Tracey Smith, advocate for simple living, answers questions
What work do you do?
I’m a writer and broadcaster on downshifting and sustainable living, and I also put together an awareness campaign called National Downshifting Week, which is this week. NDW is a grassroots awareness campaign, designed to encourage participants to “Slow Down and Green Up”! There’s a great quote I often use to sum it all up: “The more money you spend, the more time you have to be out there earning it and the less time you get to spend with the ones you love.”
How does it relate to the environment?
Both my writing/reporting and NDW give me the wonderful opportunity to inspire and encourage people to slow down and green up. I have never had such job satisfaction! My writing, and the campaign for that matter, can be picked up and practiced whether you live in Canada, Canberra, or Chelmsford in the U.K. All the fundamental points about embracing living with less and being kind to our local environment affect our global environment. This might explain why the second-highest readership I have after the U.K. is from America — California to be precise.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m just finishing a couple of films for Channel 5 News and am starting to work on a couple of projects with my local BBC to lower Somerset’s carbon footprint, which offers a great challenge. Also, I’ve been busy giving interviews about NDW — it’s funny being on both sides of the media fence every now and again.
NDW is in her third outing. Saturday was the first day of the campaign; it was “Sustainable Sausage Saturday,” and that has caused quite a buzz. Getting to a butcher or good food producer sustainably, buying locally reared sausages and enjoying them with friends — a nice way to kick it all off!
How do you get to work?
The commute is pretty low carbon. I leave the bedroom, flick the kettle for a cup of tea, fire up the computer and go to work in a tiny spare bedroom, which I share with the kids’ toys, the house filing, and the laundry.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
Long and winding is the answer — I’ll give you the potted highlights! My husband and I were living the usual suburban life: me at home raising our three young children and Ray doing a huge commute to London. He’d kiss the kids in the morning (they were asleep in bed) and come home to kiss them again (they were back in bed asleep). Our lives were running on parallel lines — very unfulfilling.
I was working on ways we could cut back our spending in every way, so as to relieve the financial pressure on his shoulders. I figured the less money we spent, the less time he’d have to be out there earning it and the more time we would have together as a family. We enjoyed and positively embraced living with less, because it gave us something far more precious: time. Then we moved to a 200-year-old knackered, tumbledown farmhouse, embarking on a self-sufficientish life, growing our own, rearing our own, (even killing our own), and living very simply. I documented this journey of discovery, realized there were so many ways people could benefit from making a few changes without moving anywhere, and decided to niche my writing accordingly.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in the east end of London — I’m a little cockney sparrow! Now I live in Somerset.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
I don’t really have a worst, but the most cringe-worthy was my first big interview on the BBC for Radio 4. I was chuffed to bits to have been asked on! I decided to make a list of “how to be happy” notes while I was waiting to go on air, and the bloke on before me was talking about his third failed suicide! It was very hard to focus and made me all the more determined to get my point out to cheer people up. I wanted to read all my notes! The poor interviewer didn’t stand a chance of getting a word in edgeways. I barely paused for breath and rattled it all out. Since then, I’ve never made notes for radio — if you know your subject, just open your mouth and let it find its flow.
What’s been the best?
Certainly one of the best was on my first NDW U.K. tour. I’d done a speaking thing up in Cumbria, after which I sat around the edge of Lake Windermere, pulled out my little stove, cooked up a soup, made a brew of tea, and just contemplated my navel in the peace and beauty of the lakes. Life and work balance holds the key to it all.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
Of late, probably Tony Blair with his limp-wristed comments on flying and carbon-offsetting your work and personal flights — which it didn’t look like he was actually doing, bizarrely enough.
Who is your environmental hero?
Well, it’s certainly not a politician. I’d say Tom and Barbara Good, from the BBC TV sitcom The Good Life, who continue to inspire thousands some 40 years on from when the program was first aired.
What’s your environmental vice?
Having the odd bath. But it’s generally with a friend, so that’s not quite so bad.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Read any good books lately?
I make lots of free time. I love reading, cooking, and trawling around my local charity shops for books and cooking bits.
Good books I’ve read lately include Your Planet Needs You by Jon Symes and Phil Turner, Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way by Charles Dowding, and The Jewel Garden by Monty and Sarah Don — a compelling read, that one.
What’s your favorite meal?
Quite possibly baked beans, on well-buttered toast with a sprinkling of grated cheese!
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
Actually, to be honest, I think I’m entirely un-stereotypical. I’m just a regular mum, wife, and lover of the planet.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The craggy and vibrant rock pools at Lyme Regis on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
What’s your favorite movie?
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
Blimey, there’s nothing like being optimistic, eh! Probably Nadia Sawalha.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Print out the Downshifting Manifesto, stick it up on your fridge, chart your continued success toward a simpler, happier life, and inspire everyone who enters your kitchen to slow down and green up!