote that I always mangle, but essentially the COVID was this flood that swept over a sidewalk exposing all the cracks that were already there. And my version of that was like, look, it was this pop quiz on March 15th, 2020 or whatever, when we all took our kids out of schools or stopped going to work and it was COVID going, "Okay, this is a test on every decision you've made so far about how to build your society and your economy and your medical system."

Quinn:

And we failed in a 1000 different ways. But to me, that's why it's important to understand and come to terms with and try to operate within these intersectional dimensions. And to also, like we were saying, have these smaller personal actions that help you feel like your day to day actions are adding up and that you're doing something, but also taking part in the more systemic fights like for someone like me to understand what Rainbow-washing is and what that means in a practical way for organizing and legislation and stuff like that. So I'm very thankful that you're doing that as opposed to the I'm just doing the vegan thing or whatever it might be.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. No, and I think that that's the most unique things about as people, we have different interests, right? And I believe that as myself environmentalism is one of the most holistic things that I love about my life, because growing up, I've always thought about these different systems and the reason why I chose environmental science too was the fact of like I didn't know if I wanted to do economics, I didn't know if I want to do research, an ecologist, there's just so many fields out there. And so exposing myself to these different subjects and materials does give you this more holistic understanding of how both the industry side, how they operate and the science and research side and these other industries and kind of give myself more of a reassurance and be like, okay, I know what I want at this point in my life now.

Quinn:

Sure, sure. So let's talk about food for a second and not just because we both clearly appreciate food so very much. And I feel like I could get into foraging all day. It's something I have just no experience with, but I couldn't be more excited about. But I want to talk about it, not just, again, I try to be upfront about this stuff, but I have been very privileged throughout my life to never have to worry about food insecurity much less actual hunger, especially now in a moment when so many millions of Americans are dealing with that for sometimes the first time.

Quinn:

You have talked quite a bit about and I'm going to use your term here because I think it's great, nutritional injustice. And I like that because it feels, again, acknowledging that there are these systems and that they were designed this way. And that term nutritional injustice feels so much more righteous and action-oriented than food insecurity, which feels like this very blase way of describing what that is. But it doesn't describe that it was done to someone, right? It implies a system that was, again, designed to work this way. And that's just not unlike what we have done with housing and schools and healthcare. Could you talk a little bit about why, like you said, do I do economy, do I do ecology? Like what do I do? Why does food mean so much to you?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. So I think that, for me, food is so rich in both culture and experiences. And I believe that at a young age, my mom taught everyone in the family to cook. She was like, "Everyone's learning how to cook because you're going to have to learn how to do it yourself." And so when I experienced all of these different food narratives about my parents growing up in a farm in Mexico, growing through the land, using what was available to them via bioregion, I really learned about kind of the ethics about food, but here in the West it's like, for me it matters so much because people of color who look like me that speaks Spanish too are also victims of the food system that is designed to oppress rights. Animals and humans are both terribly treated in industrialized settings and so how do we recognize that injustices in the food that we eat is unethical?

Isaias Hernandez:

And the way that we are paying for food has been economically suppressed, meaning that if you've ever picked up blueberries by hand for an hour straight, which I've done before, I only get paid $3, $4, it is the most horrible and so much sacrifice that goes into that. And so I believe that at whole we as human beings have this responsibility to address these corporations that have privatized the lands, that have stolen the seeds from indigenous communities and have really displaced a lot of black and indigenous farmers. I believe like 90% plus of farm land is owned by white farmers.

Quinn:

99.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yes, 99. And so all the black and indigenous farmers that did have foreign lands were essentially evicted, were displaced. Racism is a major cause for this and so how do we reckon with this history? And so I think that for me when I grew up going to food banks or like churches, I didn't necessarily understand that I was someone that was facing food insecurity. What I understood was that the food that they gave us back then as like a, I don't know, ten-year-old I was happy because they give you frozen food, they gave you pizza, they gave you like junk food and you're happy as a kid in some experience. Sometimes you're like, is this really nutritionally for kids' development? No. And so you look into the industries like the dairy and meat industry, you find out that they subsidize so much and they give it away to these food banks to a limit. And there's a lot of food waste that goes into that industry too.

Isaias Hernandez:

They give it to these churches. And so people are essentially eating poison. It's something that is unsustainable for them, but at the same time it's food, right? Like they're going to eat it. I ate it too. It's food, why would I let it go to expiration date? So I think, for me, food has become this very political awkwards. I've recognized that the food I eat doesn't matter if I'm vegan because I'm vegan right now, is unethically grown by people. And obviously I partake in this globalized food system that is unsustainable. And so in trying to localize my own food diet or my own food system, it is often hard because I can't afford farmer's markets every week, I'd go broke. So that's one of the realities I realized that how do we reckon with this? And so talking about these topics for me is a way that I'm able to really not validate my experience, but to really understand like these are the conversations I want to have so people start to think, what does it mean to localize food systems and decentralize large-scale food systems?

Quinn:

I love that. Two things, the first one is a two-parter. I would love to share two conversations I've had in the past with you. One is with a woman named Leah Penniman who has a farm in Central New York called Soul Fire Farm. And it's just this incredible, for lack of a better word, school or training center for black and indigenous want-to-be farmers to come up and then take what they've learned to go and try to get some of that land back to also make it not only able to be substance farming for themselves and their families and their communities, but to build a farm that might actually be profitable and to use all these sustainable ways of farming that folks that look like me not used to destroy the soil all along.

Quinn:

The second one, before I forget, is a conversation I had with a woman Dr. Beronda Montgomery who wrote this incredible book I think it was called The Secret Life of Trees. But it's really cool. It's about all the things we can learn from plants and how they react in their community, but she talks a ton and it's really important to her to talk a lot about mentorship. And I think you would just love it because she is just such an incredible human being. And she's still inside academia, but it's really interesting her perspective on how can she make that one of the primary parts of her job is to help bring up that next generation. She's just a fantastic human being. And I guess second part most important is what did your mom teach you how to cook? When she said, "Isaias, you're going to learn how to cook," what did you start with?

Isaias Hernandez:

The first thing I started with actually was cooking an egg. I remember excited to like, I don't know, to start again. And I don't eat egg anyway, I'm vegan, but during that time, I remember making beans and rice was a staple food for me and tortillas, right? Like homemade tortillas. And so for me, it seemed almost sometimes boring for me because at a young age, you have to be very concentrated with cooking. You're like, when is it done? You're really impatient. But I think as I got older and hearing my mom and having these stories about her experiences having to use like cast irons only, she's like, "No nonstick, those are poisonous and toxic for your health, we use cast irons in here." And now I do the same thing too. I think the same thing as her.

Isaias Hernandez:

And so I think like all these different recipes from like Pambazos to Enchiladas to Caldo to Chile rellenos, I had all these experiences about making these cultural rich foods that came from my culture, but then also hear stories kind of empowered me to feel that my grandma that taught my mom how to cook is in within me too. And so these are kind of these spiritual stories that I carry now that I would want to share too in the future if I have a family. Like this is things that I do, I want to continue having this lineage of history to pass down on.

Quinn:

I love that. And how did you find your way from these ways of cooking and the philosophies behind the cooking and the recipes themselves and the components of it. How did you find your way to a more vegan diet from there?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. So I would say for me like in college, I took the food and agriculture course and that's what we learned about 99% of the farm lands are owned by white farmers and I was like, "What?" It's like, how?

Quinn:

Right. 80% is too much. And you hear 99, you go, "Oh God."

Isaias Hernandez:

And we read Rachel Carson, Light in Silence. And so that was one of the most popular books and I loved it. And I learned more about food systems. And then we talked about factory and farms. We talked about the animals are brutally killed, but also the Cubans that are exploited and have to do these same rotations over and over that they end up breaking their arms. There's no medical insurance. They didn't even get PPE during the pandemic. Like these are kind of the realities that I started to learn. And I was kind of horrified to be like, wow, why is no one really talking about this? I found out that many of the farm lands that are owned by these farmers, they threaten their immigrant farm workers saying, "If you don't do the job, I'll call ice police on you."

Isaias Hernandez:

And so a lot of these people that are immigrants and many black and Latin communities have to constantly move that causes contribution to their PTSD because they're constantly being uprooted and displaced right in the East Coast. When it's winter, where do you go? You can't farm during the winter, you go to the West Coast where there's obviously abundance of sunlight and other things. And so these are kind of the realities that I told myself, okay, I want to divest away from this system, like my act to not consume this and not needing my body to need it was a good way for me to do that. And so I adopted the lifestyle of back in like 2018 when I graduated and I did a reduction strategy where I cut off meat first and then I went from cheese, yogurt, I kicked off yogurt.

Isaias Hernandez:

And I was like, okay, cheese is the hardest part. And then kicked off cheese. And I did it. And I was like the vegan cheese options that are out there weren't the best options over there. I was like, they're not good, but I guess I'll do it. I'll be fine without it. So now I found some good vegan cheeses that exist, but-

Quinn:

It's really come a long way. It's come a long way.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. It's the confirmation that it has. But that's really almost been three years vegan since then. And I think that with my foraging experience, I've found more natural foods that aren't coming from these also vegan large-scale corporations that I don't want to support because their mission isn't rooted in regenerative agriculture or land back. And so when I practice foraging, I get to really diversify my food play and my food color, because I've never in my entire life have eaten a mushroom that I've harvested. And until now, like this past few months, I've been able to really learn from that and actually cook now. And now I'm learning more about herbal medicine and other plants.

Quinn:

That's really so cool. To take the leap to foraging is pretty neat. It's both like exciting to me and terrifying, but I feel like with a little bit of knowledge, it can take you a long way. And the cheese is always the hardest argument. I've been mostly vegan for, gosh, I don't know, 10, 11 years now. And I'll tell you the cheese substitutes at the beginning in the old days, nightmare. Nightmare because you think, oh, just switch, just so bad to the point where it made me for a long time, just go, "I'm just not doing any form of cheese. I'm not even going to participate in this because it's so... Like I'd rather have nothing." And like you said, there's some really great options out there now. And I feel like some of the, at least, whether it's things you're making yourself out of cashews, which is really easy or some of the newer companies are doing things in a more sustainable way.

Quinn:

There's some interesting options, but it's also like there's some best practices for building these things that you can take around to local restaurants or whatever it might be and encourage them to make those things themselves. I think that there's a great bagel shop local owned down the street here and every day I go in and I'm like, "Just take this vegan cheese, I need the cream cheese, come on. It's not actually that difficult and it's better for the planet, yada, yada, all this." But yeah, boy, the old days, darkness, darkness. I want to talk about the food worker system, the mostly migrant driven food worker system that you spoke about a little bit. And you were raised in Los Angeles and I spent the past 12 years there. I feel like some Americans know, not everyone does, that half of the United States' fruits and vegetables and nuts are grown and harvested in California.

Quinn:

Obviously, part of the problem with America's most folks diets don't involve fruits, vegetables and nuts, but they are obviously incredibly important. But they're farmed and harvested by these migrant workers like you said, who barely got paid, who didn't get PPE, who got crushed by COVID, who are facing increasingly, especially in the Central Valley, just these extreme heat conditions and fires and smoke, which is just obscenely toxic in whatever land actually still has enough water to grow anything, which is a dwindling amount. And I mean, that's just the plant-based stuff, right? To say nothing of, again, what happened during COVID to the folks who worked in meat processing facilities and things like that. On a broader scale, I'm curious if you have seen any progress being made on building more of a support system for these various essential workers or anything that you feel like can be done to support them in any way.

Quinn:

And again, I think about as we try to take the kitchen sink approach to a lot of these things, like for example, hunger, it's obviously very important that we pass legislation so that people have money to do with what they need to do. And that can take a while and it can be complicated, but we also have to feed people tonight, which we have to support organizations like Feeding America. So I'm curious on either spectrum or anywhere in between where you feel like progress can be made, again, to support those workers, because it's clear that white people are not interested in doing those jobs as much as they complain about them.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. So I would say that there's two ways, right? Community action, and system action, right? I believe that communities hold one of the most largest powers compared to the institutions. I think for so long, we're often taught that institutions create change, not people, but in reality, both do create change. The reason why institutions have created chances is because the people from those communities have either pressured those people or the people enter those systems to create that change. And so I really believe that there needs to be this constant collaboration from a local standpoint. Like if you don't know what you want to do... Like a lot of people always think I need to be a lawyer, I need to be a policymaker in DC to make this change in the industrial agriculture. It's like no, team up with organizations that are locally, right?

Isaias Hernandez:

Like Food Empowerment Project is at the intersection of veganism, micro justice, economic justice. And really they raise awareness on this issue while also doing fundraisers to support children of migrant farm workers. Recently, they did a backpack drive to help fundraise money to donate to these children, because there's a lack of access to, like you said, electricity to laptops sometimes, and even school supplies. And as we're big advocates for education at the toll, these are kind of the realities. And the other reality is supporting organizations like Earth Justice, right? They have tried to sue the North Carolina hog farms that have created global environmental justice in those communities. And we know for in fact that the EPA, even though they constantly review these cases, they're slow. There's also a lot of issues in that organization.

Isaias Hernandez:

I've had grad students during my time that told me they worked for the EPA and it was a mess. So I really believe that sometimes there needs to be that community local action to uproot these systems. Because I think that a lot of people have gotten tired over the last few years over the failure for many institutions and systems that are in place for the people not to be met because corporations hold the largest scale funding of these people. So supporting grassroots activists, to me, whether you're sharing their messages, sending the money at the front lines, sharing their messages to your friends or family, that's one of the strongest things that we can do, because these are the people who are victims of these injustices yet they're the ones that the front line's risking themselves to get deported, arrested, face violence, sexual assault. So these are kind of the most people that we need to constantly tell ourselves like, if we're going to be behind them, how do we act as supporters for people?

Quinn:

I love that. Thank you for that perspective. And we'll definitely include some of those in our action steps in our show notes and the whole thing. So you clearly have so much wonderful personal momentum and confidence about these things, and you're learning new things every day. And like you said, and I feel similarly that the engagement with my audience and it seems like you feel the same way is the thing that drives you the most and is how you measure your impact or your progress or whatever it might be. And we have this, when you sign up for email, you get a sort of an intro series from me of like, "Hey, here's who I am. Here's what we do. Here's why we do it."

Quinn:

And there's one step and it's introducing this action steps theme that we have. And it basically says, "Essentially, this is how we define these things, this is why we do them and here's how you could actually get started and do one today. And this is what it looks like and what you can do when it's to an organization that's fantastic called GiveDirectly." And they operate mostly in the global South and Africa. They did a lot of work here during COVID, but it's essentially, it gives people money transfers so that they can do what they need to do because some days, Isaias, you might need water and another day it might be shelter, it might be food and it's not on me to tell you that. And so we say, "Click this link, give five bucks, and you'll have done your first action step and it'll be great."

Quinn:

And then a large percentage of people do it, but my favorite ones are, I'm sure there's people who do it and don't reply and I hear from GiveDirectly and stuff, but I'll get these emails from people saying like, "I didn't wake up and think I was going to donate to this GiveDirectly poverty thing today, but I did." And it feels really cool and that is addicting. And the fact that if the global poverty level, which obviously changes regionally is a $99, and I was able to give $5 and this is an organization that's been vetted top to bottom and is very impactful, that's addicting to look at that.

Quinn:

And it makes me go like, "Oh, that's awesome, like more." This is a person who is now able to engage more. All of that said and I certainly have my fair share too, I'm curious if you could talk for just a minute about some of the more either day-to-day or week-to-week or yearly obstacles you're running into and the difficulties you have as like you said, you started and I believe you said 2019, what have been sort of the hurdles you've overcome or the ones you're currently facing so that people understand it's not just, "Hey, I can do these things and let me throw it out there and I can influence a 100,000 people." Obviously you work very hard at it and you're very considerate, but these things don't just run seamlessly.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. I think one of the most hardest things I've realized is that I wasn't in academia when I coined certain terms and diagrams. I think one of the biggest hurdles is realizing that academia itself is a bubble sometimes and so there are people that have often tried to dismiss my experience or dismiss who I am as a person, because of my username, but then find out I went to college, I did Environmental Science. So I did research on this and yes, I don't have a master's in this specific field and that doesn't make me an expert, but I think that having to deal with people from elitism and elitist institutions is a real thing that I've encountered. And it's the same thing that I encountered when I was an undergraduate too. Even with grad students, they don't care about undergrads that much.

Isaias Hernandez:

And so I felt like it's one of the realities that I think as long as I know where I'm at in my life, that's what matters to me. I'm not here to fight for status. I'm not here to fight for a title either. I'm here just to exist and to do my things. The other obstacle I would say long term is actually, I am writing a book. So I'm trying to finish my book proposal. I am probably in like last versions of edits and just going to submit it again to my literary agent. And so writing a book obviously is very difficult because I think proposal stages are probably the worst, but we'll see how that goes and when I'm done writing the book. And I would say like the hurdle is the idea of trying to be a person to write while being expected to become this educator online.

Isaias Hernandez:

And so when I receive messages from different people dealing with injustices telling me, "Can you raise awareness on this? This is happening in this country. This is happening there," I do feel that there is a moral responsibility, but also I am not a news station, but at the same time, I understand that the people who are trying to share this information with me is because the news won't repeat reporting that injustice is happening globally. And so how do I reckon with that is understanding that I'm going to do what I can do right now and that's going to help me be sustainable rather than having this very angry mindset of attacking everyone and then burning out within a year and being like, I can't do it anymore because people don't care about me when in reality, you never took breaks. You never took time to slow down.

Isaias Hernandez:

So I think that is probably the most hardest thing to do is deal with criticism when people are telling you're not doing enough and you're just trying to survive to yourself as a human being. And I think with the pandemic, a lot of people have taken their frustrations and their insecurities and reflected it back online. And I've had moments where people are responding very rudely and I respond back in a very mature way. And then they're saying, "Sorry, I just had a bad day. I didn't mean to be mean to you." And I'm like, these are kind of the realities where we don't practice reciprocity and mental health conversations.

Quinn:

Yeah. I appreciate you being so forthright about that and it's true. And also just these things and obviously again, I have an enormous privilege and continue to but everyone is affected by this climate umbrella in a lot of different ways. And the things that you write about and you'll write about in your book, that'll be amazing and wonderful and so valuable and that you create every day. It is important to remind ourselves and I sometimes do a poor job of this, that they can be fairly, for lack of a better word, existential and difficult to deal with.

Quinn:

It's important to recognize that we have our bad days too. And I had a conversation with two women I look up to so much, Amy Westervelt who has this incredible podcast called Drilled and her partner in crime for a project Hot Take, Mary Annaïse Heglar and talking to them. And one of their best advice is just like, you've got to find your people in this thing who you can have honest conversations with, not just about your hard day, but about some of these topics, because... And I think this is another step of recognition is understanding that not everyone is either able to or willing to dig into some of the more difficult things about what's going on certainly because I empathize with the fact that they can be hard to discuss.

Quinn:

So if you can find those people, as we describe them your ride or dies, who can handle the difficult conversations like my poor therapist, who just has to hear it, that can just be insanely valuable. So you can deal with those people who respond rudely and you can deal with the days where, like you said, you're trying to write an insanely difficult book proposal, but you're supposed to be this online educator and that's a lot.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. And I think I like the last statement being with your community, like having friendships that holds you accountable where you have these real and truthful conversations. And that's healthy, right? I don't think that always people online have this image of you. And so they expect you to be open to everything. But in reality, I feel like we all have work to do within ourselves. And so I realized in my end too, like I'm just holding my friends accountable and they're holding me accountable and that's what really matters to me, not someone just writing this message to me and like cussing me out. And I'm just like I don't really have the time and energy to deal with this today. And that's okay.

Quinn:

Yeah, absolutely. You certainly don't need to respond to everyone. You've already mentioned a couple of really awesome organizations that you believe in and support. Are there any other ones, as we think about these sorts of action steps that folks can take besides finding their own way into this thing? And what you're doing is certainly... Well, it's one example, but like you said, QueerBrownVegan is you and you're doing all of these things and now a book proposal too, but any other organizations you specifically support or believe in or you think could use some help from the community or other things you've learned along the way more specific things that people could use to apply themselves before I get you out of here?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely. I would love to say I've consulted for Intersectional Environmentalist. They are an environmental justice media hub and resource. They recently turned into a nonprofit and I'm very good friends with all the co-founders of IE. So I would say support them as they're currently in the grant stages and always looking for donors. And the other one is Slow Factory. They are an open education, environmental justice institute. They offer free classes that are taught by black indigenous people of color from fashion to spirituality, to all of these plastics, all of these conversations that are very unique. And I believe that really these are paving the way for a lot of millennials and generation Z to have this open access knowledges to people.

Quinn:

Oh, that's really cool. Well, I'll definitely check those out and we'll certainly put them in the show notes for everybody. Isaias, I can't thank you enough. I have a last couple of questions we kind of ask everybody before we get them out of here if that's all right.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah.

Quinn:

And then we'll let you get back to educating the world here. Isaias, when was the first time in your life when you realized you were part of something or you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful, whether yourself, or again, part of something bigger?

Isaias Hernandez:

I would say after I graduated college. I think this is because within academia, I always self doubted myself. Like I think constantly every day, I was like, "I'm not smart enough to be here. I'm not smart. I'm not doing well." That was, I think, the worst four years of horrible, but also good at the same time experiences. And so I think once I've grown off from the traumas of academia, I felt like I can finally validate myself because I realized institution was never meant for me. And it was unsustainable, but pushing through, got through it and now alive.

Quinn:

Yeah. Well, we're thankful you did. And from everything I understand about academia and having friends that have been in it or are still in it, I don't believe you were alone in the way you felt in that. Again, whichever specific institution it was, the grander institution has clearly certainly got some issues.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah, definitely.

Quinn:

Isaias, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Isaias Hernandez:

That's a good question. I would say my best friend Kristy Drutman and she runs Brown Girl Green. She's an environmental media host and podcaster of Brown Girl Green. So she was also my former college friend, my housemate post-grad and now soon to be neighbors.

Quinn:

Amazing.

Isaias Hernandez:

So she's one of my best friends. Yeah. And it's really great to have this continued relationships since college.

Quinn:

Oh, that's so cool. There is nothing better than living next to your people. It's just like the greatest feeling every day. Isaias, you do so much, what is your self care? How are you taking care of yourself these days? Because again, sometimes this can seem like a frivolous question, but certainly over the past year and right now, I think a lot of folks are really... Again, everyone needs to find their own thing obviously or maybe you already have them, but I think a lot of folks can find some inspiration and some leadership in whatever, even if it's ice cream or a walk in the forest, whatever it might be, I'm curious.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. I would say that my self-care is to go out at least once a week to the outdoors, specifically Saturday or Sunday, go foraging or sometimes just hiking. It's really fun in therapeutics just to disconnect away and really just take the time to look at nature and it's really healing.

Quinn:

Yeah. I fully agree. All I do is lock my children outside and try to help them understand that it is the greatest thing. It is the greatest balm. We have one last question and I'm actually going to add a second part to it because I'm so curious. The typical question, and you can think about it for a sec is what is a book you have read this year that has opened your mind to a topic you hadn't considered before, or has changed your thinking in some way. But then the second part is, is there any specific resource about foraging you would recommend for folks who're interested in getting involved in that?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. So the one book that has recently changed and I'm still reading it, it's called A Red Deal: An Indigenous Way to Save The Planet. So the Red Deal is different from the Blue Deal and Green New Deal. So this deal is actually to an indigenous nation called the Red Nation People and Other Collaborators. And so it really talks about the links between economic systems being decentralized in different countries due to US interventions. And so it really allows you to understand how we should be fighting for an internationalism, meaning like the liberation for everyone. And so I've really learned these different issues because we're not always taught that in history.

Isaias Hernandez:

And with foraging I would say like, check in with your local indigenous groups or indigenous consultants. Like I hired one for the intro of foraging for me, and I just learned the basics at it. And there's been a lot of really great accounts out there that I would follow, like Black Forager for example or Chaotic Forager. These are all really great foraging accounts that are BIPOC individuals and so always ask yourself, like with foraging, read books and watch YouTube videos is a great way to also learn. And don't pick anything that you cannot identify.

Quinn:

That's my entire worry is I'm going to tell my kids, "You can eat anything from the forest," and then it goes drastically wrong. I appreciate that. I can't believe, and this is more about me than you, that you can remember specific Instagram handles. I can't remember like where I was before I walked into this room at this point. So I'm so thankful that you've still got your wits together and I'm definitely going to check out the book. And we have a whole list on bookshop.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Sure. If you're familiar with them, they're great with all of our guests recommendations over time. So that's what I got. Isaias, is there anything I'm missing? Any questions you wish I'd asked or anything you'd like to say to speak truth to power at all before we get you out of here?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. I guess the last thing I'd say is like we can't liberate ourselves from this ecological crisis without our community, so just remembering that.

Quinn:

That's awesome. That is important and something I feel like folks can apply every day. Thank you so much. Hey, oh my gosh, after all this it probably seems inherent to the conversation, but where do our listeners follow you online?

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. Anywhere @queerbrownvegan Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, websites on there too.

Quinn:

Same thing everywhere.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. Everywhere. So same handle.

Quinn:

So amazing. Awesome. That's great. Our Twitter handle is importantnotimp because there's not enough characters and it couldn't drive me crazier. It does. So I'm glad you got in within the character limit there, and it's all nice and unified. Isaias, thank you so much for your time and for everything you're doing, I really appreciate it. There's no better feeling than scrolling Twitter and being sad and then going over to your Instagram feed and feeling so inspired and educated and empowered to try to do some good. So thank you and good luck with the book proposal.

Isaias Hernandez:

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Quinn:

Absolutely. Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dish washing or a fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:

And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp.

Quinn:

Just so weird.

Brian:

Also on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcasts. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:

Please.

Brian:

And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:

Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:

Thanks guys.

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