Episode 106

Lilly Tong ·  Rising up to Climate Action

“A big part of making peace with the world is recognizing and rehabilitating our relationship with our disease planet.”

Lilly Tong is a Chinese-Canadian climate activist, creative and the first Asian Youtuber and Podcaster in the world to focus on tackling climate change. She runs a one-woman show, Make Peas Not Beef, where her mission is to use her humour and creativity to create educational content that makes climate action fun and relatable to the average person. Lilly is excited to bring billions of people of color into the climate movement with her as to accelerate our transition into a post-carbon world.


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Podcast Transcript

Lilly Tong

[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi everyone, welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! Today, we have a very special guest with us. Her name is Lilly Tong. Lilly is a Chinese Canadian climate activist, creative, and the first Asian YouTuber and podcaster in the world to focus on tackling climate change. She runs a one-woman show Make Peas Not Beef, her mission is to use her humor and creativity to create educational content that makes climate action fun and relatable to the average person. Lilly is excited to bring billions of people of color into the climate movement with her to celebrate our transition into a post-carbon world. Lilly, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:44] Lilly Tong: Thank you so much Maggie, and I’m so excited to be here. This is like a dream come true. I’ve been following the Asian Hustle Network for a while now, and I’ve listened to quite a few episodes. So I’m super excited to be here. Thank you so much. 

[00:00:54] Bryan Pham: That is amazing. Thank you so much for being our supporter.

We appreciate you so much, but during this podcast, we want to hear more about you. What was your upbringing light and where did this activism come from? Is this something that your parents taught you or something that you’ve come to realize as you grew older and started observing. 

[00:01:12] Lilly Tong: Absolutely. That is a great question.

Yeah. So I’ll just tell everybody a little bit about who I am and where I’m from in my story. Hey everyone. My name is Lilly AKA, the dopest chick on the planet. By the way that’s my new nickname given to me by my good friend, Owen. Shout out to Owen. I have to give him credit for it. So actually, before I introduce myself, I just want to say I am so happy to be here.

I’ve always dreamed of being on Asian Hustle Network. This is a dream come true. Like I’ve said, I’m truly honored. And I’m actually a big fan of the show, a big fan of Bryan and Maggie and what you guys are doing to uplift the Asian community. Bryan has been an incredible mentor to me and I follow your show and I’ve listened to some of your recent episodes and I love the one with Christo.

Oh my gosh. He’s so savage in the second half. And he’s just brilliant. I laughed so hard when he said eat dust. And so I had to follow him on clubhouse right after. And then there’s the one with, yeah. Slice and Rice was really fun. Slice and Rice has over a million followers on YouTube, so it was just so eye-opening to see a different side of Matt and Glory’s dynamic behind the scenes, not only as husband and wife and also as business partners.

And then there’s the one with James Lee, which was really inspiring. And I love how he just walked into a board meeting without knowing that it was going to be a board meeting. And it’s usually that Asian parents don’t like to see the doctor, even though they want us to be doctors. So love the content you guys are putting.

Yeah, so thank you. Yeah, as for me, my name is Lilly Tong. I am a climate activist, a multi-faceted creative, software engineer, and I am the first Asian YouTuber and podcast in the world, as Maggie and Bryan said, to have a show dedicated to solving climate change. So I run a one-woman show and podcast and YouTube channel called Make Peas Not Beef, Not Beef.

And it’s a fun and informative podcast that focuses on climate change and climate solutions also a plant-based lifestyle. But I also talk about tech and culture and self-development because my goal is to make my content fun and relatable and digestible to the average person. So the name Make Peas Not Beef, Not Beef as a pun. It actually means eat plants, not meat, and also Make Peas Not Beef not war so the theme with my podcast is about making peace with ourselves and the world around us. And a big part of making peace with the world is recognizing and rehabilitating our relationship with our diseased planet. Unfortunately, I’m not an entrepreneur yet because I don’t make money yet, but my ultimate goal is not necessarily to make a profit but to generate enough income so I can sustain myself and keep doing what I’m doing.

Diving into my upbringing and story. I was born in 1993 in Beijing, the bustling capital city of China. And I actually grew up during a period of rapid urbanization where the environment took a back seat to economic development. So I grew up witnessing the rise of skyscrapers and the demise of nature and environmental degradation.

So water scarcity, sandstorms, smog, air pollution, and food waste. These were major ramp and problems that played a booming Beijing. So growing up, I remember seeing Science everywhere in public spaces. And schools, to save water and save energy. The government was doing a really good job of spreading the message.

So I was diligently saving water and energy everywhere. I went and I became an environmentalist at the age of six or seven. Now at the age of 11, I immigrated to Toronto Canada with my mom. And I was just stunned by how wasteful people hear a war with resources in the west, right? Whether it’s food or water, electricity, and in Grade 8, so this was 2006. My science teachers showed me the inconvenient truth, and that was my first time learning about climate change. And I remember I immediately became alarmed the scene of a polar bear drifting on ice just never left me. But, at the time there was still so much debate going on as to whether or not climate change is real.

So all this disinformation really slowed our progress when we could have been working on it the entire time. I just remember, even in high school, I was aware of climate change and I briefly entertained the idea of becoming the minister of environment one day. But the problem just seems so far-fetched and I did not have an adequate understanding of climate change at the time.

And, on top of that, having Asian parents that emphasize practicality and financial stability, I chose software engineering as my major university, partially because I knew the career prospects were great, but also because I really did enjoy computer science and programming. Computer science was just fascinating to me, Bryan, I’m sure.

Because you studied it, right? Because it could solve a wide array of problems from, fraud detection to Netflix recommendation with machine learning, to predictive modeling to online dating. It was such a versatile tool to have at my disposal. So I went with that and graduated with a degree in software engineering.

And then after that, I briefly worked in consulting before deciding I’m not cut for the corporate world. So then I went back to working as a software engineer at a tech startup, and now I work at Vice Media, full time. Over the years, I continued to follow the news and climate change. And as climate change unfolded rapidly into an existential crisis, I can’t help but wonder what can I do to help mitigate or even reverse this crisis.

But no one around me seemed to care about climate change. And that really frustrated me. And it made me realize that there was a gaping void in climate education and awareness because your average person, I realized. is severely undereducated on climate change. And they’re dangerously unaware of the magnitude of the threat here.

This includes my very parents and there was a growing voice at the back of my head getting louder and louder. That’s urging me to do something about it if no one else will. Back in 2019, I actually applied for the master of public policy program at Harvard Kennedy School, hoping to focus on climate policy.

And the good news was I was admitted in March 2020, but to dampen my excitement because of COVID-19 Harvard said, you either start virtual school in the fall or you have to take a two-year deferral. So I kinda knew I had no choice, but to take the two-year deferral, because the whole point of going to grad school was to network for the experience, right?

Like I’m not going to take a bunch of zoom lessons and pay 200 K for it. So at first, I was really lost. I was like what am I going to do for the next two years? At the time I already told my boss, I was going to quit my job and go to grad school and work in climate change everybody was like congratulating me.

So it was super awkward to go back to my boss and say, Hey, can I have my job back? Fortunately, he said yes, but anyway, I knew I didn’t want to wait and I couldn’t afford to wait another two years to start working on climate change. And I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts in the past few years. So this concept of starting my own podcast has been brewing in my mind for quite a bit.

And I knew I wanted to spread the word on climate change and climate action. So I finally decided to start my own show in December 2020, and I published my first episode in January 2021. And from that moment on. Make Peas Not Beef was born. So I guess the deferral was a blessing in disguise after all. Sorry. That was a very long answer., 

[00:08:00] Bryan Pham: No, it’s absolutely amazing. And everything you said is very relatable to my life, at least. Cause we both worked in tech. I think all of us here worked in tech and what we saw was like, it’s so wasteful, every time you have company events, people throw away barrels and plates and giant plates, metal plates of food. And you’re like, oh my God.

[00:08:21] Maggie Chui: Yeah, for sure. Bryan was working in tech before me. And he would always tell me like every day when he gets off work when people don’t finish like the donuts or the pastries, they just throw it away. And I didn’t believe him at first because I was working in local government so they didn’t give out free lunches and stuff like that. But when I did start working, oh, my gosh, Bryan. You’re right. Like they just throw out everything and it’s so sad!

[00:08:42] Lilly Tong: I know. And that’s part of the perks of working. That’s why a lot of people go to these tech companies,

[00:08:46] Bryan Pham: Yeah. It’s very upsetting to see so much wasteful activity at work. And, the thing is, they only let you like take the food out and give it to like the homeless people around San Francisco, because it’s against a policy is it’s the liability, essentially, because if someone eats the food for a company and they get sick, they can sue the company. So they read it, just take that risk of just throwing the food away.

But I was really curious about like, how’s this illegal and it turns out it’s a made-up rule. It’s not illegal in the United States to give out food or something because a lot of people that work at donut shops– I don’t want to mention any donut shop names. I don’t want to be seen in the podcast, but only people on TikTok are really aware of this.

And they’re like, oh, I work at a donut shop. I had a third way. I tuned the dollars today. And I was watching a huge, YouTube series on this. Is it illegal? And it turns out. So there’s a lot of misinformation already about giving away food to people that need it. That’s crazy.

And I really love the fact that you’re so aware and you’re on this path of doing something about it before. It’s something that we know it’s wrong, but we just accept it as the way it is. And before we dive deep into that, I really want to dive deep into the name of your podcast even more because that itself is, it brings up more awareness.

And I want to give you an opportunity to talk about why you picked that name and what that means for our global environment to have a podcast name like that. 

[00:10:08] Lilly Tong: Wow. Thank you so much. First of all, I completely agree with you. There are just so many practices that we do. Not only not because it’s right, but because no one ever bothered to question, right?

Like why are we throwing food away when we could be giving it to the homeless shelters? So I’m really glad you brought that point on, the interesting thing is. I learned about this a while ago, but there was a year when H&M had a bunch of unsold clothes… So these were perfectly fine clothing, but they cut holes in them so that no one can wear them before they dumped them into landfills.

It’s just ridiculous. And meanwhile, there are people who are starving, who don’t have clothes to wear. And that’s why I wanted to study public policy. Like how can we make better policies so that there’s less misallocation of resources. But yes, to answer your question about my podcast name, Make Peas Not Beef.

So before I came up with the podcast name, I came up with a list of all the possible names and what I was gonna go with. And I knew I wanted to have a podcast that talks about climate change, but also I became vegan last year. And I had a huge vegan awakening because, for the longest time, I did not understand why people went vegan.

I thought it was a trend. And especially just seeing how most vegan bloggers online were these like rich white people. I thought it was like a trend for the privileged people, but I saw this YouTube video that kind of exposed animal agriculture, animal farming. And ever since I learned about what was really going on in the dairy industry, I went cold turkey. Overnight I became a vegan and there’s just no looking back. Because now knowing what I’m contributing to. Anyway, I wanted to start a podcast to also talk about veganism and talk about why I decided to adopt a plant-based lifestyle for an ethical environment, and also for health reasons. So I was thinking Make Peas Not Beef, first of all, it rhymes.

It’s you can literally weave it into part of it like a rap freestyle, if you ever go to a rap battle, but it’s catchy, it rhymes. And also it sends out a powerful message. I think it’s so crafty how I came up with it. And to be honest, I don’t, I didn’t overthink it. It was just like, Make Peas Not Beef, while why not make the peace P E A S to emphasize on the fact that I am vegan and I’m trying to promote a plant-based lifestyle, but also make peace, not war and then beef also means conflict, right? Like you don’t want to have a beef with someone. So yeah, that’s how I came up with that name and the message I’m trying to spread is making peace with ourselves and the world. I think there are two levels: making peace with ourselves first and foremost.

This is why I talk about self-development. I also talk about mental health. I think before you can try to solve the bigger problems in the world, you have to make sure you take good care of yourself first and foremost. And then the next level is making peace with the external world around us, the people around this, the animals, the planet, and the environment that we’re in.

[00:12:39] Bryan Pham: I liked that name a lot. And the fact that you chose Make Peas Not Beef, I think we talked about this at of the first times we met was like, beef consumption actually harms the environment a lot. And I don’t think a lot of people know about it. It’s it takes so much water, energy, grass material to grow beef.

That’s very harmful to the world, essentially. And I really liked the fact that you put more emphasis on that. 

[00:13:05] Lilly Tong: Absolutely. And I was going to mention this, but most people don’t know. I’m not sure if you saw it in the news recently that the Amazon for us now emits more CO2 than an absorbs in certain parts.

And actually, cattle farming is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon forest because loggers deliberately clear parts of the forest to make space for livestock farming. So you’re right. And then there’s methane. 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to CO2, which contributes to climate change and cow farts are the primary source of methane right now in our culture. So how far it’s too, and also 95% of it comes from birds actually. Yes. Also cow farts. 

[00:13:44] Maggie Chui: So I love that you shared that you turned vegan. And I think that there is a really big debate between You as a vegan yourself, trying to educate others about why it’s important to turn vegan.

And I think that there are people, definitely, people out there who were never turned vegan, but they’re down to try it, for a couple of months or so. I think for those people who are not willing to do it at all, what would you say is like the things that we can do to be more conscious and aware of our beef consumption so that we could, be more aware of what we’re intaking, what we’re consuming?

[00:14:15] Lilly Tong: Oh, I love that question, Maggie. And there are so many nuances that get lost. When I tell people I’m a vegan, they immediately treat me as this angry preachy person. And because veganism is almost seen as a religion nowadays, people are very divided on it. But how I see it as I think everyone should do the best that we can to help combat this crisis, do whatever you can. And whenever I talk about people going vegan, I’m in my head, I understand that there are so many indigenous communities and there are certain parts of the world that really rely on meat and seafood consumption to survive. And they don’t necessarily have the option or financial means to go vegan.

We are lucky to be living in the Western world where there are so many vegan options beyond meat. But. The landscape looks very different, right? Whereas if you’re someone from Latin America or in the global south, where if you’re a Japanese and you’ve relied on seafood all your life.

So I guess when I’m trying to promote veganism, I’m saying the Western world, all of us were privileged. We live in developed countries. We do have the financial means to afford, to make that switch. We should make that first because we are responsible for the majority of carbon emissions.

I encourage step one is to reduce meat and dairy consumption. I think it’s very hard for someone to go vegan overnight. And it’s a journey. The more you learn about the impact of animal agriculture, the more inclined you are to make that switch. So maybe you can start with having meatless.

Cut meat and dairy out of your diet for one day, make a plant-based switch. I read this crazy statistic that said, like beyond meat posted this statistic that said if every American ate a plant-based burger, instead of a meat burger, just once a week, it would be equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road in terms of carbon emissions.

Yeah. That’s how powerful it is. And another thing people don’t realize is that. Animal farming is the primary cause of a lot of the pandemics that we have around the world like animals are crammed in these tiny cages. And 80% of all antibiotics in the states are used for livestock, right?

Or they’re used for animals to prevent them from getting catching diseases in these cramped farms. So it’s not even for human consumption. And then when you eat this meat, you eat all the steroids and all the antibiotics. That’s taken into your body. So there are adverse health effects of that as well.

So I guess your point, I just try to educate people, on the health, environmental, and also ethical benefits of going vegan.

[00:16:25] Bryan Pham: That’s super important. I think education is really important, but also I’m gonna ask a very controversial question right now. I feel like these big industries are worth billions of dollars.

And they make a huge effort to convey to people that oh, Meat is better. Don’t be vegan, vegans, horrible, because these are at the end of the day, the big corporations have access to a lot of resources of buns and they’ll do anything to meet you. How would you go around, go about taking on these big corporations in the future?

And I fully believe that everyone has a part and influence to change the world. But it’s really difficult when you’re going against these corporations who have a lot of resources against you. What is your way of bringing out this message and educating the public and what’s going on with our climate?

[00:17:09] Lilly Tong: Wow. That is such a difficult question. And it’s a question that activists like myself and I have so many friends who are activists. We think about it daily. How are we going to go up against these corporations when there are billions of dollars of subsidies that go into the animal agriculture industry every single year, right?

Meat and dairy, and even the seafood industry. These are industries that are heavily subsidized globally. So fun fact, the global substance. Around seafood is around 35 billion. And then UN estimated that it only takes 30 billion to solve world hunger. So if we stop subsidizing the seafood industry and instead put that money towards solving global famine, we would have done it. But now there’s a lack of political will, which is why I’ve decided to study public policy, out of everything. I think the most important thing is I hate to say it, but we live in a superficial world. And I think as Asians, we are brought up to be practical. And I think this is where it serves me.

Because I know that. Proximity to a prestigious institution like Harvard and I’m being super real here with everybody. It’s less. So the degree I care about, but more, I think how the degree can serve me, in my ambitions long-term to help solve climate change. And I know that.

People are more likely to see me as an authority figure when I have that credential when I speak to people. Cause like you said, when I’m going up against policymakers, they’re going to say what makes you qualified to speak on this topic, which is why I want to make sure that I first acquired the necessary education myself to be qualified, to talk about this.

When I go up against policymakers and perhaps in the future, I might become a lobbyist. That is a possibility, depending on how bad the situation gets. But on the other hand, this is why I love your podcast and why I love how it uplifts entrepreneurs. I believe that more so than policymakers, it is going to be entrepreneurs who change the world because let’s be real, political progress is very sluggish, especially in a Western civilized democracy when there are so many parties, we all know how hard it is to get a bill passed in the Congress. Both sides have to vote and agree. And then the Senator has to ratify it. And then sometimes the president might veto, and so it goes back. Just look at the infrastructure deal on how long it took Biden, for the president for that to get signed.

And even then that the Democrats were working on a reconciliation bill right now, because they’re saying there are not enough climate provisions in the first draft of the infrastructure bills. So in my head, I’m like, if I became an entrepreneur, then I can bypass all of this political red tape.

I can create a product that is a better alternative to meat, right? Assuming I became a plant-based entrepreneur, right? That’s an option you have. And if your product is commercially viable and it tastes better and it’s cheaper, consumers are naturally going to offer that. So you don’t need to pass a law that says you have to go vegan. Here’s a better and healthier option for you and let the consumers pick. 

[00:19:42] Maggie Chui: I love that. Yeah. I love that mindset. I personally, as I mentioned, I’ve worked in local government, so I know how slow things move in politics and yes, you’re right. It has to go through so many layers of approval for every single bill.

And I love that you bring up that, entrepreneurs have the power to rally good impact because they have the power to just create a product, market it out to their audience and then they have direct access to their consumers. 

[00:20:06] Bryan Pham: Yeah, I think you also bring up a really good point too. Unfortunately, we also live in a very superficial world where, oh, you went to Harvard, you must know what you’re talking about. Or you would just answer it, blah, blah, blah. And I think it is the right approach. But at the same time, it’s that you should never underestimate your voice and what you can do as an individual, so I think you’re playing your cards. But at the same time, it’s like those who don’t have the option to go to this prestigious four east, you have a voice. And you used power to influence, everyone has a different path, but I think what you’re going about is right. So just to follow up a question too, it’s as you’re taking on these big corporations, I think you offer really good approaches and solutions to the problem.

How can you enable other activists to fall in the path that you want to do, right? Because of the hardest thing. Okay. Not only convincing the government, to convince the peers around you, like, how do you go about educating your activist peers, the planet-hosting rallies, you just folks going to folks in podcasts, you, how do you form a lobby co committee?

What does it even mean for those who are not in government? Like how do we form lobby teams to petition these things? Because most lobby teams, as we know, are formed by corporations that have millions of dollars to fund the lobby team to fly everywhere. I don’t know that this is my own opinion here and bribe the politicians to pick one policy.

So how do you, how would you do it from a grassroots approach? 

[00:21:27] Lilly Tong: Oh, such a good question, man. I feel like I’m not qualified enough to answer that question. I’ve only been an activist for how long I’ve only been public about my activism for less than like maybe a year or two, but I want to quickly address one of the previous points you brought up.

I totally agree with you, Bryan. Like we live in the age of the internet. You don’t need a prestigious degree from Harvard, to be able to have a platform and a voice, right? So I completely agree with you. It’s not necessary, the funny thing is. Since we’re on Asian Hustle Network.

I’m pretty sure my dad is he could care less about my climate activism. He cares more about the fact that, oh, my daughter got into Harvard, I’m like, you don’t even understand the impact of the work I’m doing. It’s not even about Harvard. Like Harvard is a stepping stone to get me to be able to scale the impact of my work.

But like a lot of Asian parents, they would be like, oh, congratulations, your daughter got into Harvard. She’s amazing. I’m like, yeah, but that’s not where my amazingness lies. You have to see the value of my work and my pockets and all the reasons, but yeah. A lot of times people are, do you take you at face value, but this is what I say.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it opens so many doors for me, right? Because of that, people might give you opportunities and then they get you to actually know me on a deeper level and understand the impact of my work. So whatever it takes to grab people’s attention, to get them to pay attention to this issue, I’m willing to do that.

But yes, going back to activism and lobbying. Can I talk a little bit more about my podcast? Because I think I have a very different approach to activism. So I want to first talk about the mission of my podcast a little bit and how I approach things. So the main mission of my podcast and my show is not only to spread climate awareness.

But discuss the solutions and inspire actions. That we can all take to help combat this crisis and have fun while doing it. I think that’s where I do things very differently. There’s always an entertainment component to my podcasts if I’m sure Bryan follows me on Instagram. We’re at comedy and levity to climate education.

I don’t think anyone else does this. Cause I’ve listened to a ton of energy and technology podcasts, and most other podcasts and climate change approach, the topic of climate change from a very serious scientific and authoritative angle. And unless you’re an expert in that area, you’re probably gonna fall asleep like five minutes listening to the podcast.

It’s very informative, but it’s just so hard to digest. For example, on my most recent episode 33, where I did a movie review of Seaspiracy with my friends. I like randomly talked about J-Lo, which has nothing to do with climate because that’s just where the conversation was headed. And we were having fun talking about Puerto Rican culture.

So I’m like, oh, JLo is Puerto Rican. I’m not afraid to humanize myself and show my audience that I am a human being first and foremost. And I have a personality and I have interests outside of climate change too. I think that’s the most important thing as an activist and you have to relate to everybody like a human being first and foremost and sympathize with their needs.

And I think a lot of activists, especially vegan activists, forget that once they take on an identity of a vegan, they start to isolate themselves from everybody else and say, you’re doing it wrong. Like how can you eat meat and dairy? Like you’re promoting animal cruelty, but I think if you really want to make your messaging effective, you have to first show the other person that, look you and me, we have a lot more in common than you think. Forget the fact that I am an activist. I am a human being just like you, except I am very concerned about the situation. I’m trying to do something about it. So I think that relatability factor is really important. And a lot of activists forget that once they start activism because now they’re starting to isolate themselves from everybody else.

They’re like, I need to be the person to make a difference. So I need to do something different from everybody else. As soon as you lose that relatability factor, you lose your ability to influence others. Sometimes I think like it’s very polarized either you influence them, but then they put you on a pedestal or, everybody else blocks you out because they think you’re too extreme and too radical.

[00:25:03] Bryan Pham: Let’s hear that again. You just put up a strong point, relatability. It’s so important for us to convey any sort of message for any chance. Not just climate change as for anything we do. It’s no one can relate to, no one will support you.

[00:25:20] Lilly Tong: Exactly. And This is why I love what you’re doing with your podcast. Like everything you talk about, you feature a wide range of entrepreneurs, but then I can definitely relate to the experience. Not only just being Asian, but like being brought up in America. I think that’s something that every one of us living in North America has experienced, right? Whether it’s discrimination or those hardships, we can all relate to that. 

[00:25:37] Maggie Chui: I love that you brought that up because it’s like climate change is already such a heavy topic that, you mentioned that you bring in humor to it. So I feel like as soon as people who don’t even have a lot of knowledge or background on climate change and then listen to podcasts that are extremely heavy or like they victimize people who eat beef, for me, like they already detached from it. They’re like, oh, I don’t want to listen to this. Because I’m trying to, I’m trying to learn something, but I ended up being victimized. That’s okay, I don’t even want to listen to it, but I love that you bring in humor, you bring in through relatability right.

Just recognizing that we’re all the same people. We’re all humans. We’re all trying to we all have the same goals. We all want to live on a healthy planet, so that relatability piece is so important. 

[00:26:14] Lilly Tong: Absolutely Maggie. And to your point, I can never shame someone who’s not a vegan because I was not a vegan once upon a time I ate meat and dairy up until very recently. So I always remind myself where I came from. That doesn’t mean I was a bad person before I was just, I was not aware. I didn’t know. And now I know that I would make better choices. So I think it’s the same for everybody. I think humans, we’re all born to be compassionate. I genuinely believe that we’re all born good. But sometimes it’s ignorance and unawareness that’s what leads to bad decision making. And as Bryan said, there are so many big industries with false advertising and misinformation, and there’s like billions of dollars that go into these marketing campaigns. And that’s what confuses and leads us to make less optimal decisions.

So my job as an activist is to lay out the facts and say, look, I present the evidence and facts, and that hopefully will empower you to make better decisions for yourself and the planet and everything around that. 

[00:27:03] Bryan Pham: Yeah, this is a topic I’m very particularly passionate about too. And I do want to challenge your listeners and in this particular podcast to look up some type of marketing for anything that any products that you buy.

You look up the history of the toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, the seafood industry, the beef industry, the chicken industry that’s heavily marketed, and there are very few facts. That’s the whole point of their marketing scheme is to say, you need, this is the human need. It’s good for you.

You’re going to be socially accepted, but over time it just evolved in say something that’s such a money-driven industry. Half of it is false information. I’m telling you the truth here. Half is false information. So look into the products you buy every day and wonder why you use them because you go back far enough from history, maybe like a hundred years before a lot of people didn’t wash your hair every day.

A lot of good to brush your teeth every day. It’s like scientifically if you were to eat an apple, it’s, your teeth are just as clean as brushing your teeth. Isn’t that crazy. Yeah, 

[00:28:06] Lilly Tong: it is. It is. And there’s so much of we’re not even aware of it, right? Like you’re so right about that. We don’t even realize how much marketing there is going around me. Like convincing us that we need all these products, like you said, to be socially accepted. And that’s such a powerful factor that determines what we buy. A lot of times we don’t even realize. I feel like I have to own it because all my friends have it. So therefore it’s cool. And I don’t want to be an outcast.

And to this day, like my family, I’m Chinese, obviously. So if I tell my parents that I’m vegan, they absolutely think I’m going crazy. Or that I have subscribed to some occult science. Like, why are you trying to be weird? Why are you trying to be different? I feel like every Asian parent is so afraid that their kid is going to turn out to be an outcast, but I’m like no parents it’s because I can think critically and independently, I can think for myself. And that’s why I chose to be a vegan. 

Yeah, that’s awesome. As for the next question, I’m gonna dive deep into it’s yourself. I’m going to ask you a couple of personal questions. The first thing is do you see yourself more as a featured activist or more of an entrepreneur? I know that you mentioned earlier that entrepreneurs drive changes, but at the same time, what you’re doing now is heavy activism, right?

I’m curious from your point of view, what do you see yourself in five to 10 years? And what is your heart telling you to do? Is it telling you to go out there and create sustainability? Where you’re focusing on a very niche part of the industry, or is your heart telling you to go out and empower other people to make a change, or do you want to do a combination of both? I’m just very curious.

Once again, another great question. So personally, do I see myself as an activist and entrepreneur? I see myself as creative, so I guess both because as a creative, I’m a storyteller. And so through my storytelling, that’s where the activism part comes in. I do a lot of research and then I present it in a digestible way, but obviously I have to be practical about my finances.

So I do eventually plan to start a nonprofit or perhaps a business. Personally though, just knowing where my strengths lie. I don’t see myself necessarily creating a product that’s going to help solve climate change. I think I’m going to focus more on the education piece because I think that’s equally important.

If you don’t educate your consumers, then what’s going to incentivize them to buy all these sustainable products and solutions that other businesses have to offer. So I’m indirectly helping these sustainable entrepreneurs reach economies of scale, by cultivating a consumer base for them. Am I going to become an entrepreneur? Yes, but not in the sense that I will be coming up with some carbon removal technology. I don’t really see myself doing that. That’s not really [where] my strength lie, but I think my strength’s more of my creativity, my ability to like research, analyze, and really break down the facts. So I would say. Focusing more on the activism part of it. 

[00:30:38] Bryan Pham: I love it. I love it. And for those of us who are curious about learning more about like climate change, what kind of rec, what kind of recommendations or resources that we can look up as reliable? Right now, when you type in climate change in Google, you’re going to see an ongoing debate.

Oh, climate change as a whole it’s a bunch of lies. It’s real. It’s okay. Which resources out there that we can look up, that are actually reliable that you can offer to our listeners. 

[00:31:03] Lilly Tong: Ooh, that’s a good question. So it’s an interesting question because you know what most businesses and solutions to climate change don’t even include the keyword climate change.

For example, beyond meat, I would consider them a climate tech company, but you’re probably not going to find the word climate change anywhere on there, a product. Maybe if you dig deeper on their sustainability pledge or whatever, it might come up. So I think the key thing to realize here is that climate change is an issue that intersects with every area of our life, right? Every industry and sector can be decarbonized. And that’s the tricky thing because the problem is so vast and multidisciplinary like you said, the average person is having a very hard time visualizing and grasping climate change. If you go to Google and you type climate change, you’re going to get a bunch of articles that say oh, what is climate change?

What is global warming? Like the science behind climate change. This is how fast the Arctic is melting. But how is that going to affect us on a day-to-day basis when we’re living in shelter cities? And we don’t notice a change, even though yes, our planet is on fire and we really need to act so which is why I think my podcast, I really break it down and look at how each industry and sector intersects with climate change.

Like I talked about animal agriculture, food security, electric vehicles, transportation technology, policy, activism, education. Every single area can incorporate climate activism into it. But if you’re saying like, how can you if, how can the average person better understand the problem of climate change? Is that what you’re saying?

[00:32:29] Bryan Pham: Where can we find the resources to read factual stuff about climate change? That’s really difficult. That is very heavily influenced by these big players that don’t. People do not stop buying the right factual information out there. 

[00:32:44] Lilly Tong: Step one, I say, as a starter, if you’re a beginner, maybe check out my podcast, Make Peas Not Beef, not beat because I give an overview of what climate change really entails and how it intersects with different sectors.

Perhaps there is one specific industry that really interests you like fashion. Then you can look into fast fashion because the textile industry is the second biggest pollutant in the world. In terms of the use of petroleum and water, right? 70% of Asia’s rivers are polluted because of the denim industry. And so these are things that people don’t think about when they go buy jeans.

And I go, how does this have an environmental impact on the planet? But everything we touch in our life has an impact on the environment. I guess there are many aspects to it. There’s one, like you said, understanding the scientific facts around climate change, how quickly is our planet warming.

Then with that, you can go on a couple of websites, I would say. United Nations is always a good source. I would say you can look at the IPC report. It’s very long. It’s hard to understand it. There are news articles on it, but if you’re looking to have an overview understanding, I really recommend this book called On Fire by Naomi Klein. So Naomi Klein is a climate activist. She has produced multiple documentaries and books on climate change, and it’s a good way to ease yourself into climate change. There is a very scientific and factual book. It’s very dystopian, but except it’s nonfiction, it’s called the Uninhabitable Earth. It’s written by a New York journalist. His name is David Wallace Wells, and he lays out the projections of exactly what’s going to happen to our planet in the next a hundred years. I read the entire book in that. That was a terrifying experience. It’s just, wow. Knowing this is what’s going to happen.

It really made me panic for a second. And that’s also what inspired me to start Make Peas Not Beef. I’m like, wait a second. This is too gloom and doom. I don’t think your average person has the mental capacity and resilience to be able to deal with. How bleak this is. So how can I put a positive spin on it?

[00:34:29] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I really enjoyed this podcast. I think we’re screwed in some ways and part of me is very pessimistic. I feel like it is maybe a little bit too late and I saw a report recently to save that if we don’t make changes now, like if you guys ignore these warnings, now that we’re screwed as a planet. And I fully believe that. I think that it’s true. Honestly, think we’re not going to change in time. And when you look at stuff like electric cars are great for the environment, you look into the production of these batteries. I wouldn’t say it’s better than gasoline at all.

[00:34:57] Lilly Tong: It’s a very nuanced argument there. 

[00:34:59] Bryan Pham: Yeah, go ahead. 

[00:35:01] Maggie Chui: Oh, no. I was going to say, just on the topic of finding factual information and, your years and years of research and you hosting a podcast on climate change, I want to know what is the biggest misconception about climate change from the general audience from the general public? Like if you could pinpoint like the one biggest myth or misconception that you’ve come through over and over again, what would that be? 

[00:35:22] Lilly Tong: First of all, I have to convince 50% of the American population. That climate change is real. So I think the biggest misconception there is, there are still people, by the way, you won’t believe how many intelligent people I have come across over the years who still tell me, but what if climate change is a hoax to this day?

I’m not kidding. Like it still happens. Like some of my coworkers extremely brilliant software engineers still questioned it because. Spread a lot of information there. Oh, the earth goes through cycles on its own. So it’s not really up to us to intervene. And he made the irrelevant argument of the ice age and I’m like, that’s relevant because the next ice age is going to be 10,000 years from now.

So if you don’t add climate change is going to kill us in the next hundred years or so. But the biggest misconception about climate change, Ooh, that’s a tough one. I would say. It’s how the mainstream media frames it as a high-level complex farfetched environmental problem that is highly politicized. And because of this, most people have a hard time grasping it, right? People see this as a political issue. They think it has everything to do with the Republicans and Democrats. It is not a political issue. It is not even an environmental issue. It is a question of survival right now. I think the biggest takeaway I want my listeners to get from listening to this podcast is that climate change at this point is no longer just an environmental issue. If you care about the economy, it’s going to affect the economy. If you care about public health, it’s going to affect your health. This is the biggest existential barrier that humanity has to overcome. And at this point, it’s evolve or die. So I just want to emphasize that climate change is not an issue that only concerns those of us who are active as an environmentalist.

It concerns absolutely every single person on this planet. So I think that’s probably the biggest misconception that this is some high-level political issue that the governments and corporations trying to solve. No, we’re going to feel the impact of it. 

[00:37:06] Maggie Chui: Absolutely. I love that. Bryan also mentioned there’s a lot of marketing that goes on with like different products, and to be honest, like a lot of these products that we use, like shampoo, conditioner, whatever, they have so many different chemicals.

But now it’s. There’s a whole new, like plant base era that we’re that’s rising. I feel like plant-based diets and meals are on the rise. And I feel like, I’ve switched a lot of my products to plant-based too. Like a lot of my shampoos and like body wash and everything like that. Aside from like diet, what are the things that you do in your personal day-to-day life that you do to create like positive impact or climate action to promote sustainability?

[00:37:42] Lilly Tong: First of all, Maggie, I just want to quickly ask you, so what was your reason for switching.

[00:37:45] Maggie Chui: If I were to say like my reason, I have a skin condition. And so I started researching on a lot of the products that I use, like my shampoo, my conditioner, my body wash my hands, soap everything from like my dishwasher soap. And it all contained like these chemicals, these very hazardous chemicals. And they don’t tell you. Unless you read like the very fine print, right?

And it’s more harmful to your skin and your daily life than you think it is, but it’s because they want your skin or your body to become dependent on these products. And that’s why those ingredients are in there because it becomes attached to it becomes dependent on it. And that’s why you keep using it and buying it over and over again, which is why consumers continue to buy it, which, creates bigger pockets for these large organizations.

But I had to switch to a plant-based and all organic, all-natural because it’s just way more like gentle on my skin and, it’s just a lot healthier and I feel like it just creates more sustainability and it’s better for the climate. 

[00:38:40] Lilly Tong: Absolutely. You’re totally right about that. Like we’re so dependent on these skincare products. A lot of times, I’m not even sure if we need them. Bryan has said if eating an apple is the same thing as brushing your teeth, like, why do you need to go whiten your teeth every two months? But yes. I do have to agree with you. Like diet is probably the biggest change everyone can make right now to help combat the climate crisis.

A statistic that I dropped on my recent podcasts, seafood. Most people think oh, I’m going to go. Pescatarian is great. Like the seafood industry, first of all, there’s so much like syndicates and mafia and organized crime. And like slavery is involved in probably like all the shrimp you buy.

That’s imported from Thailand, but also there’s an area in the Pacific Ocean right now called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is three times the size of France and 46% of all the plastic there comes from fishing gear and fishing nets, right? So there are these massive trawlers like literally they just pull through the ocean and these trawlers are powerful enough to destroy a cathedral.

That’s how strong these fishing nets are. And imagine like you dragging that through the ocean and disturbing all the Marine life around it. So cutting seafood out of your diet. Probably one of the biggest ways you can help save the oceans and also reduce ocean plastic. But aside from diet, I talked about animal agriculture and the seafood industry, and dairy. I have a feeling a lot of, for listeners of this podcast, Asian Hustle Network, specifically, you probably all have investments somewhere mutual funds and stocks, and I’d recently listened to a podcast on decarbonizing the financial sector because once again, The financial sector and the banking industry is not something that we think about when it comes to climate change. You’re like, ho how does climate change relate to finance? But like I said, climate change intersects with every industry.

You’re probably investing in a portfolio that indirectly invests in I don’t know, oil and gas, mining operations, that are responsible for the oil spill somewhere. Recently I switched my investment portfolio to a socially responsible probably I, I still have to vet how socially responsible it is.

I don’t know. I need to talk to my fund manager, but being mindful of which companies you invest in because these companies have a widespread impact, especially if it’s a multinational. Excellent. If ExxonMobil is part of your portfolio, you are indirectly voting for this company to continue to exist and continue its practices.

So for anyone who has investments in mutual funds and stocks look into where exactly that money is going because that’s having an impact on the planet. So financial investments can help decarbonize. And the other thing I would say is literally buying less downsize. And this is such a first-world problem, right?

There are so many choices. We own so many things. And like our closet is not big enough for a wardrobe. Cause we have so many clothes and then companies like fast fashion companies are they’re deliberately making things go out of season so you can keep buying. So understanding that and not buying into this culture of consumerism. It’s challenging. This takes a cultural shift and this is very hard. I cannot do it by myself. I’m trying to do that with my podcast, convincing people to buy less. And which is why I appreciate that. Nowadays. There are so many entrepreneur printers promoting a circular sharing economy, right?

If you can share this resource with your neighbors and exchange goods instead of buying new ones. That’s really great. So looking for, food sharing apps or apps that allow you to share and borrow resources instead of buying. I think that’s important. So there’s this myth that our modern economy hinges upon, which is that resources on this planet are infinite and that we can extract to no end, and that is false. The amount of resources we have on this planet is finite and we are already depleting it. So whatever we can do to regenerate and sustain this.

[00:42:14] Bryan Pham: I absolutely agree with that. It’s very finite. It’s more fun than you really think it is, to be honest. And, I mean go deep into history. Why you’re a scholar, if you were colonized other countries because of the material, because you ran out with them, that’s a whole different topic that we don’t want to discuss here today. So I know in this podcast we talked a little bit, a lot about the negative impact of what we do in our decisions on the environment.

And for the most part, It’s still run a very positive platform. So what’s the silver lining for us. What is something positive that is trending in the right direction to where we can look back or look and reflect upon and be like, okay, even though the situation is very dire, what are some positive things that we can focus on that actually are making improvements on that we can celebrate as we continue to make progress on making our planet a better place?

[00:43:03] Lilly Tong: Absolutely. So first of all, yes. Cause I agree. It’s very easy for this conversation to get depressing. The first thing is just ever since I started my climate activism, I’ve met so many other like-minded individuals. We’re also working on this issue with me. So that makes me realize, oh, I’m not alone in this.

There’s a coalition out there. I’ve met people from across the world. And especially I have so much faith in Gen Z and Gen Alpha coming up, the younger folks, they are just so environmentally conscious. And I learned from them all the time. So funny thing is because this is Asian Hustle Network and we do want to uplift Asian voices.

So recently on my podcast, I haven’t released this episode yet. I already recorded it. I featured an all-Asian panel to talk about, “Do Asians Care About Climate Change?” Because I think, when I first started climate activism I noticed that there was a lack of diversity, right? In the climate movement.

I participated in a lot of climate movements, discussions, and a lot of these took place in the clubhouse. And a lot of the times I noticed I’m the only Asian person I’m on hundreds of Caucasian venture capitalists and like climate activists, entrepreneurs. Sometimes, I occasionally see Latino, African-American, and South Asian activists, but we’re definitely missing East Asians.

And at first, I was like, huh why is it that Asians just aren’t at the forefront of the climate movement is because we don’t care or is it because there’s a lack of education, or is it because there’s a lack of representation of Asians, which further discourages other Asians from getting involved? And if so, I want to become the face of Asian climate activists and inspire more Asians and Asian-Americans, and not just Asians, women of color, people of color to join me in the climate movement because this solution requires a pluralism of solutions from all communities and the more diverse we can make our solution that the faster we’re going to accelerate our progress. So that Asian, all Asian panel I did actually featured at Gen Z entrepreneur, she’s only 22 years old and she’s from Toronto.

And she started this business that makes reusable bubble tea cuffs and we’re going to be dropping some like staggering statistics. So Taiwan alone produces, I think, 1 billion plastic cups from bubble tea. Every year. So that’s probably the size of a Himalaya. I don’t know if you pile up all the garbage in Taiwan alone, think about it, a billion bubble tea cups, all of that going into landfills.

And I think ever since she started her business, I think she saved, she did a calculation. She saved 350,000 bubble tea comes from going to that. Which I think is pretty amazing. Exactly. So I’m like, wow, like gen Z is we give them so much shit for being sensitive and emotional. I like being so woke, but they’re changing the world because they realize it, like they inherited this mess right from us, from our parents.

And now they have to be the ones to take charge and really remodel and rethink. How, what kind of world we want to live in. So I’ve just met so many inspiring young people who are actually doing a lot of amazing things, way more amazing things than what I’m doing, entrepreneurs like you said. And I’m just, that really inspires me.

And I tell them like, look as millennials, I haven’t given up on climate change yet. Like I know it’s a pessimistic situation, but nowadays I focus a hundred percent of my time on being part of the solution and not amplifying the problem. I’m definitely hopeful because like I said, I’ve met amazing entrepreneurs and I really do believe that entrepreneurs are going to spearhead our transition into a post-carbon world.

And you guys feature so many amazing entrepreneurs on your podcast. I know you recently featured it. Was it Leanna Louie who is a sustainability entrepreneur, she’s in the skin care industry right now. She’s doing amazing things. And she had 10 videos on sustainability on YouTube. I saw that.

[00:46:30] Bryan Pham: Yeah, we do our part and definitely highlight more activism and sustainability entrepreneurs, because we are very concerned, the, over me before COVID as we flew around the world and we looked around outside the window and we’re like, holy cow, it’s melting. And it’s fricking hot up there. It’s real, it’s happening. How can we ignore something like this?

We’re so grateful to have you on and be so passionate then throughout the entire time the entire hour, you just give us a lot of green permission. So how can our listeners find out more about you and reach out to you to make a difference and find you?

Lilly Tong: Yeah, of course. And thank you, Bryan. You guys asked amazing questions. I was really stumped at some point. I was like, oh, I’m not legit. I’m not a legit activist. I can’t comment on this, but I tried. I appreciate that. Of course, so listeners, if you want to find me, please be sure to first follow me, check on my Instagram page.

@ Make Peas Not Beef. So peas is spelled P E A S and Make Peas Not Beef. And there you get to find all my episode highlights. I run a podcast, but I always create a curate of one-minute episode highlight, video highlights for each of my episodes that kind of sum up and brings out the best of each episode.

So you can check on my content there. And if you like what you’re seeing, please do head over to my YouTube channel. So that’s youtube.com/c/MakePeasNotBeef, and be sure to subscribe to my channel and watch all my content. Of course. My podcast is on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, anchored.fm, all the major platforms, or just search, Make Peas Not Beef, of course, a space between the words. And I think that’s the best way to get in touch with me. If you have questions, feel free to email me. Lilly that’s L I L L Y double L @makepeasnotbeef.com 

[00:48:13] Maggie Chui: Amazing. Thank you so much, Lilly. It was amazing having you on our show and I think we both learned a few things today.

[00:48:20] Bryan Pham: So thank you so much for being on our podcast. Yeah. Thank you so much, Lilly. And we’ll put it on our show notes as well. Thank you again so much. 

Thank you, Bryan. Thank you, Maggie. I love your show and I will continue to follow it.