Author Esha Chhabra’s Advice for Becoming a More Conscious Consumer

Last Update: May 14, 2024

What is the cost of consumption? It’s a question Esha Chhabra thinks of often. Chhabra is a writer and journalist focused on global development, the environment, and business, particularly the way the three work together and influence one another. 

Whether it’s the food, clothing, and personal care products we need or the nice-to-haves, everything we buy comes with an inherent impact on the planet and its people. We spoke with Chhabra about her book, “Working to Restore: Harnessing the Power of Regenerative Business to Heal the World”, the things she’s learned about the state of consumerism in America, and her best advice for vetting the products we purchase — and the companies that make them.

Q&A With Journalist Esha Chhabra 

What inspired you to write your book? 

I’ve been reporting on sustainability for the last 15 years, mission-driven brands, and this whole evolution that we’ve seen with B Corps. In 2018, I realized that there really hadn’t been a book that was surveying the landscape and showing how this is happening across the world and across industries. There hadn’t been something that was super easy for folks who don’t live and breathe this stuff. 

I was also beginning to see that the greenwashing was getting out of control. So many claims were being made and it’s hard for consumers to try to waddle their way through all of the terms of eco-marketing. So I said, Is there a way that I can highlight a few of the brands that I do feel like are truly trying to build regenerative businesses?, and that can be a starting point. Somebody could be reading this book and they could either be simply interested in being a more conscious consumer, or it could be somebody young building their career — there are a lot of young people who are reading the book and sending me a message because they’re interested in working in this space and they don’t know how to navigate it.

The other thing was that sustainability was more or less broken. That’s what I kept hearing from every entrepreneur that I interviewed, We feel like the word is broken. We feel like the concept is broken. Why are we sustaining a broken system? And every entrepreneur has their own take on the alternative that they would want to use. Some people are really focusing on traceability, some people are focusing on transparency in all aspects of their business, others on equity, and regenerative was just coming into the lexicon at the time. People were really only using it for agriculture in the early days. But when I looked into the word and publishers and I thought about it, regenerate means “to bring life into something”. And that made a lot of sense in terms of what these companies are trying to do.

What was the most impactful thing you learned when examining regenerative businesses and how they operate? 

I think what really helped me was having empathy for a lot of these founders. When you start to understand the nuance and complexity of these supply chains, you understand why it’s so hard for businesses to achieve a fully regenerative model, or a fully sustainable model.

The other thing was in the food chapter in particular, the big takeaway was that it has to make money for farmers. With U.S. farmland, still a tiny percentage of it is organic, and the reason is that we just don’t have the financial infrastructure in place for farmers. A lot of the entrepreneurs continue to say, If you really believe in this as consumers, please go and support these people and buy their products. Because when farmers tend to see that it’s actually profitable as a business and there’s demand for it, then they’re likely to convert over. 

What, to you, would make business more regenerative in the U.S.? 

One of the things that I’m being asked the most is, What is the answer? Is the answer that we shift the needle on all these big companies and they become more regenerative? Or is the answer that these small, medium-sized companies just have to proliferate? And what I’ve taken away from it is that I think the world would be better off if there were lots more medium-sized companies, because it’s far easier from a financial structure for the medium-sized companies to do these kind of things. If we could just replicate so many of the food brands, for example, that Thrive Market supports, the food ecosystem would be in a much better place. Many years ago, a biodynamic farmer that I was interviewing who had 300 acres said to me, I don’t think America’s farm problem is that I, as a farmer, need to make this farm huge, 3,000 acres or 30,000 acres. What we need are more farms like mine across the country doing what I’m doing. And I think the same is true in business.

When people are determining which brands to buy from, what types of labels or certifications should they look for? 

To judge the overall efforts of a business, I think B Corp is a good starting place because B Corp is a very comprehensive certification. It makes businesses look at the details, such as what bank they use, to put their money, how they treat their workforce, etc.. What ROC [Regenerative Organic Certified] is doing with food and fiber is interesting because beyond just supporting regenerative agriculture, they’re putting environmental and social under one umbrella of one certification. If that becomes the gold standard, a consumer could theoretically look for ROC and know that it covers both social standards (such as Fair Trade and organic). That could be a welcome change.

In general, certifications are a great baseline, but they’re not the end-all, be-all. Some brands advocate for transparency and traceability. Ultimately, consumers should not be shy to ask questions! Brands that are committed are usually happy to provide answers and be as transparent as possible.

How do you try to be a more conscious consumer in your own life?

I’m not someone who lives a luxurious lifestyle. Journalism is not a career that gives you loads of money, so something that I’ve thought about is really prioritizing things.

For me, food is important. That’s where a big chunk of my income goes. As Americans, we’re so used to getting stuff for cheap and we’re not willing to change that mindset. In other countries, people do pay a larger percentage of their annual income towards food. They do allocate more towards food. So for me, food is where I splurge a little bit, but I’m not buying $20 smoothies. You can do this on a far more realistic budget. 

I really look at, What do I need to consume on a daily basis, and who are the best players for that in the industry? So for rice, if you can support Lundberg rice. I would think about if you’re going to buy an olive oil, buy a really good quality, extra virgin olive oil. There are daily staples that I think a lot about, and I really prioritize and look at companies that are manufacturing those products, and think about who I can support — coffee, tea, these things that you’re having on a regular basis. 

For me, the way I’ve made it work is also living a simpler life where you’re consuming less stuff. I mean, I’m wearing clothes that are probably 20 years old because they just still fit me. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. So, I think getting out of this trends rat race that we’re all in, whether it’s home decor or fashion, food… but sticking to basics that work really well. 

Esha Chhabra’s Ethical Grocery List 

Wondering what to consider when shopping for your groceries? Here’s what Chhabra buys regularly from Thrive Market, from single-origin olive oil to regeneratively grown oats. 

Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap
I use this for everything, so I like how multi-purpose it is. I use it for laundry, dish soap, and when I travel. I love the citrus, rose, and peppermint scents. 

Thrive Market Organic Basmati Rice
I’ve tried a lot of different rice brands and this one tastes the best and offers organic rice at a reasonable price. When I cannot store a giant 25 lb sack, I go for these. As an Indian, I love my rice. 🙂 

King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
I like to make homemade bread (and other treats!). This is the best flour for making boule breads and sourdough loaves. I’ve even used them for croissants. I also appreciate that they’re advocating for regenerative agriculture.

One Degree Sprouted Oats
I love these oats. They’re easier on digestion as they’re sprouted, and I appreciate the efforts the company makes in sourcing from farmers that are advocating for organic and regenerative agriculture. The oats come from mostly organic growers in Canada.

Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is a great-tasting olive oil, and I appreciate that it’s a single-origin oil. Instead of blending from a variety of countries, this comes from one region. Plus, it’s at a reasonable price point. 

Navitas Organic Cacao Powder
Great for smoothies, chia puddings, overnight oats, and even little tiramisu treats. Again, great to see a company committed to improving its supply chain and working with farmers as partners. 

Lundberg Jasmine Rice
Love that Lundberg is working on regenerative organic agriculture in California, and one of the pioneers in this space. I use their Jasmine Rice for Asian dishes and the sushi rice for a little DIY-sushi at home.

Beekeeper’s Naturals
Big fan of the Propolis Spray and the Superfood Cacao Honey. Given that sugar syrup was being sold as honey not too long ago, it’s great that this company is testing all its honey batches and trying to educate consumers on how to buy better honey. You’re getting the real deal.

Thrive Market Pepperoncini
Love these little guys. They give so much flavor with just a little bit. Perfect for topping on salads, stir fries, pizzas, whatever! Come in glass jars that I find all kinds of ways to repurpose. But just really good quality that you can taste.

This article is related to:

Environment, Food System

Share this article

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

Download the app for easy shopping on the go

By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive marketing text messages from Thrive Market. Consent not a condition to purchase. Msg & data rates apply. Msg frequency varies. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel.

If you are visually-impaired and having difficulty with our website, call us at 1‑855‑997‑2315

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

© Thrive Market 2024 All rights reserved.