Growing up, what did your family keep leftover food in? I KNOW it was in leftover yogurt and butter containers.Y por qué? Because it’s a good container! And why waste it? It works perfectly to store food, and you already paid for it. So many of our families have been on the sustainability train long before it became trendy on social media. We use what we have efficiently both here and in LATAM our culture is rooted in green lifestyle practices that can save money and resources.
Former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra drew attention to this in a 2018 speech at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. He noted the class and race delineations we often default to when we think of what an environmentalist looks like, saying “Hard-working people around the globe, people of modest means like my parents, are some of the best conservationists in the world because they can’t afford not to be.” And many of these choices can help us build our wealth in small, but efficient, ways.
Here are 4 sustainability hacks that Latinos have been doing forever and how they can help you stack that dinero.
Consuming Rice and Beans
Have you ever noticed how a lot of Americans talk about rice and beans like it’s a lesser meal? But we know this is the food that has sustained our families for centuries throughout LATAM. And while it’s obviously delicious, it’s also a sustainable meal choice. “Pound for pound, meat has a much higher water footprint than vegetables, grains or beans. A single pound of beef takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water to produce,” says Foodprint.org. It only takes 606 gallons of water to produce one pound of dried beans, according to Healable.
That’s a difference of 1194 gallons of water. And in a rapidly warming world, that water matters more than ever. The Colorado River supports 40 million people in seven U.S. states and two states in Mexico. The Colorado is drying up rapidly, due largely to overuse and drought.That means when you have rice and beans, you’re having a sustainable meal.
And have you seen food prices lately? Meat in particular is getting more expensive, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that will continue through the entire year. In fact, the USDA says to expect food-at-home (that’s how the USDA categorizes groceries) prices are predicted to increase 7.8 percent, with other meats predicted to increase 4.5 percent and poultry to increase by 3.4 percent.
So I’ll take my rice and beans, save my money, and leave some water in the Colorado while I’m at it.
Name one time you went to a family member’s house and didn’t leave with food. Exactly. It never happened. And this is a huge sustainable win for your wallet and our world. Household food waste adds up to 42 billion pounds of trash per year. That’s your grocery money literally going in the trash. The last time I was at my tia’s house, I left with rice, green beans in tomato sauce, and a Goya Malta. Because she always makes too much rice, and if I don’t take it, it will get trashed in three days. In a time of rising cost of living, communities that share food are more important than ever. Fortune Magazine estimates that a four-person household loses $1,500 a year in food waste.
If you invested even just $1,200 a year and got a 7 percent return for the next 20 years, that would become almost $50,000. And that’s $50,000 without having to work more — it’s just from not throwing out as much food.
Living with Family
Cohabitating with family members is much more common in in our community than white, non-Latinxs in the U.S., and it’s a huge money saver. The idea that everyone needs their own home is a more expensive (and isolating way) to live. When families live under the same roof, they can split the bills, they can utilize fewer resources for the same impact (meaning, there can be one household television, rather than each person in the family having their own tv in their own house, with their own cable bill.)
Division is more expensive, unity is cheaper. Median rent in the U.S. at the end of 2022 was $2,305, which was nearly five percent higher than a year earlier, according to brokerage HouseCanary. Living with family can afford you the chance to save money, while also creating a much smaller footprint on our world.
Connecting with the Land
Millions of Latinxs in the U.S. today work outside, and millions more have been in the same areas and on the same land for several generations. Our culture celebrates having a deep connection to our land and part of that means being the caretaker of it. Land familiarity is also a wealth hack in the bigger picture. We are more likely to be impacted by the negative effects of climate change than our white counterparts. Though we are spread out throughout the U.S., Latinxs make up a large portion of the population in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Florida, all places expected to get hotter over the coming years. Meanwhile, natural disasters like Hurricane Maria can devastate Caribbean islands like Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, causing water shortages, power outages, and crop destruction.
This connection, and urgency to protect our communities, has driven some Latinxs to found and lead sustainable initiatives. Mark Magaña is the Founding President & CEO of GreenLatinos, a National network of Latinx environmental and conservation advocates. He is the first Latino to have served as senior staff at both the White House and in Congressional leadership.
Irma R. Muñoz is the Founder/President of Mujeres de la Tierra – a culturally relevant environmental non-profit focused on healing la Madre Tierra and redefining the traditional “green” dialogue. She has developed guidelines and approaches for effective community engagement through using creative tools, and focuses on listening to communities to speak to what they need. She has served as a Governor’s appointee to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, and is the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s appointee to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
This kind of action is a wealth hack for the entire community. While individual action is essential to build personal wealth, no one succeeds alone. Especially not in the face of a hurricane. When we have community and legislative initiatives and laws that protect our food and housing, we have the opportunity to live safely and build wealth.
Reusing and upcycling clothing
Many of us grew up wearing hand-me-downs from cousins, aunts and uncles, and siblings. That’s true sustainability — getting the most out of something that already exists, instead of buying new. While you’re free to spend $100 on a slow fashion shirt, which helps support ethical business practices, learning to protect and style the clothing you get second hand is a huge money saving hack.
The average household in the U.S. spends about $120 per month on clothes, or $1,434 annually. Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year, The Atlantic reported. That is money literally going right in the trash. Shopping second-hand, or better yet, wearing Tia’s clothes from 1997, is much more sustainable and saves you money.
Say that instead of spending $120 a month, you spent $20 a month on clothes and invested $100. At an 8 percent interest rate, after 10 years you’d have $17,383.87, and after 30 years you’d have $135,939.85. That’s money that can be used to put your child through college, buy a house, or build generational wealth.
Sustainability doesn’t have to be $100 dresses or bamboo utensils. Sustainability is every day actions that add up, for the planet and for your money. We have this embedded in our cultura and in our lives already and it’s time the rest of the world catches on to make a better way of life for everyone for generations to come.