Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.
The ocean runs through Alexandra Cousteau's veins. OK, maybe not literally; though the Georgetown University-educated environmentalist would probably point out that our body fluids do closely resemble the chemical composition of seawater.
If anyone would know, it's Cousteau. As the granddaughter of legendary oceanic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and daughter of environmental filmmaker Philippe Cousteau, she developed an intimate relationship with our planet's most vital resource -- water -- at a tender age. She embarked on her first oceanic expedition with her parents at 4 months old; her grandfather taught her how to scuba dive at the age of 7. She, too, is an ocean activist in her own right, raising awareness about critical water issues through her nonprofit Blue Legacy.
So when I found out that Alexandra is about to introduce the fourth generation of Cousteau explorer to the world (she and her husband are expecting their first child in July), I invited her to to share her tips for green (blue!)-minded moms and moms-to-be with Eco Etiquette readers.
She ordered a hummus wrap and an Earth Lava (spirulina, chorella, barley, and oat grass blended with organic apple juice, ginger, beet and carrot) to quench her thirst; I opted for a veggie burger pita sandwich and a banana-mango iced tea.
Jennifer Grayson: Are you a vegetarian?
Alexandra Cousteau: Mostly. Though if it's organic, humane, and sustainable, then I'll support local animal farmers.
JG: Do you eat fish?
AC: Very rarely. Maybe aquaculture tilapia, from places that I know are sustainable, but most fish is full of heavy metals and DDT and other toxic industrial things. They're bathing in the industrial pollutants that we dump into the ocean. And once it's in them, it's in us.
JG: And just the way you grew up, part of you must feel like: Fish are my friends!
AC: I can't eat octopus [laughing]. Impossible!
JG: So what does a National Geographic Emerging Explorer crave when she's pregnant?
AC: Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The glazed.
JG: Really? That would be the last thing I'd expect you to say, Miss Earth Lava.
AC: I don't have a sweet tooth. I never used to eat dessert. But she [pointing to her stomach] has a sweet tooth.
JG: Oh, you're having a girl! So will she have the Cousteau name?
AC: My husband and I haven't talked about it yet.
JG: You've got time still. OK, tell me: How have you been balancing such physically taxing environmental work with being an expecting mother? Last year, you took a 14,500-mile journey across North America for your Expedition Blue Planet TV series.
AC: I've been feeling really good, actually. No morning sickness. Though I did sleep a lot in the beginning.
JG: When I was pregnant, even writing was exhausting!
AC: I am actually going until about a month before the birth. Everybody has jammed everything I need to get done into those last few available weeks. My last business trip is mid June.
JG: What is the plan for after your daughter is born? Will you be taking her on expeditions?
AC: Yeah, she'll be me all over again! I was 4 months old; she'll probably be 2 months old. We have a scouting expedition to Belize planned in October.
JG: Wow. Do they make tiny scuba suits?
AC: [Laughs] We're very excited. I'll have my family with me, of course. My husband is wonderful. He travels with me a lot. I had him holding flashlights at night so my cameraman could shoot a water moccasin.
JG: Poisonous snakes in the dark? Good sport!
AC: He loves it. My mom travels with me a lot as well. She was on 22 expeditions with my father. Finding ways to include my daughter in the life I've chosen is really what I hope to do, rather than sacrifice the life that I've chosen to stay at home. Because I don't know what I would do at home.
JG: I'm sure being involved at such a young age is a big part of why you care about water issues so deeply. But how can we get others to care? Most of us just turn on our faucet and the water comes out -- that's all we think about.
AC: Through Blue Legacy, we've chosen to engage people through storytelling. We can talk about what's happening in the Mekong, in the Colorado, but it's also important to talk about what's happening in our own backyards.
Especially as mothers, we have to be aware. There's a shocking EWG study that tested the cord blood of newborns and uncovered over 250 industrial chemicals. Which means that my baby -- your baby -- are marinating in these industrial chemicals while they're being created.
JG: So what are some of ways that moms-to-be can be a part of the solution, especially regarding water issues? I have a pregnant friend who will only drink bottled water because she thinks it'll help her avoid those chemicals.
AC: I have an amazing filter that I put on my tap at home because I can't drink chlorine. If there's chlorine in water, it burns my stomach. I always have my own water with me that I've filtered at home. The Hydros Bottle has the filter built in.
JG: So tip #1: No bottled water.
AC: And eating local, sustainable food. Meat that isn't filled with antibiotics and hormones [that will end up in the water supply]. Eating wisely, eating healthy. With an occasional doughnut thrown in.
JG: [Laughs] Well, you have to make it fun, too. Especially with kids.
AC: One of the things I think is most important is to take our children to the creeks and rivers, to see the frogs and the tadpoles. Too often, we're completely disconnected from nature. Those are some of my favorite memories from childhood.
JG: So, I hate to put you on the spot, but: cloth diapers or disposable? Cloth diapers often get a bad rap because of the water required to wash them.
AC: I'm planning on going with cloth. I found ones that are handmade in South Carolina out of organic hemp, so the water footprint is much smaller than ones imported from China. I don't live in a desert, I don't want to fill the landfills with plastic, and I don't want her poop fossilized in a landfill that some archaeologist is going to find 1,000 years from now.
JG: Glad we're done with our lunch!
AC: Obviously, I'm trying to make the best possible decisions. Everything that I've bought for her so far is organic and fair trade. It's important to me that she start being part of the solution as soon as she arrives.
JG: Speaking of "the solution": Are you optimistic? I often lie awake at night wondering what the world will look like when my own daughter is my age.
AC: I am. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems we're facing. But I think once we engage people with the right stories, the right information, and the understanding that all water is first and foremost local -- finding solutions that fit and protect our communities -- then I think people will want to be involved.
JG: Beautifully said by a beautiful mother-to-be. Happy Mother's Day, Alexandra!
Want to hear from more superstar mothers in sustainability? Don't miss my 'green mommy' panel at the 2011 Women of the Green Generation Conference in Los Angeles on May 14.
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