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Ethical influencer profile: Joanna Adjetey

We speak to Joanna Adjetey (Planet Bananna), writer and influencer. Since 2016 she has been sharing her journey through veganism and learning how to consume more ethically for the planet.

For anyone looking to make changes to their lifestyle, what would be your recommendation for the best place to start?

Start with one aspect of your lifestyle to not get overwhelmed or frustrated, and to be able to make these changes long-term. Maybe take an individual carbon footprint test and choose the section with the biggest impact.

Next, take inventory of what you have at home, where you can make easy switches, and where you'd have to invest in something new. Then start implementing little habits into your life. If you start with your diet, get into the habit of cooking plant-based meals for yourself – even if it's just a couple per week initially; if it's minimizing your plastic usage, remember taking a tote bag, reusable water bottle or coffee cup (depending on your needs obviously) whenever you leave the house.

I talk about easy switches on my blog, too, and there are lots of resources on social media (Pinterest or Instagram are my favourite places to search for them). To find out whether a brand is ethical or sustainable, I always check the Ethical Consumer guides, which are super comprehensive.

We try to cover as much as we can when investigating ethical brands. When doing your own research for ethical brands, what do you look out for?

The more transparent the brand, the more ethical it is, I usually find. When a clothing brand doesn't disclose their manufacturing sites, or simply state the fabrics in materials used, with no mention of yarn, zips, buttons and things like that, it's usually a red flag. Other things to look out for are certifications; Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance are indicators in food and drinks, Oekotex and Bluesign in fashion, for example.

And if I can't find any information on the brand's website, I simply send in my question via email or chat. That also shows them that this is something potential customers care about.

Are there any brands that you absolutely do not buy from and avoid at all costs?

I try and avoid Nestle; to me, they're basically the devil in the form of a conglomerate. The first scandal I heard about was their water scandal, where they commercialized fresh water sources to sell them in plastic bottles, despite droughts and indigenous tribes depending on them. Only much later did I learn about the baby milk scandal and all the other disgusting practices. And then they have the nerve to talk about ethics on their website...

But because they own so many other companies, it's pretty difficult to keep track of what brands are okay to buy, and which aren't, so the best way to avoid funding unethical practices is by supporting small, local businesses.

Are there any ethical brands that you’ve discovered over lockdown? What do you love about them?

I’ve not discovered them over lockdown, but it definitely made me appreciate them more: Who gives a crap! When the whole panic buying situation unfolded, I had loads of toilet rolls left, since I had bought their biggest box size months earlier.

I love that they offer toilet paper made out of bamboo, as well as 100% recycled paper.  None of their products contain plastic and they donate 50% of their profits to fund water, sanitation and hygiene projects all over the world. A couple of months into lockdown, they sent out an email, announcing how much they had just donated (millions!!). And thinking that you can be a part of that, by buying something so ordinary like toilet paper, is a great feeling.

Other than that, I supported London- or UK-based small businesses that I knew from markets or found on social media, knowing that they'd been losing out on big portions of their income, because of lockdown.

Small businesses have it hard enough, competing against huge corporations or establishing themselves in monopolised industries, even though they're often the ones who make sure that every part of their supply chain is 100% ethical and fair.

Hugging a tree

Living a sustainable lifestyle isn’t easy. What challenges have you faced whilst trying to do this?

The biggest challenge for me was, and still sometimes is, accepting that you have to pick your battles and compromise. The way our system is designed, it's not possible to live 100% ethical and the quicker we accept that, the quicker we can change it. It's difficult, when you read the news and look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, which is now three times the size of France, and you start thinking “Is that one plastic bag I buy really going to make a difference?”

So I try to focus on my own life and immediate circle – think globally, act locally! No, my plastic bag will not make a difference to the garbage patch but if I can live my life without (or minimally) contributing towards it, it may inspire others to do the same, and we can collectively lobby and advocate for a greener future. Individual change and system change go hand in hand.

In one of your recent posts you talked about veganism and privilege. Can you explain what you mean when you said veganism isn’t inclusive?

I used to say how easy it was to go vegan - because it was for me! But I didn’t take into account that I’m living a pretty privileged lifestyle. I’m working a job where I have the time and freedom to research things like nutrition and recipes. I have lots of different supermarkets around my area, which all have growing plant based sections, and I have the money to try out all these vegan replacements.

I also have an amazing support network - family members and friends who are vegan, vegetarian or veg-curious themselves, and who are happy to eat out in vegan(-friendly) restaurants or make sure there always is at least one option that I can eat, too.

These are all aspects that hinder others on their journeys. I also didn't know that food deserts were such a prevalent thing, even here in the UK. Over a million people don't have access to supermarkets. And when they have the choice between a £2 chicken meal and spending time on cooking a fresh meal, without the knowledge of the health and environmental impact – it's obvious what they're going to choose.

So I think we need (re-)education around nutrition and our relationship with nature, less subsidies to factory farms and investment into deprived neighbourhoods to really make veganism inclusive.

Where do you think is a good place for someone to start if they were wanting to change their diet but didn't have a lot of resources?

One amazing resource is Challenge 22! It's a free online challenge, hosted within a Facebook group, where people wanting to make changes have access to mentors (people who have been vegan themselves for a while), dietitians, recipes, meal plans, information about the meat, dairy and egg industries, and just general support around trying out a plant based diet for 22 days.

You can even request a personal mentor if you feel like you need more personalised support. I've been a mentor in a few groups now, and the feedback has always been great; people have said that it really helped them learn more about veganism, stay motivated and have a support network to share their journey with.