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Zero waste? There’s no such thing, says this sustainability advocate

Roanna Medina outlines the principles behind utilizing functional medicine and overcoming the challenges of sustainable living

Photos by Pat Mateo

The story of how Roanna Medina became a health coach and, eventually, the founder of a sustainable enterprise is a story about health—a reexamination of the beliefs people have about it, its deterioration and restoration, and the subsequent pursuit thereof. The latter is what takes up most of Medina’s time these days: She’s a licensed integrative nutrition health coach, a member of the Nutrigineering team (a nutrition and wellness company that uses the principles of functional medicine to fight chronic disease), and the proprietor of Humble Market, a store that provides options for sustainable living.

Most people aren’t familiar with integrative nutrition. What should they know about it?

Integrative nutrition is about learning as many dietary theories, nutrition perspectives, and different medical schools of thought. As integrative nutrition health coaches, we don’t specialize in any of these theories; just that general knowledge and awareness about these different nutrition and dietary theories and perspectives allow us to help clients work towards their goals. We integrate everything and then try to be that source of motivation and accountability for them.

What are the common misconceptions people have about your job? 

People have this assumption that we’re only concerned with diets; that we work like nutritionists and dietitians. But we practice a totally different kind of expertise. Our approach is more holistic—we help people focus on all areas of their life. So apart from diets I also help clients with spirituality, and with challenges in their relationships and their careers. All these different areas that, when off balance, can also affect their relationship with food, and ultimately, their overall health.

I want to keep reminding people that there’s really no such thing as zero-waste. It’s an ideal; it’s a goal. The term itself is already quite intimidating, and so we never use it when talking about our brand. Instead we use the term sustainable living in order to be more inclusive. The problem with the term zero-waste is that, when we see people who are very active in promoting their zero-waste lifestyle, there’s a tendency for us to think that ‘okay, that’s too big of a leap for me.’ But it’s something that we can work towards.

What spurred your interest in this kind of holistic approach to achieving better health?

In 2014, I was diagnosed with a toxic thyroid condition. My doctor said it was genetic, and so for almost three years I was on medication. I took meds, went for tests every two months, but I wasn’t getting better. I was scared of being dependent on drugs for the rest of my life, and I had a lot of questions about my condition: What really was the cause? Was there something that I had to stop eating? He said to just follow his prescriptions, but to me that wasn’t enough. And then I met Dr. Raymond Escalona, a functional medicine practitioner. He discovered that I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which was an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the thyroid. We addressed this through food, stress management, and mindfulness. In a matter of weeks, I got better. That experience made me want to learn more and become a health coach. There were so many others who were going through the same thing I did but didn’t have the same awareness given to me by functional medicine. I also later found out that doctors aren’t taught about nutrition in med school; they learned about drugs, and so there tends to be an over-reliance on prescriptions, which can be harmful. 

What’s a regular citizen’s recourse, then, if modern medicine is potentially harmful?

We all have to be critical of the information that we receive. So when you do go to a doctor, it helps to just always ask the right questions. Questions like, ‘is there something in my diet that I need to change?’ If you’re not getting the right answers from that doctor, move on to the next until you find one that can answer your questions. The good news is that there have been more medical practitioners shifting into the functional medicine paradigm; there are more doctors out there paying attention to nutrition. But besides doctors, there are dieticians and nutritionists who can advise you with what you should be eating—what would be good for your body. Be critical of fad diets you read about online. Diets like keto are marketed as effective because they worked for certain people, but the thing is, diets are not a one-size-fits-all thing. Our bodies are all different.

So what made you decide to start a store that champions sustainability?

It’s an extension of my coaching practice and of my healing process. One of the biggest challenges we’re currently facing is chronic disease, which is something that has a lot to do with being constantly exposed to environmental toxins. I want to help address chronic disease, and a step towards that is to be free of toxins as much as possible. So apart from changing my diet, I changed the products I used. I started with skin care products and toiletries, and that’s when I naturally gravitated towards more sustainable options. But after shifting to natural soaps and shampoos, I realized that they were still stored in plastic. Seeing these toxic materials, I thought that the next step would be to put shampoos and soaps in bulk containers.  That’s what became humble market.

To eliminate single-use waste, Humble Market offers products in bulk bins

Tell us more about Humble Market’s products.

Our aim is to provide as many options as possible to consumers who want to live more sustainably. We offer both food and non-food products. One of the biggest contributors to single-use waste is food packaging, so we try to eliminate that by offering our food products in bulk bins; we also encourage our customers to bring their own containers. Not all food products are organic since organic standards can be very rigid, but the minimum standard is all-natural. They’re all free of artificial preservatives. As for the non-food products, they’re foodware, personal care, and home products that are packaged in reusable materials like paper or glass. Just basic necessities, which—if you see them in most stores—are normally packaged in plastic. We’re trying to be the alternative to that. 

Humble Market’s foodware

Have you found that people are generally welcoming to the idea of a package-free grocery store?

Yes. When I was just starting Humble Market, what I didn’t realize was that there was already a growing demand for products that championed sustainability and environmentalism. So now we’re seeing more and more that this is the perfect time for our business to operate, and I believe that more businesses like this will continue to pop up the next few years.

How do you change the perception of people who find sustainable living intimidating and unrealistic?

I want to keep reminding people that there’s really no such thing as zero-waste. It’s an ideal; it’s a goal. The term itself is already quite intimidating, and so we never use it when talking about our brand. Instead we use the term sustainable living in order to be more inclusive. The problem with the term zero-waste is that, when we see people who are very active in promoting their zero-waste lifestyle, there’s a tendency for us to think that ‘okay, that’s too big of a leap for me.’ But it’s something that we can work towards.

How can people do that? How can we become more responsible consumers?

By first looking at your own habits and routines and understanding that we’re all different—we all have different needs and goals. Take some time to look at the things that you consume everyday that contribute to your toxin exposure: your use of plastic, of products that are filled with preservatives and toxic ingredients. And start small; start with one thing. Like a basic thing is using bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. You just have to start somewhere.

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