By Christopher Deere

It’s not easy being green, or so the saying goes. It’s surely not always easy to make sense of the countless messages that are being sent out about how we need to live if we are not to place too great a strain upon the world around us. It almost seems that there is too much to do if we are ever to change our way of life for the greater good.


Someone who is seeking to simplify the means as well as the message is Maria Hannaford, a young Melbourne woman who uses the power of social media to convey her concerns about and her solutions to the dilemma of how we are to live in an ecologically sustainable way. As the producer of The Society Co. and a resident campaigner at Sustainable Table, a healthy food consumer organisation, Maria believes that she can act as a guide to people in their everyday choices for better living.


“I guess my ultimate goal is to show people that there isn’t just this one way of living,” she explains when I ask about how she regards her role. “I think that we all live encapsulated in the consumerist, capitalist model, and most people just go about it without looking at the model or thinking twice about it.”


Thinking twice – or thinking more carefully – is very much a creed for the habit of living that Maria is trying to encourage in others. By way of the articles in her blog, and through her work with Sustainable Table, Maria is on something of a mission to show the world how a healthy lifestyle can be achieved. Her efforts and effectiveness are largely brought to bear by the reach of the internet and its influence in the everyday lives of so many people.


“One voice can make a difference, and I think that’s the power of blogging these days,” she says as a way of defining her online activism. “Social media and blogging has the benefit that you can share your voice to an infinite number of people, and it can make a difference to people’s lives.”


Ranging from how to find and cook fresh food to living a toxin-free lifestyle, her work aims to inspire a sense of mindfulness that can lead to lightening our impact on the wider environment.


My parents grew up in small villages in Greece where the sort of lifestyle that we consider hip and eco, it was just a way of life there.”


Maria credits part of her outlook to her background as the child of migrants who took nothing for granted and made the most of very little. “I consider myself lucky that I grew up in a household where my parents were really aware of the food that we were consuming,“ she explains. “They grew up in small villages in Greece where the sort of lifestyle that we consider hip and eco, it was just a way of life there: they grew their own food, there was no such thing as chemicals in food, my Mum didn’t wear make-up. When they moved here they moved into a regular suburban block but they grew all their own vegetables in the back yard, which back then wasn’t really that popular.”


It was while working at SANE Australia for a couple of years during her late twenties that Maria more clearly formed her holistic outlook, and began writing her blog. “Through working with SANE I became more aware of the connection between mental health, and mental well-being, and physical well-being, with the environment,“ she says. “People who were living with mental illnesses benefited greatly from spending time outdoors, and so that heightened my awareness of that connection.”


Maria left SANE to become the communications and research co-ordinator at Sustainable Table, almost as an accident after starting to produce her online postings. Her offer to provide content material was met with the counter-offer of a part-time position; so now Maria spends two days a week at the Clifton Hill office, reinforcing her ideas about healthy food choices and organising charity campaigns about sensible dining and minimising food waste.


Until only about a month ago, her blog was known as Econest. Maria is almost sheepish as she reveals why she changed the name. “I want to trick people into thinking it’s not an eco-blog,“ she says, and a curled smile plays at the edge of her mouth. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed, and only attract people that want to learn about ethics and sustainability and the environment. I want it to just look like, and feel like, a regular lifestyle blog: fun and different, and inspiring.”


Perhaps Maria serves as her own best example for the philosophy that she is endeavouring to express and enact. As she says, “The more that time passes, the more I’m glad that I went down this path.”


Christopher Deere is a freelance writer and photographer, living and working in Melbourne. His words and pictures have appeared in a variety of publications over the last thirty years, from Meanjin to The Weekend Australian to The Canberra Times. His search for stories has taken him from the public housing estates of Northcote to the refugee camps on Thailand’s border with Burma, or sometimes no further away than his own kitchen table.

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