Meet ambassador Kate Arnell
TV presenter, Youtuber, Zero waster and Eco Boost founder, Kate Arnell is the epitome of the Soil Association's vision and values.
Tell us about you – who are you, what’s your mission and how did you get started?
I'm Kate Arnell, I'm a blogger/YouTuber (and ex-TV Presenter). I've been living a zero-waste lifestyle in London for the last 4 years and I'm a big supporter of choosing organic - whether it's food, fashion or beauty products.
I have had an interest in organic food ever since my early teenage years, when I thought to myself "why on earth would I choose food that has been sprayed with toxic chemicals?". Then, a few years ago, I discovered the zero-waste lifestyle and started buying all food without plastic packaging and in most cases, no packaging. This was a revelation for me because, as I'm sure you've noticed, almost all organic produce in the supermarket comes wrapped in single-use, disposable plastic packaging! So, I quit supermarkets and started shopping at local independent organic stores where most produce is sold loose.
I want to encourage people to understand the wider benefits of organic and make it the normal choice. That's why I started my blog and YouTube channel. I wanted to start talking about how I have reduced the amount of packaging in my life and why I believe organic is worth it.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
Adopting a Zero Waste Lifestyle and living my values. I get a real kick out of living in a way that doesn't feel like a compromise. A Zero Waste Lifestyle takes time and certainly doesn't happen overnight, but once you start noticing packaging, you suddenly see it EVERYWHERE! From the plastic water bottles that rattle along the curb to the carefully placed used-coffee cups on top of an already heaving bin, it can be overwhelming!
Through my blog and YouTube channel I have had some really lovely feedback, with people sharing how they are now quitting plastic, having realised how much better it is for our health and the environment. It feels great knowing I've had a positive influence on people and that they will go on to inspire others too.
As a result, my life is far richer. I've rediscovered the joy of cooking and getting creative in the kitchen (I've finally mastered homemade custard!). I've learned new skills – from fermenting my own homemade ginger beer (so easy!) to making homemade pasta, starting a worm compost on my balcony and even mastering DIY laundry detergent.
There's something incredibly empowering about taking back control and not relying on outsourcing every aspect of our lives. I have a greater appreciation for how things are made or grown.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your ambitions for the future?
At the moment, I'm growing my YouTube channel (which has just reached 20k subscribers!) and spreading the word about a zero-waste lifestyle and why choosing organic is a no brainer. It's all a fairly new thing for me (I used to be a TV presenter) so I'm learning as I go. I keep thinking of TV show ideas based around using up leftovers in cool ways, or showing how awesome offal can be! Offally Good is my working title ;) but we’ll see if that ever comes to anything.
Ambitions wise, I would love to see disposables such as single-use plastics banned, and for organic agriculture to become the norm again.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing our food systems?
Monocultures and GMOs. They encourage the use of synthetic pesticides and they destroy our soil health. They also encourage cruel farming practises. Biodiversity and working with nature's cycles is key to healthy soil and healthy bodies. Processed foods, convenience and "food trends" are also a big issue in my opinion. Someone or something elsewhere will be paying the price for making our lives easier or meeting our demand for the latest "super-food". We've also lost our sense of seasonality. We're obsessed with eating avocados from far flung places and injecting pea protein in our smoothies. Ever think about how the pea protein is extracted? What chemicals might have been used? That perhaps a pea is better eaten as a whole pea instead of extracting a few elements from it?
Instead, I believe it is far more sustainable to eat seasonally, sourcing locally as much as possible and choosing foods that are organic and come unpackaged. At the end of the day, despite what many people tell themselves, we, the customers, actually have the power to change the way we farm. The recent growing demand for organic is a great example and has meant that there are now far more organic products available because we've voted with our purchasing power. Let’s keep it up and keep our food and farming as natural as possible.
"Once upon a time, all food was organic. It's not something that is a luxury. It's just food, grown as it should be. "
Why is organic so important to you?
Because, right now, the alternative is eating food every day, three times a day that contains synthetic pesticides. If you eat meat, as I do, unless it's organic, it's likely to have been fed on a diet of imported GMO grain (something not enough people are aware of I think!).
For me, choosing organic not only means that I am avoiding foods containing synthetic pesticides everyday three times a day, but I'm also supporting a system that puts animal welfare as a top priority, that works to build healthy soil in a sustainable way, that encourages biodiversity, is better for the environment and also improves the lives of the farmers who haven't had to spend money on expensive pesticides and then breath them in as they're spraying. Looking for certifications such as the Soil Association logo means I can trust that every step has been carefully inspected and meets the highest standards.
Once upon a time, all food was organic. It's not something that is a luxury. It's just food, grown as it should be.
Why are you taking part in Organic September?
For me, Organic September is a wonderful celebration of all things organic. It’s a chance to come together and shout about why organic rocks! I want to help people understand that organic isn't just a luxury, it's a necessity. Most organic producers and businesses don't have huge marketing budgets, so it can be tough for them to compete with the constant "food-like-products-making-health-claims" messages that we see on TV, billboards and in magazines.
I also want to change people’s perspectives of organic, from food to beauty and fashion. There are so many seriously stylish pieces out that that it's no longer a compromise and organic beauty has shown to be effective and affordable.
If you could only switch to one organic item what would it be and why?
Ha, that's a tough one as I've switched EVERYTHING to organic, from food, to bedding, clothing and beauty products (I even have a hammock made from GOTS certified organic cotton!). I'm doing some research around organic materials, and I've heard that if we replaced all cotton (a large portion of which is currently GMO) with organic cotton, we would be helping the largest amount of the poorest people in world. Cotton is farmed in over 100 countries and it is estimated that 100 million households, most in some of the world’s poorest countries, are dependent on cotton farming.
Organic cotton farmers are required to grow more than one crop (usually 4 or 5 more) to increase biodiversity and fix nitrogen in the soil. As a result, if their cotton crop fails or the price of cotton drops, they still have food to feed themselves and their communities. They have security. Non-organic cotton guzzles up 16% of the world's insecticides at the moment - more than any other single crop. That's HUGE, for just one crop!
Who inspires you?
I was fortunate enough to be invited to Helen Browning's organic farm at the end of last year and both my husband and I came away feeling totally inspired by her drive, enthusiasm and vast knowledge on so many subjects, from farming to charities, to business and campaigning. She is such an inspiration and gave up a lot of time to chat to us.
Bea Johnson, who wrote the book Zero Waste Home and started the Zero Waste lifestyle has been a huge inspiration to me. If you can, find one of her talks on YouTube and geek out. I was fortunate enough to meet her earlier this year and it was such a pleasure. It's strange to think that one person has had such a dramatic influence on how I live my life, but I'm so glad I found her book and meeting her was just a dream!
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Follow the 5 Rs – in order!
Refuse what you do not need. Think freebies, gifts, flyers, junk mail, samples, straws, unsustainable practises etc. They will take up your time having to store them and space in the landfill once used/broken. Just because it's the "norm" to accept a free gift, it doesn't mean it should be continued if it creates a lot of plastic waste.
Reduce what you do need. I have found I don’t really need a lot of the things I once thought I did: cling film, kitchen roll, tin foil, shopping for cheap fast fashion every Saturday, latest gadgets etc. Sometimes too much stuff and choice can be overwhelming, which is another reason I avoid supermarkets.
Reuse - Swap any disposables with a reusable option. It saves money and resources. Reusable water bottle, coffee cup, kitchen cloths, safety razor and menstrual cup are just a few examples.
Recycle. But only what you can't Refuse, Reduce or Reuse and as a last resort. I actually recycle a heck of a lot less these days because the quantity of packaged items I bring into our home in the first place has dramatically reduced. By choosing materials such as glass, metal and wood that can be recycled again and again, we're putting useful materials back into the system. Plastic usually gets downcycled instead of recycled meaning it's made into something that cannot be recycled.
Rot. I wish I had started this sooner! Last year, I got a worm bin that sits on my balcony. Most days I add any food scraps (except meat, dairy and citrus) and let the worms work their magic. I recently used the compost from the bin to plant some organic veggies and so the cycle continues.
A bonus R - I’ve adopted more recently is Respond. Contact companies and let them know you want to see them selling more organic, or food without packaging. I've even started sending packaging back to companies, explaining that their poor choice of packaging means it will end up in landfill, the incinerator or the ocean so it is their responsibility (not mine, especially if I've gone out of my way to avoid it in the first place and yet still somehow end up with it!) to deal with it. I've had some positive responses and I hear brands really value customer feedback. The more we ask for better practises, the more they'll sit up and take notice.
What’s next for you / your business?
I wish I knew! I tend to just go with the flow and not plan things too much which is perhaps not the best approach for many people, but it's how I operate. I want to get blogging more regularly and be a little more frequent with my video uploads… basically keep getting the word out there! I love cooking, growing food (I have grown red onions, spring onions, chard, lettuce, herbs, potatoes and EVEN wheat on my small London balcony so far!) and have a dream of building a cabin in the woods one day.
Seriously though, I would love to see the UK ban single use plastics, to reduce our use of plastic and encourage a society that values reusing. I want to see more support for farmers who are producing food organically and for it to be available in more places, preferably unpackaged!