“When I became a mother I wanted my child to be healthier than I was,” says Leah Segedie, food activist, social media consultant and founder of both Mamavation and the ShiftCon Social Media Conference. Leah’s new book, Green Enough, talks unapologetically and with her trademark dry humor about how to eat better, live cleaner and be happier. (And how to do it without driving your family crazy.)
Leah is part of a new wave of “mom bloggers” who are shaking up the internet, empowering women, and demanding more transparency so that women and men alike can make informed choices for themselves and their families. But Leah isn’t just any mom blogger. She laughs and admits that she’s been called the “mother hen of the green bloggers” many times, and we think that title suits her pretty well.
“I want to share this. I want to help other women who are in my predicament,” thought Leah as she began blogging about her own story of weight loss, about discovering the good food movement and about being an activist to her many social media followers, the Mamavation community, and major media outlets.
The best part? People listened. They listened as she shared about endocrine-disrupting hormones, and the obesogens that are not often included in a list of “common causes of obesity.” And as people continued to respond enthusiastically to her work Leah realized the unique position she was in. She organized the online community of bloggers and influencers she’d created and set out on a campaign to fight for comprehensive food labeling laws. “What I realized is the movement needed a new messenger, they needed new messengers. And I knew that the mom bloggers of the world could help with that exact challenge.”
From veteran mentors of the good food movement, to curious newbies, Leah helped organize and leverage green bloggers as a community—and she’s still doing so today.
Transcript: Rootstock Radio Interview with Leah Segedie
Air date: June 18, 2018
Welcome to Rootstock Radio. Join us as host Theresa Marquez talks to leaders from the Good Food movement about food, farming, and our global future. Rootstock Radio—propagating a healthy planet. Now, here’s host Theresa Marquez.
THERESA MARQUEZ: Hello, and welcome to Rootstock Radio. I’m Theresa Marquez, and I’m here today with Leah Segedie, founder of Mamavation.com and the ShiftCon Social Media Conference. As well as a food activist and media consultant, Leah is also an author of the 2018 book—and I just love this title—Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!). Please join me in welcoming the courageous and outspoken change agent Leah Segedie. Leah, so wonderful to have you here!
LEAH SEGEDIE: Oh, I’m so happy to be here. It’s an honor to be on your show. Thank you!
TM: So, Leah, I will have to start off by asking you—you are a passionate change agent and I admire you so much—how did you get into the work that you’re doing right now?
LS: Oh, wow, that’s so complicated. Well, I’ve been working in social for about 13 years, so basically when I started having children and I was staying at home. And prior to that I used to work in politics, believe it or not, and I worked as a PR professional for a couple of companies, so I had a background in communications. I also have a master’s in communication management from USC. [It] makes me really, really uniquely able to handle these types of things in social media.
But when I stayed home, I just got really bored. It was like, I needed to do more than fold laundry and diapers and all that stuff. And so I started up a social media community after losing over a hundred pounds. And it was one of those life experiences where my losing weight was tied to two things in my life that were really, really huge things. Like, I had my first child and I lost my father to a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma, literally at the same time, within three months. And when I was pregnant, as a mother, I wasn’t thinking about, “I’m going to become a mother!” All I was thinking about is, “I’m going to lose my father.” And so it didn’t truly hit me that I was mother until it was, like, three to six months after my child was born.
And then when I thought about it, the only thing I could think about is I wanted my child to be healthy. I didn’t want my child to be as overweight as I was. At that point in time I was so big I would have had to purchase two tickets on an airline. I couldn’t go into a theater and sit in the seats—I didn’t fit. And I just basically hid in my house because I was so ashamed by my size. So when I became a mother, one thing that I wanted to do was, I wanted my child to be healthier than I was. And I realized that in order for me to do that, I had to role model that behavior. So that’s where it started for me.
Then I lost over a hundred pounds, and then, just being the person that I am, I’m like, “I want to share this. I want to help other women that are in my predicament.” Because I realized that the modern women that are having children are very isolated. It’s not like we have these systems in place like we used to. Like, people used to gather and they used to do this and they used to do that, and women supported each other. Well, now we’re very isolated. And we have the Internet though.
So that’s what I did, was I started up a group for women, primarily for support but also to help educate them. And it just grew from there. And then when we talk about green activism and food activism, that came later. That was when I really started to look around and dig into the science of why are people obese? And it’s not quite the reason that they tell us in the mainstream media. There’s a lot of hormone-disrupting chemicals involved, and those chemicals are also referred to as obesogens.
So when I started to see a lot of this research, it blew my mind because this was a topic that had been something I’d been speaking about for years and thought I understood, and then realize, oh my god, I don’t really quite understand this quite the way I thought I did. And then, at the same exact time, California was trying to label GMOs. And all of a sudden my life had this cross section where it took my old life in politics and understanding—I used to raise money for these type of propositions and help work them—to my new of health and wellness.
And I knew that everyone was going to ask me questions about what’s a GMO, and what do I do with it, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So I really started to research it, and what I found out really bothered me. Not so much about the chemicals that bothered me, more so about the transparency that bothered me. Where I have to raise a family and I have to make all these decisions, and yet you’re not respecting me and giving me the information I need to make those decisions. So I really felt it was a feminist issue. And I thought to myself, I’m in a really unique position to be able to help, because I had at that point a blogger network with over 8,000 influencers—and these were all mom bloggers. And I really felt that these were the women that needed to talk about this issue to bring it to the tipping point.
And I so I knew that I had that unique ability to bring this into “mom blogger world,” and that’s what I did. And I organized 650 influencers across the United States and Canada about labeling. What I realized is the movement needed a new messenger. They needed new messengers. And I knew that the mom bloggers of the world could help with that exact challenge. And so that’s what I did.
TM: Leah, I can really see why you have been recognized as one of the top 10 women changing school nutrition and one of the most influential mommy bloggers. You were talking about your early blog—was that Bookieboo?
LS: Yeah. It doesn’t even operate anymore, but it started off as Bookieboo. And Bookieboo was like a community website. Today it’s Mamavation—we moved it over to Mamavation. So it’s spelled M-A-M-A-V-A-T-I-O-N. And it’s, Mamavation is all about empowering women through “eco wellness,” which is what I call it. So it’s like, if you’re green or if you care about wellness, if you just need to feed your family and want the truth about what’s happening in the world of chemicals and how you can combat this and how you can be smarter, you go to my website.
And you learn about everything. We do a lot of product investigations where we go through things like dairy or things like pest control or things like protein powders or any, like, shampoo. And we break it out into Bad, Better, Best and give you all the information about what are the worst chemicals to expose your children to or to expose you to? And then what are the ones that have the best ingredients and what are the ones that have the worst? And what are the ones that are in the middle ground that you can also feel comfortable with?
So we do a lot of that because I really feel it’s most important to give women choices. That is where I feel comfortable: to give them the facts and then you do what you want to do. Because at the end of the day, what’s the most important thing is for women to feel empowered to make these healthier decisions. Not judged and looked down upon, but just like, here’s the truth and do what you want with it. And that’s really what I want at the end of the day: for women to feel supported so that they can go on whatever route they want.
TM: Well, you know, I am impressed with you, Leah, in that when I met you and while I was at the ShiftCon Conference—and we’ll say a little bit more about what ShiftCon is in a bit—you know, I just could tell that you’re not judgmental, you’re just trying to make everyone feel comfortable, you’re so inclusive. And I think that is a really wonderful trait, and I admire you for that. And I also want to say that I think you’re very courageous. I was going through your book that was published this year, Green Enough.
But I also am in admiration of your creativity. Mamavation—wonderful name. So those of you who didn’t quite get it, you can learn an awful lot about what Leah is up to at Mamavation.com. You’ve been on, haven’t you, on CNN, ABC, NBC. How did you get that exposure? What developed in some of the things that you did that people started paying attention?
LS: So a lot of the exposure has been—we’re talking 13 years in social media. So over those 13 years I have absolutely been covered by a lot of these media platforms. Some of it has been about my website, which I parlayed into other things. Other things have just been activism. So there’s a lot of things that I’ve done that received exposure that places like CNN or the Bill O’Reilly show have covered, for instance. And those were unexpected hits but were like, awesome, I will take it! Because at the end of the day, activism is about getting people that are not paying attention to pay attention or at least to notice things. And so I’m really open to that.
It’s based on a lot of things that I’ve done. Again, my weight loss was a great story that we were able to use for years and years to parlay into other things; the activism; ShiftCon, because we’ve done a lot there. And you’ve been talking about that. That’s essentially, ShiftCon Social Media Conference came out of labeling, because what I realized was that after I had organized all of these influencers and got them really excited about these themes, we needed a place annually to kind of touch base with each other and hang out and support each other. And it was also primarily, for me, to think about recruiting more people into the fold and getting more and more people to talk about these issues.
So when you say you’ve gone to ShiftCon and you feel like it’s so inclusive, that makes my heart just melt because that’s exactly what I’m trying to provide. It’s a community where you can walk in as an influencer that has never, ever talked about organic food before, come in and feel supported by all the sisters around you—it’s primarily women—all of the sisters around you. And I kind of set it up saying, “I don’t care where you are on the green arrow. You can be light green, medium green, dark green, or an absolute newbie. But no matter what, you are an important piece of this puzzle. You’re an important person in this community, and I want you here.”
And then we also talk a lot about how if you’re super deep green, you’re like a mentor. You’ve been around, you’ve seen things, you know all the science. But if you are light green, you’re reaching a tipping-point audience that the deep green influencers cannot reach. So both of you are equally important in this role. And so everybody understands that, and that’s why you feel very accepted. In order to fix a lot of the problems that we have, it’s going to take a lot more people than just whoever’s in our circle. And so that is always my mission, is to get to new people and get to new groups.
And what I spend a lot of time behind the scenes doing that a lot of people don’t even know is I befriend a lot of leaders in other groups that have nothing to do with green or sustainable or food movement themes. And little by little, I bring them over to understand what we’re doing and why it’s important, and why it’s also important to their community. And then they go out and they give people the information that I would love to give them, but I don’t have the respect of that community to do it.
My book is basically my personality. I mean, it’s essentially—I cuss a little. I’m not going to do it on this program—I’m going to try not to. But that’s just how I am. But the thing is that the vast majority of women online that are reading my book really appreciate my candid honesty and humor.
But then I’m also, at the same time, you know, I’m very funny with what I’m talking about in Green Enough, and also there’s an understanding in that book that you’re green enough to be healthy, yet chill enough to be happy.
TM: (laughing) Lovely!
LS: And so when you’re a mother, you’re walking that—yeah, you really are—you’re walking that balance beam as in, is this healthy for my family physically or mentally? And so we have to weigh both of those things. And as you’re walking this tightrope, remember, as the most important thing, that your family did not sign up for this. You signed them up. So, especially if you have older children, you’re going to have to remember that the tortoise is winning this race, it’s not the hare. So these slow, methodical changes are going to get you to the finish line a lot quicker, believe it or not, then these quick changes that piss everybody off and the next thing you know you have mutiny.
So we talk about that in the book because that’s literally what happened in my family. I had to give everybody around me time to adjust. I feel like my husband, over several years, has come around where he actually will read something in the Economist and he says, “Oh my god, they covered this, this, this, and this, but they didn’t cover this!” And he gets all fired up. And I’m like, “Wow, this is a huge change from you six years ago, who would laugh at me because I was buying all organic food.” But it takes people time. And I feel like if you give them respect and you give them that space to say, “This is your life and this is your road”—and people have to mentally come around to things on their own, and if you let them do that, then it’s real. It’s real and it lasts.
But if you don’t let that happen, then, eh, it’s short-lived. And does that really help us? No. And in a family, where you’ve got all these mouths to feed and all these people to take care of, you’ve got to be strategic about how these changes are made.
So the other thing to remember about the book is, there is some very serious science and some very serious spokespeople who are behind this book, and my scientific advisors. One is Pete Myers, and he is literally the guy that coined the phrase “endocrine-disrupting chemicals”—he is that scientist. And then you have Dr. Tanya Altmann, who is the spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, so she’s the big pediatric doctor that’s on The Today Show and all those shows. She’s the person chiming in on the book, saying, “Yes, Leah knows what she’s talking about.”
So I’m not just sitting here saying, “Oh, do this,” and then having nothing to back it up with. It’s absolutely backed up by everything I said. And I just hope it’s more of an exciting read for people, and it’s just really funny—and digestible, because that’s really important.
TM: Well, if you’re just joining us, you’re listening to Rootstock Radio, and I’m Theresa Marquez. And I’m here today with the very lively Leah Segedie. And today we’re talking about her new book, Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!), and also a wonderful blog, Mamavation.com, for those of you who have been paying attention and check out the blog.
Leah, thank you for mentioning Pete Myers, and the whole endocrine disruption thing certainly has a lot to do with the obesity crisis. And also I am so interested in your discussion about after six years your husband came around, because sometimes you have to just wear your family down. But I like the way you’re doing it, with just this positive energy, and also just holding on to your values and just modeling it.
You know, you were also talking about trying to go slow with the kids, and Leah and her husband have three boys. And I think that many people who are trying to influence their family have certainly not succeeded by saying, “And this is what you’re going to eat tonight.” Because there’s nothing like being told what you have to do, for kids to then not want to do any of that. So about some tricks there? What kinds of things have you done to get your kids on board?
LS: So I’m actually very open with my children about toxic chemicals and their impacts. And so when it comes to my boys—because I have boys, so this may be a little different with girls, but similar chemicals do similar things—is I tell my boys about degraded sperm. Now, I don’t know if everyone’s open enough with their children. I call this, at my house, the Save the Swimmers Campaign.
So there’s a lot of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are linked to degraded sperm, right? And there’s a lot of research out there to tell us that sperm quality has degraded 50 percent since the 1970s. So men who want to have children one day and would like to further their line really do need to be paying attention to this issue because it is impacting their fertility. And men love to be virile! So I literally will just tell my children, I said, “Your sperm is going to give me grandchildren one day, and I really want grandchildren one day. Do you want to have kids one day?” And even my little six-year-old will be like, “Yeah, I want to have a family one day.” And then I said, “Okay, well these chemicals, we are going to impact that ability. So this right here, if I let you eat this—I’m not saying just eating it one time is going to make you sick so that you may not be able to have children, but it may impact your ability to have children. And I really want grandchildren.”
And so I kind of give them that logical “This plus this equal this. Will you be on board?” And they understand that this will impact them. And then they say, “You’re right, Mommy. Okay.” Now, I’ve done this over a year, you know what I’m saying? And of course there’s a lot of things that are in our house or potentially things that are outside that this could impact their sperm, but that’s literally how I did it in my house. And my boys are like, “Yes, Mommy, I know, endocrine-disrupting chemicals hurt my swimmers. Okay.” You know what I’m saying? And that’s literally what I say. I’m like, “Don’t put that in your mouth.”
Like plastic, for instance. Plastic is one of those things that, a lot of plastics contain this chemical called phthalates, and phthalates degrade sperm quality. And that we know—that’s based on lot of science that’s been done in the last five years. So if children, especially boys, are eating a lot of things inside plastic, and the plastic heats up or there’s a lot of fat inside or there’s acid in there, like citric acid, it can leach out of the plastic. And then consuming it automatically exposes them to this chemical called phthalates.
In China they’ve done some studies to see things like bisphenols, bisphenols like BPA or BPS. Bisphenols and little girls—little girls that had higher rates of bisphenols in their blood and urine actually had earlier periods. And so, for girls, this brings on early puberty; it brings on infertility issues. And then of course, in the end of your life, of course these are things like breast cancer and prostate cancer. So a lot of these chemicals that impact your hormones will impact children and their hormones early on. So that is degrading sperm quality, and for girls early periods. And then early periods bring on all kinds of other things that I wish little girls didn’t have to deal with, like emotional impacts that they’re not ready for. And those kind of things, I know with women, we want to protect our children from.
So I have these conversations with my kids very openly. And I’m an open mom because my mother was a nurse, and so she basically told me everything I needed to know way before I needed to know it. That’s kind of how I treat my children. So some people who don’t want to do that, they can maybe figure out their way of doing it. But I always feel like if you let children in on the why, and why this is good for them, they do a better job of self-monitoring themselves. So you don’t have to be in front of them constantly saying, “No, no, no!” All you really need to do is say, “Okay, it’s over here, over here, and over here.” And then they’re like, “Okay.” And they do a better job of monitoring themselves.
So those are kind of like my tricks with children. Husbands, whenever you talk about sperm quality, my husband laughs about sperm quality, because he’s like, “We’re not having more than three kids.”
TM: He’s hoping his sperm quality goes down.
LS: Yeah, he’s like, “I don’t need sperm right now!” You know what I mean? But it still impacts his inflammation. All of these things that are hormone-disrupting chemicals also impact inflammatory things in your body. So inflammation is one of the main stressors of a lot of disease, a lot of chronic disease we have, disease that you can’t get from a virus or a bacteria, but just things that happen chronically overtime. A lot of those have to do with inflammation. So inflammation is very, very real.
But I will say one thing—and this goes back to what we learned when we were doing Prop. 37 in California in labeling, and we did a lot of research on how to communicate to women and how to communicate to men. And what we found out was that women absolutely will take an action with a health message. If they know that A, B, and C is bad for their children and it’s bad for their health, they will take an action. Men, on the other hand, not so much. Men need to hear why this thing here is stopping them from doing something that they want to do. So it has to do with their rights and their ability to do things.
And so if you’re thinking about your husband, and you think about how to communicate this to your husband versus how to communicate this to other women or children, there’s got to be a separation in how you do it, and like, this is why it’s important, these are the things I’m going to stress. So it’s different from men to women. And then when I’m communicating things on my site, it’s primarily women that I’m talking to, so I just base everything off of women. And the funny thing is, sometimes, ironically, because I have so many children that are boys and I’m surrounded by four of them, I do have to temper some things as well. So I feel like it’s complicated, but it’s absolutely doable. You just have to think about it a little bit more.
TM: Well, you know, Leah, one of the things that I also am wondering about—you’ve talked a lot about talking to moms, but those moms, a lot of them are bloggers, aren’t they? I was kind of trying to describe you to someone and I said, “She the blogger for bloggers and the activist for activists.” So it sounds to me like you’re nurturing and developing bloggers as well as nurturing, developing, and supporting activists. And I’m just wondering, just how many followers do you have these days?
LS: Oh god, okay. So if you added it up—oh my gosh, okay—if you added it up over all of my platforms it would probably be close to 400,000. It’s quite a lot of people. And I feel like sometimes I think, I sit here and I’m like, “What? This is just me in my little office in my house. How is this possible?” And I feel really—every time I’m reminded of that, I feel really honored, because I’m like, wow, people really care what I have to say.
And it’s really awesome because when I was a kid, oh my god, I was the one that was always set in the corner, told 50,000 times to shut up, you know what I mean, be quiet, sit still; you need to start being more ladylike, you need to do this, you need to do that. And it’s the irony of all those passionate things about me as a child that I was told that weren’t right and I shouldn’t be doing this, are the exact same things that I make a living off of today, which I find is the grand irony. But yeah, I feel really honored to be in this position. And what I’ve been called so many times is the mother hen of the green bloggers. And I love that title because I have chickens in my backyard and I love my chickens.
TM: You know, you talked a lot about endocrine disrupters and then you talked about obesity. The endocrine disrupters mimic hormones that change the thyroid. I was wondering if you came across any studies that have to do with obesity being tied to that disruption of the thyroid through endocrine disrupters?
LS: Yeah, actually there’s a lot of recent stuff that’s come out about that. We just posted something about this on Mamavation.com. There’s a big organization of endocrinologists. Endocrinologists are doctors that specialize in the hormonal system, the endocrine system in your body. So in Europe they just came out and did this press conference that said they believe that the obesity epidemic worldwide has been very, very severely impacted by these chemicals called obesogens. Now, the vast majority of hormone-disrupting chemicals, most of them—I would say most of them, but we’re not sure—are obesogenic in nature, which means they cause you to gain weight.
There’s a lot of ways that it can do that. Sometimes these chemicals go into the body and they tell your stem cells to become fat cells, so you create more fat cells in your body. Sometimes in goes into your body and it messes with your ability to produce insulin, and so that causes your body to gain more weight. There’s all of these ways that it can do that, and it’s based on the different chemicals. But the basic hormone-disrupting chemicals that we’re trying to avoid that are obesogenic in nature are pesticides and plasticizer chemicals like phthalates and BPA; fragrance chemicals is [are] also like phthalates; and then there’s fire retardants. And then also really bad on your thyroid are those nonstick chemicals on pans, nonstick chemicals on clothing, anything that repels moisture—those types of chemicals also have been linked to thyroid damage and obesogenic stuff. So like, it will make you gain weight.
Now, the political background of this is we have always thought that energy balance had to do with calories in and calories out. Well, the more and more and more they have learned about how the hormones impact your [unclear—sounds like “sayshee” 26:49 satiety?]—like when you feel full and how your body stores fat or doesn’t store fat. All of those things are basically directed by your hormones. If you’re putting things into your body that are affecting those hormones and triggering them or making them do something different, you absolutely will have an issue with obesity.
So these doctors are saying yes, this is the problem, we need to spend more research monies into looking into this and what types of chemicals are the biggest impactor of this. And I’m hoping the mainstream media picks up on this and starts talking about it more. Because the world obesogen was created 11 years ago by a professor named Bruce Blumberg, and he’s at the University of Irvine, and I have interviewed him several times. He’s been traveling the world talking about this issue for 11 years now. And now he just wrote a book—it’s called The Obesogen Effect—and we wrote about it on Mamavation and it’s a fantastic read. So anybody who’s interested in how these chemicals can impact your weight, pick up that book, because he’s a brilliant scientist and I’ve been listening to him for years. Another reason why I feel so honored is that these experts will talk to me and tell me and give me a lot of time to understand these issues so that I can then communicate them to the public.
TM: So, Leah, I just want to thank you so much for sharing your passion and all of these wonderful activities that you’re doing, and for, thanking you for also creating bloggers and activists, supporting them. And just charge on, girl!
LS: Thank you so much, Theresa. It’s an honor to be doing to this work, honestly. It really makes me happy when I go to sleep at night.
TM: That’s a good thing, happiness!
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