THE BLOG
05/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Living the Green Life

No, this is not the title of another music hit. It's simply a new lifestyle that is transforming our communities. And it's doing it thanks to pioneers such as Juan Parras, Chris Velez and Alberto Gonzalez, whose extraordinary leadership feels like a rush of optimism for our spirits.

Their lives are all part of a new book, "Hispanics Living Green," a compilation of biographies of 14 Hispanics whose lives are focused on seeking a balance with nature and respecting our planet. The book is available for purchase here.

Juan Parras, a veteran Houston activist, works in the trenches in a fight against environmental injustices. His battlefield is Manchester, the most polluted barrio in Houston, the country's most polluted city.

"Environmental injustices are all about communities that are overburdened with pollution," says Juan, whose organization, T.E.J.A.S., makes the public aware of the dangers of environmental degradation. "Too many communities assume their environmental conditions are a way of life and that nothing can change their environment."

This way of life can be lethal. According to the American Lung Association, running around in Houston equates to smoking a pack of cigarettes each day. Along the Houston Ship Channel, where Manchester lies, pollution conditions worsen exponentially. There, dozens of petrochemical plants poison the air by spewing tons of some of the worst carcinogens that exist.

"We, people of color, get dumped on," says Juan, recalling that 66 percent of Latinos live dangerously close to a toxic site. "Education on environmental justice and how to fight for it is what we need to focus our attention whenever addressing people of color overburdened with pollution."

"A clean environment is a human right. We all are entitled to clean air," concludes Juan.

Chris Velez, on the other hand, believes we all also have the right to clean soil. As owner of a biodynamic farm in Auberry, CA, in which no pesticides or chemicals are used, Chris considers his property "a great healthy organism," which resulted from "healthy farm practices."

His methods are based on a strict respect for the soil and the organisms that live there, and he considers his farm, called Stella Luna, a part of the communities that surround it.

"What we're really trying to do is put the culture back in agriculture," he says, " create a healthy fertility." This, he adds, "is what really separates us from industrial agriculture."

He keeps a symbiosis with the surrounding communities as his produce is sold in the local supermarkets.

"It's a lot cheaper and fresher to get food from closer," insists Chris and recommends for consumers to support local farms and to ask supermarket managers to buy products from those farms.

Chris summarizes his philosophy in this virtuous circle: "Healthy people make healthy communities, which keeps a healthy earth."

Farmers such as Chris are the only providers for Alberto Gonzalez, owner of New York City's first FDA-certified organic restaurant.

"America's food system is in my opinion a monster that we have created by supporting the 'value meal' for too many years and by doing that, we simply killed the good and fair farming practices," says Alberto, whose motto is "changing the world one meal at a time."

All ingredients served at his restaurant and bar are completely devoid of chemicals, synthetic antibiotics or hormones, which translates into something he calls "pure love."

"Organics taste better and are a lot healthier," he insists; "not only because they have more nutrients and antioxidants, but also because they don't contain any of the chemicals or artificial stuff that is killing our people."

Alberto regrets the insipid menu the vast majority of Americans are used to.

"The problem in America is that we lost the taste in food many years ago, so we have trained ourselves to add more and more spices and artificial stuff in order to get some flavor out of food, and that practice has somehow gradually ruined our palates," he says.

Alberto's business philosophy rejects profits as his top priority and insists his main objective is to offer good food without harming the environment.

"My proposal is a win-win-win opportunity," he says, "because this is good for you, good for the community and good for the planet."

Obviously, a winning recipe.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist.