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How the Queer Brown Vegan Isaias Hernandez Is Advocating for Climate Action

de influencing-isaias hernandez-queer brown vegan-foraging
de influencing-isaias hernandez-queer brown vegan-foraging
Isaias Hernandez | Photos courtesy of Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez started his journey as a climate activist by posting environmental messaging to a small following on Instagram, but has since grown his Queer Brown Vegan brand to become a massive multi-platform advocacy channel. We talked to him about his thoughts on climate action and what the average person can do to help the planet.

What inspired you to start the Queer Brown Vegan brand? 

Back in 2019, I graduated from the University of California-Berkeley and started working in the fashion industry in New York. However, what I really wanted to do was work in an environmental job.

Because of this, I started going to climate change conferences that were talking about environmental education and started talking to people about how passionate I was about the subject and about how environmentalism is multi-dimensional, meaning it covers everything from food to fashion to technology to energy.

Eventually, someone told me that I should create a platform to talk about environmental issues, so I joined social media to talk simplistically about environmental education. This is how the Queer Brown Vegan brand was created.

I wanted to show myself as a person of color that loves the land, because there’s often a misconception that people of color don’t care about the environment, and someone who wants to work together with humans and animals to build a sustainable future by living a vegan lifestyle.

My brand started off with colorful infographics on Instagram and eventually evolved into creating a multimedia platform where I create editorial writings, long-form videos, and I’m now working on my independent web series to really increase climate and environmental literacy for everyone.  

Why is intersectionality so important in sustainability and combating climate change? 

Intersectionality plays a huge role when understanding the climate crisis. It has been presented as a global crisis with environmental degradation that all individuals have contributed to. However, this contribution to environmental degradation is not always illustrated correctly.

As we know, many governments in countries located in the global north have drained economic and material natural resources from the global south. This has happened through war, genocide, and specific policies, leaving these countries disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

In the United States, one of the one of the ways to apply intersectionality is understanding the term “environmental justice.” In fact, here in America, it is a common fact that genetics only account for 30% of your health, whereas your zip code, race, class, and environment influence 60% of your health.

So, when we apply this fact and understand that most communities in the United States that are predominantly Black and Brown already have a disproportionate access to clean water and clean air, and live close to freeways and toxic facilities, we see that when it comes to environmental degradation, communities in America are not treated equally.

Intersectionality allows us to understand that race, class, and gender affect the ways people learn about environmentalism and how they react to their environment. I am not saying that nature is racist, but rather the people who have helped push policies and practices often have biases toward communities of color.

This has been evident in history in the legacy of slavery, from red lining to communities not having access to affordable housing, as well as white neighborhoods prohibiting Black and Brown people from buying homes after World War II, forcing banks to only give them loans in already impoverished areas. 

How are the younger generations advocating for climate action more than the previous generations?

Younger generations are using digital media as a strategic tool to communicate to thousands of people, whether they’re younger or older. What is unique now is that individuals like me work in the intersections of academia, media, entertainment, nonprofits, and for-profits and can bridge these gaps of literacy.

The younger movement is very involved in intergenerational collaborations and understanding that it’s not just about having a seat at the table; it’s about understanding that the knowledge and the wisdom and the terminologies we’ve learned from our elders also need to be applied in practice.

That’s what gives me evidence-based hope for the climate movement — that there are solutions being implemented. Even though it feels at times like we don’t see these solutions, our mindsets are programmed to think it’s good for the world and, realistically, there’s a lot of change happening even with our government, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the Climate Corps.  

What are some of the top sustainability trends you’re interested in? 

The top sustainability trend I am interested in is de-influencing. De-influencing has become such a huge trend on TikTok and has raised alarms about over-consumerism. This trend has allowed us to have serious conversations about all forms of over-consumerism, from food to fashion to technology, and has allowed individuals to reevaluate how much is too much.

De-influencing is a pathway to sustainability and climate action because even if you are not someone who knows a lot about the environment, everyone is a consumer, and understanding how your purchases have an impact on the planet is really important. De-influencing is an accessible way to get into the environmental movement and allows us to think more sustainably.  

Do you think de-influencing could be applied to other areas that aren’t just about like products? Like maybe like ideas or topics as well?  

Yes, I think that de-influencing can also become part of the strategy of degrowth, which is understanding that current economic systems rely on resource extraction, so de-influencing can be applied to a reliance on materialism. This is why a lot of young people are now into traditional crafts, such as repairing things like clothes, shoes, and other items.

I think this idea can be applied through systemic policies of ensuring materials are being effectively recycled and that businesses are buying recycled materials instead of using new materials that are contributing to the extraction of natural resources. This way, we can redesign economies around reinvesting in recycled materials that are also providing jobs for the next generation of American workers.  

What is one thing the average person can do to help combat climate change?  

One thing people can do to combat climate change would be to start from their consumption of food. One of the ways that I’ve been able to do this is foraging in urban areas. There’s a lot of wild fruits and mushrooms and plants that are available in many neighborhoods. You can go and pick them and you don’t need access to a farmers market or grocery market. You save money and you taste delicious food. I think that also helps you understand what local food is growing in your area.

Isaias Hernandez (back-center) posing with Billie Eilish (front-center) for Vogue

Who are some of the most interesting people you’ve interviewed? And what are some of the most thought-provoking things they’ve said?  

I got to work with Billie Eilish, and I feel that she is a really great example of someone in the music industry who is leveraging her platform and resources to talk about climate even though she doesn’t call herself an expert. She cares about the planet, and by being in an issue of Vogue with her, I got to learn that her gateway to becoming an environmentalist was becoming vegan. And I think she also recognized that there are different ways for her to save emissions from renewable electricity. 

I think Billie showcases a really strong case of climate action that can be replicated, and it’s someone who didn’t study the environment or has thousands of years of experience, but still cares about the planet.

You can follow Isaias on Instagram @queerbrownvegan

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