The tools available to us now and in the age of social media mean that anyone, (even ‘just one person’) with enough passion and drive can build an amazing community. And with that community behind them, can have a huge impact.
Over the next few months we’re going to profile a series of soloists – people just like you – who have harnessed the power of community to create awareness and make big changes.
And the first cab off the rank is the wonderful Alexx Stuart: Real Food. Low Tox Living.
If you ask Alexx Stuart today ‘what are you all about?’ here’s what she’d tell you:
“Creating a community passionate around low tox living. If you’re part of that community you’re someone who cares about what goes on us, in us, and on inside our minds. We’re mindful of our everyday choices and how they impact the bigger picture (the planet!). We’re a positive, empowered bunch who focus on slowly increasing the amount of real food, low tox products and low tox ways of thinking into our every day, rather than spending time moaning about the current state of play. (In other words, we act positively, rather than moan about how bad the world is!). We feel the more good stuff we create and put out there, the less room there is for the bad stuff.”
Flash back seven years and Alexx, a self-confessed ‘justice-driven idealist’, hadn’t even heard the word ‘blog’ yet. She was newly married and moving from a career in cocktail bartending to consulting to the hospitality industry. Her days were spent opening new venues, writing cocktail lists and implementing training programs.
She was also pregnant – a not insignificant accomplishment given she had to surmount PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) to get there – and eagerly awaiting the birth of her first child.
Interestingly, the way Alexx overcame PCOS was one of the things that set her feet on the path she walks today. She replaced a ‘diet of convenience’ (lots of food from packets containing lots of sugar), with one that was largely based on wholefoods. When her son was born, she knew she wanted to feed him a similar diet. What she didn’t know was she was about to have an epiphany.
“While I knew I was going to make most of the baby food purees myself, I also wanted to check out some emergency options. That’s when I learnt about ultra-heat-treated food and the total lack of nutrients. I learnt about ‘hot fill’ plastic packaging and chemicals leaching into the food by consequence. I learnt how much fruit was in every savoury baby option. I learnt about the weirdo additives in those ‘toddler nutrition’ milk powders, the additives and hidden sugars in crackers and snacks for babies. It was like my brain did that scene from The Matrix where a sea of green numbers flew through it and I literally felt I had to shut the door on all of it.
Then I wondered – what about the plastic ice cube trays? The heating up in the microwave? The Teflon non-stick pan I cooked things in. ARGH!!! I quickly realised I needed to care not just about the food, but also about where it came from, how it was grown and what I prepared it in.
My little family went organic and low tox within a week of learning all this, and then continued to crowd the bad things out with the good from there on as we learnt new stuff. I was completely horrified at how our ‘convenience’ based lives had basically dumbed us down. I got so fired up, I just had to move into health education, career wise. I had this sensation that there was no time to lose – and there still isn’t!”
When you’re talking with Alexx it’s hard not to get caught up by her passion. It’s also easy to think ‘good for her but not for me.’ Yet even Alexx took a while to make the changes she wanted to:
“I did a big bulk of swaps initially: ditching the microwave and bringing in organic vegetables and low tox cookware. Over the next 12-18 months I focused on additive free shopping, reducing plastics and choosing organic/ethical meat where I could. We’re still making changes today as you’re never really ‘done’. I find it’s best to make peace with that early and approach things in a relaxed and empowered way.
For this reason I always tell people it’s better to focus on the journey they’re on rather than feel like “I’m not doing this perfectly”. Perfect is a waste of time, as you’d literally have to live in a bubble to be truly free of all the toxic stuff running around in this world. That’s a big part of why I settled on ‘low tox’ (as opposed to ‘no tox’) as the term for my blog.”
Ah, the blog. The place where Alexx can share her low tox philosophies as well as recipes for ‘sweet treats without the nasties’ that she’s created. It’s the synergy between her blog and her Facebook page that’s allowed her to grow her community very organically from zero followers just over three years ago to nearly 30,000 today.
Surprisingly, there’s been very little strategy behind this growth:
“Up until last year I didn’t really know what I was doing, both on Facebook and my blog. And I’m kind of glad I had that indulgent, organic exploration time for the first couple of years. All I knew when I started was that I had to do ‘something’. I can teach and influence and have always done this in various career incarnations. To be able to do this in a space which needed good teachers, was just so exciting to me. It’s the truly helpful, crazy, passionate work I’d always dreamed existed.”
As you can see, what Alexx lacked in strategy, she made up in passion:
“My approach has always been to help light a fire in people’s bellies. And I’m really conscious of not being one of those health sites where people feel they ‘have to’ or ‘ought to’ do what the person they’re following says to do! i.e. I try not to be prescriptive. I feel it’s important as educators that we transfer the leadership role to the people we serve and that’s what I like to go after – the deep level of transformation that puts a person in an empowered state.
I’m aiming for people to get to a point where they wouldn’t dream of buying a packet of processed biscuits or chocolate bar full of additives, because they understand how it’s made, what kind of business and agriculture they’re supporting by buying them, and what consuming them means for their long term health.
I don’t believe people have to live a boring and dull life to feel good and do good in the world. Activists get a bad rap, apparently needing to be serious all the time and hang off boats in the Pacific. That’s not the only way to be an activist. I like cocktails and beach holidays too!”
So a community of 30,000 is nice, but that many followers puts a big demand on a person’s time. How did Alex manage those demands while also trying to make a living from her work?
“Up until January I was doing it all alone (bar a wonderful girl helping me one Monday morning a fortnight.) Towards the end it got seriously hectic; so many private messages from people just starting out; so many emails with questions.
It would have been easy to ignore those messages and emails but I prioritise my community. I feel like I report to them and work for them; they look to me to keep them moving along the low tox journey and I love showing up for them every day.
In 2014, for very obvious and practical reasons, I had to prioritise income stream generation; I wanted to make what I do my job and career. Do-gooders (like creatives), often suffer the ‘ah but you do it for the love’ affliction but sadly, this doesn’t help with financial freedom. I believe there’s nothing to be ashamed of in building a good business that helps people, so I shelved those feelings and thought: How best can I work for my community and be paid to do so?
So I took all the beginners questions I was getting overwhelmed by and created online products. I went from being a charity blogger to earning an income through my e-courses (Real Food Rockstars and 30 days to your Low Tox Life). These mean I can now grow and invest in getting a little team. I’m really excited about that.”
So it’s been a big couple of years for Alexx. I asked whether she has a ‘proudest moment’ from that time.
“I’ll never forget my first ‘thank you’. It was from a woman who’d read my post on 220 preservative in dried fruits and supermarket coconut products and said “Thank you so much for talking about this. I’ve taken it out of my son’s diet and he no longer has asthma.” So many people in my community have started education programs in their local schools, or overhauled their canteens, or helped spread the word on causes of eczema that no amount of steroid creams are ever going to fix. The list goes on.
I’m proud every day because in giving people the tools to effect change, the ripples go way, way further than any amount of work I’d ever have time to do myself. I’ve had 1000 people through my first three e-course runs, and it’s so satisfying to see the change that happens in the private group forums, the supportive communities that form and lots of families whose health drastically improves after a course. From my first course last October, we have three ‘low tox babies’ in the works after years of miscarriages and many rounds of failed IVF. That just blows my mind – we’re changing shampoos and toothpastes and getting some meditation time into the week and literally changing lives. Real food, low tox works. I see it every day and it’s beyond exciting. I cry a lot.”
Given how much time Alexx puts into lighting fires in other people’s bellies, what puts the fire in her belly?
“My biggest dream is to see an end to the epic debacle of intensive agriculture and the crazy levels of chemicals it has brought, destroying soil, ecology and gut health globally. All we can do is work within and grow our circle of influence rather than panic about how we “can’t” reach that far. So I’m literally just going to keep trucking on. If three years ago my community was 50 people and now it’s nearly 30,000, then imagine how much more change we’ll be effecting in another three years, and on what scale. It’s exciting. More goose bumps and more tears of happiness around the corner no doubt! I’m a sooky idealist through and through.”
So does Alexx have any thoughts for people out there who feel they’re fighting the good fight but are frustrated at how slowly the wheels of change are turning? Yes, she does:
“Take a look at all your communications. Are you HELPING the people you want to help? With every post, every tweet, ask yourself: “Is this helpful to my peeps or is it just noise?” Then ask yourself: “Who’s a bit bigger than me? Whose cause can I add value to and in adding that value, add to the exposure my work is getting? Can I speak somewhere for free? Can I do a guest post on someone’s blog?”
In a nutshell:
“Be awesome at helping the people directly in front of you. Serve them well and help them solve the problems that puzzle them.
Then see how you can help and serve bigger industry peers in the work that they’re doing. This allows you to build an inspiring network and grow awareness of your work at the same time. There will no doubt be a sea of inspirational people in your space to share with, collaborate and cross-contribute. They’re as close as we get to colleagues as soloists, so it’s truly important to build that network not just for business growth, but for soloist motivation and happiness.”