On today’s show Leilani Münter shares how she went from biology graduate to VEGAN race car driver, and environmental activist. Need I say more? She’s passionate, loving, wants to discuss the different points of view, and she has always liked to go fast. Really fast. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode here:
- Representing Two Cultures [00:04:39]
- Bucket List Item: Race a Car [00:07:50]
- College and Starting to Race [00:13:29]
- Racing Sponsorships and the Big Leagues [00:024:30]
- The Eye Opening Movie and Being a Vegan [00:29:50]
- Lobbying for the Climate Security Act [00:34:33]
- Taking Criticism [00:39:12]
- Offsetting Carbon Footprints [00:44:43]
- Focusing on a Plant Based Diet [00:50:12]
- Vegetarianism and Veganism [00:53:37]
- Vegan Militants, Vitamins, and Supplements [01:00:18]
- The Advantage of Solar Power [01:08:15]
- The 2050 Mission [01:11:11]
- Working with Environmental Organizations [01:16:52]
- Vegan Make up and 100th Monkey Rule [01:22:24]
- The Journey of Learning [01:26:02]
Leilani Munter: The Bad*ss, Vegan, Racecar Driving, Environmentalist
I am so honored to have Miss Leilani Münter on the show. She originally was a biology graduate and then she became a huge advocate for renewable energy, solar power, and electric cars. She’s an intense vegan so plant-based diet and is a big animal rights advocate. Her other job was of course a racecar driver so you get the idea. Leilani is one of the only people I’ve ever met that could combine these worlds so gracefully and so powerfully. She had a quote once that said, “If we only speak to those who already believe in the same things that we do, who’s going to change the minds of those who don’t?” Discussion is so important and Leilani is passionate and loving. I hope you enjoy the show.
Leilani, you landed from North Carolina. You’re my first guest that came literally from the airport, you and your husband, Craig. I was like, “Coming from LAX to anywhere. We’ll see you. We could start at 2:30 or we might start at 5:00. You’ll never know.” Thank you for coming all this way. We’re going to cover a lot of things from your racing to your activism and some of your causes.
I’d also like to start with the way you grew up because you have different cultural backgrounds brought together in your home. Your last name is Münter. I even like the way your name represents the two cultures. Maybe you could share with me what that was like growing up in your house and how that impacted you.
I grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. My father was a neurologist there and my mother was a hypertension nurse. She is full Japanese but she was born on the Big Island of Hawaii and my dad is from Germany. They met when my dad was doing his residency at one of the Hawaii hospitals. The doctor and nurse fell in love. They got married. They moved to Germany in the middle of winter. She moved to Berlin. She had never seen snow before in her life.
Were most of her years growing up on the Big Island?
She’s from Hawaii.
She is. I’ve always felt like when I finally went there, I was 12 years old and I remember feeling like I was a misplaced island girl my whole life. I grew up in the wrong climate in the wrong place. I remember looking at her. We were sitting on Hapuna Beach and it was blue waves, white sand, and palm trees. We were eating fresh mango and passionfruit. I looked at her and I went, “Why do we live in Minnesota?”
Eskimos feel that way when they go to places like Hawaii. Let’s not kid ourselves.
When I grew up in Rochester, we would get snowed in. We wouldn’t be able to go to school when they had a snow day. It was because there was so much snow that it came over the door. I’ve never liked winter and I’ll never live in a place that has a rough winter again. It’s always been my dream to someday live in Hawaii.
Have you ever lived in Germany? Was the family made in Minnesota?
There are four girls in my family. There’s lots of estrogen in the house. I’m the youngest of four girls. My eldest sister was born in Berlin so she was there for the first few years of her life and then they got a job at the Mayo Clinic that’s there in Rochester. A lot of people that live in Rochester are in the medical field and then the rest of us grew up in Rochester.
Having that family background where you have two high-performance parents and even your mom can be from Hawaii, but Japanese culture is still high-performance. It’s a high discipline. With those two together, was there an expectation on you and your sisters about, “You’re going to thrive in school.” Were there any expectations put on you guys?
I didn’t feel that pressure. My parents got divorced when I was 4 so I don’t have a ton of memory of them being in the same house with us, other than arguing. I remember being a little kid and sneaking out to hear what they were arguing about. That’s one of the only memories that I have of them living together as a couple. I’ve always known them separately as two separate adults. My father was encouraging. You can do whatever you want. I remember when I finally told my family that I wanted to race cars.
How do you even get the opportunity to race a car? How does that happen?
I went to a racing school because it was on my bucket list. I don’t know why.
How old were you?
I was in college so that would have been in 2000.
Did you watch racing? Were you intrigued by racing?
I did not. I’m not a fan of racing.
Did you drive your car fast when you were a teenager?
I was always getting in trouble for speeding. In high school, I started a bucket list. My friends were like, “That’s so morbid. You’re supposed to do that when you’re old.”
It’s just unusual. It’s interesting.
I’ve always had this little voice in my head that’s saying I don’t know how much time I have left so I have always kept a list of, “I want to see this place.” “I want to do this.” “I want to hand glide.” “I want to jump out of an airplane.” “I want to bungee jump.” “I want to drive a race car.” Also, a list of scuba spots that I want to go see. Because I was so into speed, not so much height. I’m scared of heights but speed, I love it.
[bctt tweet=”By being positive, you’re going to win more people over. You always have to keep in mind that people are at different parts of their journey.”]
Have you always loved it?
I always loved it.
Did you ride your bicycle fast?
Yes. Skateboarding, bicycles, and everything. I wanted to see how fast I could go so it was a natural thing to go on my bucket list and I also was always getting in trouble for speeding. The idea of being on a track where I could go as fast as I wanted and not get pulled over and get in trouble was attractive to me. When I finally went, I was the fastest car on the track and there were 40 drivers and they were all men. There was a local regional NASCAR level team owner that was there and he came over.
It’s a perfect example of how one short conversation with a complete stranger changed the rest of my life forever. He was the one that said, “You should consider doing this.” I was like, “I don’t have money to race cars. Racing cars are expensive to get into.” He said, “You’re a woman and there are hardly any women in our sport so you’ve got a different story. You’re the fastest car on the track. You should try it.” That next week I went to try and find a sports marketing firm to help me find sponsorship to raise the little Saturday night short track stuff. It took me nine months to get my first sponsor and I fought for the lead in my first race and then I was hooked.
Let’s go back to you going to school. Your parents are in the same town. They’re not together, but you grow up with your sisters. You were going back and forth a little bit between your parents and doing that. In your mind, what’s your trajectory? You’re going to college. What do you think you’re going to do?
My degree is in biology. I went to school at UC San Diego. I had already started scuba diving.
You’re from Minnesota. In Hawaii, you said that you have this natural innate connection probably with the sea. You went to San Diego. I would imagine being close to the sea.
I went to San Diego because I wanted to study biology. Growing up in a scientific and medical family, I knew that it was something that came more naturally to me. Math and Sciences. I enjoyed that and I knew I loved animals.
Did you say that you enjoyed Math and Science?
I did. Except for biochemistry.
I hear organic chemistry is a butt-kicker too.
That was the last class that I completed in college. I kept dropping it.
This is interesting to me because you have a definitive passion already. Animals, the ocean, and biology so it’s not like you’re floating in the wind. Where do you go to school? How old were you?
Let me do the math quickly. It was 2000 that I went to the school and then I ran my first race in August of 2001 in San Diego at a little short track called Kahuna Speedway that’s since been ripped down.
Who encourages you? Who do you say, “I’m having to spend 2, 3 days at a driving school,” type thing?
Anybody can sign up for a racing school. A lot of people were hobbyists. I didn’t think I was ever going to do it again.
Did you piss off some of the guys there who probably went to schools and they’re like, “It’s our twelfth school, and here comes some girl who was like, ‘This is so fun. It was on my bucket list,’” and you’re the fastest one.
I was faster than the instructor and they came over to me and said, “He’s upset.”
Did they think you were sandbagging? Did anyone think you have driven?
No. They did say to me, “Are you serious that you’ve never driven a car before?” It was a big wind track. To me, it didn’t seem hard to go fast so it was a big wide track. It wasn’t a windy road course. It was a big speedway.
Since then, let’s say you’ve probably had people teach you some ideas about taking the lines and being efficient in certain things and driving. At this point, you’re going on pure instinct being courageous, like liking to go fast and enjoying that speed. What I’m interested in is what do you think it is that you naturally do that made you that fast already then?
It was that I enjoyed going fast. I wasn’t scared of it. After this, I became a racing instructor so then I became the people that I was being instructed. I was teaching people the line and you want to move the wheel as little as possible. The more that you’re moving the wheel the more you’re scrubbing off speed so it’s all about being smooth.
You want to let the race car go where it wants to go and those cars are set up. When you’re on these ovals, they’re set up to naturally turn left. The part where you’re fighting the car the most is not through the corners in the corners, you’re almost letting the wheel go where it wants to go because it’s naturally from the banking going to want to take a left. It’s on the straightaways where you’re fighting the car to keep it going straight because the car wants to turn left. It’s not being afraid.
Did you stay in school?
Yeah. I got my degree in biology. My degree is in biology specializing in ecology behavior and evolution. After that, I decided that this is fun. I want to go do this. I moved out to North Carolina. All the race teams out there said, “If you stay in LA, and you race out there and you work, doing other things will look at you as being a hobbyist. That’s not taking racing seriously. If you want us to take you seriously, you need to move out here. You need to work in a race shop. You have to pay your dues.”
What does that mean entailing working in a race shop? Were they mechanics? Were there fixing cars?
Yes. I was sanding the race cars.
You’re in your early 20s and you moved to North Carolina and you probably knew people through racing.
I didn’t know anybody out there. I had my helmet and my health. I moved out there not knowing anybody. I wanted to do it. Something happened when I was in that race car that I was like, “This is amazing. I have to keep doing this.” Also, one of the moments that I remember when I look back at those early days was the moment that I was sitting on the starting grid and how normally they say, “Gentlemen, start your engines.” The guy had to change the words. He said, “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines.” I remember how I got goosebumps for saying it. I got goosebumps on the back of my neck and I was like, “I made them change the words.” I felt like it was something that needed to be done and there were also a lot of people saying, “Girls can’t do this.”
I never understand that. Laird and I have three daughters and I’m around a lot of men who love and celebrate women. It doesn’t dawn on them that women can or can’t do anything. Biologically, there are traits and our brains even function differently. You are a perfect example of somebody who probably, biologically also your brain works. If we took 100 women, maybe your ability to manage your fear about speed, or decision-making in a split second.
I’ve read a lot of articles where it’s like, “There’s an opening. I’m going to go. Is that safe to go? Should I go now?” Where a man goes, there’s an opening biologically in parts of their brain. It’s interesting for me when anyone says people can’t do anything. That’s such an unusual thought that you’re sitting in a car so it’s not like you have to physically be bigger or stronger. In fact, you’re lightweight probably doesn’t hurt you, I would imagine.
You have to add weight so that we all weigh the same. There’s more lead weight in the frame rails of my race car making you weigh the same. They don’t let you have that advantage. The only weight that should be a slight advantage, for me, is that instead of being up on top of the driver’s seat, there might be a little more weight that’s a lower center of gravity to the racetrack that you would want on a race car. There’s no weight advantage for me being lighter.
More importantly than, “It needed to be done,” it’s the fact that you want to do it. That’s why you should do it. We’re not going to get people who don’t think girls can drive to somehow believe. They have something else going on. I’ve always found that it isn’t even about that. They have other things going on in their life and that’s why they’re doing that, but the fact that you want to and when you tell the story, I can imagine it wasn’t easy being in North Carolina. In the beginning, sweeping floors, being lonely, and probably not making a great living, but having that thing inside you that says, “I’m in the I’m in the right spot.” Did you always feel like this is going to work out?
I never felt like I had confidence that it was going to work out just because I didn’t have any funding. I arrived there with my helmet. I didn’t know anybody. I had no job. I didn’t know anybody on the race teams. I didn’t have a sponsor. It was this adventure of what was going to happen. At the worst, I would fail and I would go back. I stuck it out and I stayed. The people that were telling me, “You can’t do this.” “Women don’t race,” made me try harder because I want to prove them wrong. I don’t know if maybe all those people hadn’t been saying that to me, maybe I wouldn’t have stayed.
They would have been like, “This is so great that you’re here.” You’re like, “I’m going back to San Diego.” Tell me about getting in a car. How does that happen?
I’ve looked for sponsors for nine months. In my first sponsorship, it was $1,500 a race to grease on that level. It’s scaled-down stock cars. They’re almost mini race cars. Their setup is exactly like a late model stock car but they’re 3/4 the size so you’re basically buying tires and fuel and you essentially bring the sponsorship to the team owner and then you get to run. I ran my first race at Kahuna Speedway and fell in love with it.
Some drivers come over to shake my hand. They were drivers that when I got to the track, were skeptical. They’re like, “Who is this girl?” They all know each other and race against each other every weekend so I was the outsider and I was a woman. I had a guy shake my hand and say, “That was so much fun. Thank you for making this race fun because you were challenging me out there. I usually run circles around everybody.” I had earned one person’s respect by the end of the race and came over and shook my hand.
Sometimes in those environments, even if you were a guy, if you’re someone new, people have to realize that sometimes they’re like, “Is this person serious?” For the other racers, it’s like, “I take this seriously. It’s a craft and a sport.” For them to go, “She is serious and she’s taking it seriously,” then that’s interesting. It’s always about that and being qualified. It’s being qualified and doing your best. For me, when I think about racing or any job, it’s like, “Who’s qualified?” It isn’t anything more or less than that. How long do you get to race in that series?
I only had sponsorship for two races. My full sponsorship was $3,000. It was $1,500 for a race in Kahuna Speedway. The second one I ran in Texas on a little track called Thunderhill. It’s between Austin and Dallas and that was a funny experience because I got to that track. These guys all knew each other and I was from California and nobody knew who I was. I was the only girl.
And your name is Leilani.
I got out on the track and there was an incident where somebody dropped oil on the track and the track operators didn’t catch it. I was furious because I went out for my qualifying round and I was slipping. I came on the radio. This is my second race so I had no idea that other people could hear me on the radio, I thought it was talking to my crew. Anybody can listen to your radio. Apparently, I was dropping a lot of F-bombs and swearing. I was super upset because I was pretty quick in practice and I was going to have a good qualifying run then I went out there and immediately was slipping on the first lap where I wasn’t even up to speed so I knew they had dropped oil.
I climbed out of the car after qualifying and the guys who had been skeptical were looking at me. It wasn’t a dirty look but it was like, “Who the hell does she think she is,” look. They were looking at me again but laughing, smiling, and talking to each other. I didn’t understand what happened. One of the guys finally came over and he said, “We heard you have quite a potty mouth on the radio, young lady.” That was the moment where I was like, “They can hear me. I didn’t know they could hear me,” and then you laugh. He said, “You’re going to fit in just fine around here.” It was almost like I got accepted because they knew I was super passionate about it. The fact that I was so upset that my qualifying round had gotten turned up.
You’re competitive and you’re doing a dangerous thing, by the way so those two things combined. It’s not a joke. How do you get to a place where you get into the big show and how long does that take?
I raced for eighteen years so I ran my last race at Daytona in February 2019. I did not get into the ARCA Series. I made it into Open Wheel in 2007 so when Danica was running in the IndyCar Series, I was in the level below her called the Indy Pro Series but again, I only had the sponsorship for two races. My sponsorships tended to be sporadic here and there. Rarely would I be out there for a whole season. It was usually 2 races or 1 race.
I got into ARCA. I ran my first race in ARCA in 2010 so that would have been nine years from my first race. That is not the top level of NASCAR so I never made it all the way to the cup. I ran an ARCA, which is a development league of NASCAR so we race on Saturday and NASCAR races on Sunday. Sometimes we’re on Friday, and then Nationwide is on Saturday and the cup is on Sunday.
Why do you think somebody didn’t say, “Let’s make a commitment. Let’s have a three-year deal. Let’s do the whole thing. Let’s get everything dialed for you.” Danica was around and if you’re fast, you’re fast. It’s hard anyway. It’s a hard sport. It’s a big-money sport. It costs a lot. It is expensive.
[bctt tweet=”I wanted to live what I believed in and I knew that I would have been selling out who I was to take that ride. On top of that, it’s an even more blatantly polluting sport.”]
There were a couple of full-time rides that I turned down in both open-wheel and stock cars for big.
By that time, I had had a change that happened. Personally, I was always an environmentalist and I always cared about all these things but in 2006, my husband and I, who was my boyfriend at the time went to see a movie called An Inconvenient Truth that was in the theaters. We had a conversation when we were walking out. We had to do more and that was when I was like, “I could use the race car to talk to race fans about this.”
I’ve heard you say a banner.
It’s a 200-mile-per-hour billboard. Most people put products there. They’re selling a brand, soda, fast food, or whatever. In 2006, everything changed for me when I was thinking, “I want to use this car to talk about these important things,” because I’m still a biologist and I still have that science background. Seeing An Inconvenient Truth made me see the urgency of what we were doing to the planet in a way that I hadn’t thought about how bad it had gotten.
We’re going to get into that you’re a vegan and people who know you know this. By this time, were you already a vegan?
I was a vegetarian. I didn’t go vegan until 2011.
Did you grow up eating animal products?
I did until a young age. I was at a Wendy’s with my mom eating a hamburger and I asked her where the meat came from. She said it came from a cow. I said, “Is it like how milk and cheese come from a cow?” She’s like, “No. It’s a part of the cow.” When I realized that, it was so shocking. I couldn’t see the table that I was sitting at in the Wendy’s in Rochester. That was the moment where I thought, “I’m eating a dead animal.”
I loved animals. I grew up riding horses. We would board the horses at farms that had cows, chickens, and pigs. When you interact with these animals, you start to realize that they are not different from the dogs and the cats that are in our houses that we give names and sweaters for and take care of and love. They have personalities, and they have all those same things. It’s that for some reason, we’ve been taught that these animals are food and that these ones are the ones that you could pet and cuddle with. I made that connection way earlier in life.
For a while, my mom went vegetarian and so our house went vegetarian. At one point, all of my sisters were vegetarian, but everybody is going back. There are two sisters. My sister, Natasha, and I are vegans. There are two of us that are vegan but all of them are open to it. I didn’t go fully vegan until 2011. That was when I started to realize what goes on in the milk industry, and how bad that was.
The baby cows that are being taken from their mothers, if they’re male, they become the veal calves. I started to see that this fantasy that I had in my head that the milk cow is happy and grazing in the pasture is a total fantasy and that’s not real. You see these videos online and all these great documentaries are coming out, not just about the animals, but also about the environmental impact of meat and the health benefits of being plant-based.
Over time, I started to go in that direction. In the summer of 2011, July, I celebrate that day every year and get a little Vegan Cupcake. I celebrate it probably more than my regular birthday because to me, it was the day that I chose to live my ethics, at every meal and not think about where the butter came from or whatever.
Were some of the big sponsors in conflict? We don’t have to get into names. It doesn’t matter. Would you have to be shushed about some of your personal convictions so be a good soldier, drive the car fast, and please keep your politics? It could be viewed as a form of your opinions to yourself.
There was one that was a big ride where they said I needed to stop. I had gone to the BP oil spill so this was 2010.
I went there with Laird. It was radical.
I was being vocal about oil and I’d started lobbying in DC in 2007 for the Climate Security Act, which was the first time the Senate had ever voted on a bill that was focused on any climate change legislation like a carbon tax and it failed, of course. Here we are, we still don’t have one.
We’ve got lobbyists. They get some powerful lobbyists.
I had already been out starting in 2006.
Did you ever have an agent or anything like this at this time?
No. I had my own website. I wrote all my own code and I put it up online for the movie that I thought everybody should see, An Inconvenient Truth. There was this interesting interaction that happened on a NASCAR forum for Facebook and all the social media stuff. There were forums and that is where people would go to talk. There was a NASCAR forum and I saw this traffic going to my site from this forum. I went to look where it was coming from and it was somebody that had seen me talk about An Inconvenient Truth.
How did they feel about that?
They were super upset. They were calling me all kinds of names. They were saying I was brainwashed by Al Gore. This idiot driver is promoting this movie that’s full of all this propaganda. By the time I saw the post, it was long.
Were people coming in and also defending you? Was it both ways?
It started out with everybody throwing under the bus, but a few pages in, somebody said, “Have you seen this movie? It’s a little weird for you to be so angry with this girl about promoting it if you haven’t even watched it.”
Let’s back up and this is part of the reason I was excited to talk to you because I want to talk about veganism and being vegetarian. I want to discuss these things. I still never understand why people are angry about any of it in the first place. I saw this movie, An Inconvenient Truth and it’s a well-made film that’s thoughtful with a lot of data and science, every side can find studies to bend it their way. We know that we know that.
It’s like Game Changers. We’ve heard all of the scientists back and forth bending the information. I’m interested in the conversation. Why wouldn’t we take a look at An Inconvenient Truth? I wonder sometimes that it almost feels like it does feel like religion. It feels like dogma. I wonder why people are afraid to go, “I have been living this way. Let me take a look at this.”
They feel guilty because you’re then turning the mirror back at them and they’re having to think about these things that they’ve never had to question before. I’m questioning their car of choice. I’m questioning how they’re eating. If you don’t want to think about that, your first reaction is to get defensive because you don’t want to feel guilty so you may attack the messenger.
How did you feel? I know you’re with Craig now and he was with you then so you have an internal support system but how did you feel? It’s hard to get that public criticism and people can say, “Just ignore it,” or whatever but it is hard.
I used to take it personally in the beginning, but then when I met a couple of other female racecar drivers, they were having the same things happen to them. I realized it wasn’t personal. I couldn’t look at that and say, “Why do those people hate me?” I started to realize that it was not about me. It’s the fact that I’m a woman in a sport that they’re not used to seeing a woman. I remember people saying, “What was Leilani doing under the car at practice? Was she checking her hair in the reflection?” They would rip and pick apart anything that I did.
Were the other women getting criticism for different things?
They were also getting the same hatred and that’s when I realized to not internalize that so I started. If you race for a certain amount of time, as a woman, you develop a pretty thick skin and it starts to flow off of you. It’s not all the time and certainly, it’s sometimes people catch me on a wrong day and I’m trying to ignore mean tweets. Occasionally, I’ll feel responding and I will. Craig is my sensor. If I’m writing something out of anger or defensiveness, oftentimes, I’ll show it to him and say, “Is this okay?” He’ll always go, “No. Delete that.”
When you’re trying to talk about something that means a lot to you and that you’re being thoughtful about and you are being of love, you’re not being angry, and you have to stay in that space. I’ve read a lot of stuff and seen things where you talk about how it was also an opportunity for you to reach a whole new audience.
There are always people who complain and they’re loud but when you communicate in that way, where you’re saying you’re informed, but still it’s an invitation, it’s of love, you end up having more people be able to hear you than you’re angry, righteous or any of these things. People out there are trying to make any change in their own life of any kind, like, “Those loud people that push against you, there’s fewer than you think. They are that loud.” Why you’re so impactful is because you do come from that genuine place of, “Let’s talk about it.”
The interesting thing that happens on that thread, for example, is when someone finally did step in and say, “Have you seen the movie?” It then shifted and the conversation was no longer about me, the messenger. The messenger went away and then they started to talk about climate change and the signs that were in the film. By the time I got to the end of the thread, there was somebody who had posted a graph of the parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
They started to argue about the stuff that matters. That was when I had another goosebumps and hair stood up on the back of my neck and I went, “I got people on a NASCAR forum that are normally going on and on about the race on Sunday, hosting and talking about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” That was where it clicked. I was like, “This is why it made no sense to any of my family and friends when I graduated with a degree in biology and then said, ‘I’m moving to North Carolina to be a NASCAR driver.’” I’m sure everybody thought I’d lost my mind but then at that moment, it made sense.
That was how I was merging those two worlds together and bringing the environmental messaging into NASCAR and then also getting the environmentalists. A lot of environmentalists, vegans, and people that work in that space dismiss the NASCAR fans. They’re like, “They’re not going to care about the planet.” That’s not true.
They want clean air and clean water, they’re raising kids, and they understand that we can’t keep treating our planet like a garbage can. This is not going to work for future generations so they’re much more open than people give them credit for and maybe I see that so much more because I’m the balance in between. I’m the bridge between the two so I see both sides. I see environmentalists coming up to me at clean energy events and they’re like, “I love the Indy 500.” “I’ve been to Daytona.”
Who doesn’t like fast cars? Give me a break. I had a friend who worked on Formula E, the European circuit. We used to joke, “You’ve got to put the noise in because that’s part of it. It’s that sound that fast cars make.” I don’t know if it’s primal or what, but when you hear it you’re like, “I’m awake right now.” Let’s say someone’s reading this and they own a gas vehicle and they are not going to buy an electric car soon. Even though those are becoming more competitive on cost and that’s the other thing it’s important for people to know is that electric cars or hybrids are certainly now in the game of being more cost-effective and competitive.
Let’s say they have their gas vehicle. I know that when you raced your car, you had to be on gas. You had a counter for your own carbon footprint. Maybe you could talk about that. Also, part of this is fear. I experience in my own life where you’re like, “The pile is too big. What can I do?” Maybe you could share a few anecdotes, first of all, personally and how you were doing it, but then also, what can they do where they are to at least start to offset some of their own carbon footprints.
Because it was an easy thing to quantify, what I did was rainforest. In 2007 when I was running in the Open Wheel series, I decided that in every race that I ran, I would adopt an acre of rainforest. The sponsor that I ended up getting in the Indy Pro Series told me they initially wanted to sponsor a car in the Indy 500 but they couldn’t find any driver that was fighting for the environment and fit with their message. It was a recycled paper company.
They said they stepped down from IndyCar to Indy Pro to sponsor me because they felt that what I was fighting for outside of the race car aligns better with them. That was the problem with those bigger rides that I didn’t take. Those companies were trying to advertise a product and they didn’t like that I was talking about the bad things that they were doing or I knew that they were doing things that they could change but they wanted me to be a billboard. I made the conscious choice to give up those bigger rides because I felt like I wouldn’t feel good. It certainly held me back from getting higher up in racing and those were full-time rides like multimillion-dollar.
[bctt tweet=”The idea of being on a track where I could go as fast as I wanted and not get pulled over and get in trouble was attractive to me.”]
As an athlete and a driver and someone who wants to go really fast and be on that big platform, did you ever have moments where you were like, “Oh.” All of us want to be at that pinnacle of whatever we’re doing.
Yeah. I saw the car. I was on the couch because I had turned down the ride and I was watching the car who then had a male driver racing at Daytona and running a full season. It was a male driver that was running the car, and I was watching it going, “That could have been my ride. I was offered that ride.” The marketing guy from the race team, I remember him being, “You don’t even have a ride. How can you turn this down? I don’t understand.” I felt like I needed a switch.
Where do you get that strength, though? Is it like, “I’m going to be dedicated to my real own conscience.” That’s hard to do.
I wanted to live what I believed in and I knew that I would have been selling out who I was to take that ride. On top of that, it’s an even more blatantly polluting sport. You’re watching me on TV, going in circles, burning fossil fuels for a couple of hours at a time. Football has a big carbon footprint but they all have big carbon footprints because you’re getting on airplanes.
It’s also all the sponsors. It’s cars, fuel, gas, and all these things. You did an acre of rainforest. If I’m sitting right now reading this, what are some simple things that people can do that maybe don’t take a ton of money or time? The other thing is considering people who don’t have a lot of extra resources to do a little better.
The easiest one that’s not a huge commitment. An electric car is a pretty big commitment. People aren’t buying cars all the time. If you have a house to put up solar but that’s a big investment too. Some people are in apartments and they don’t have a roof to put their solar panels on but all of us eat three times a day. We sat down to eat a meal. Maybe it’s not three times a day. I have two big meals a day but you can make the choice to leave meat and dairy off of your plate and you’re making a big positive impact on your carbon footprint.
More greenhouse gas emissions go into raising animals for food than the entire direct emissions of the transportation industry. That’s all the cars, planes, ships, you name it, put together. The direct emissions from transportation are not greater when you consider knocking down the rainforests, the land that is used, and all the animals. Nothing is going into the atmosphere. We go over this a bit in our documentary film, Racing Extinction. That’s the easiest and cheapest. It’s good for your health.
Let’s say I live in a city and I have a fixed income. This is not to put you on the spot. This is to open up a dialogue and share ideas with people so that they go, “I could do that.” Maybe they’re in a food desert and they don’t have the good stuff. Do you think it’s reasonable to say to somebody, “Would I rather that you’re a vegetarian or a vegan?” I do but baby steps. You’ve heard about Meatless Mondays and things like that.
Is it reasonable to say to people, “For a couple of times a week, could you take the meat as the main part and eat vegetables or a plant-based diet?” Sometimes it becomes an all-or-nothing with people where then they will shut it out and go, “Forget it. It’s too daunting. I live in a place. That’s too much preparation. I can’t even get my hands on the stuff. It’s too expensive.” Whatever the million reasons are. It’s pointing out that if you gave it up a few times a week and focused more on an array of plant-based foods even that would move the needle.
I had a couple of friends of mine. They work in the environmental space and they came to the premiere of Racing Extinction at Sundance. They came out and they said, “We feel so awful because we’re doing all these things in our professional lives to try and help the environment with solar and clean energy but we eat a ton of meat and we hadn’t thought about that before we saw the film.” The next time I was at their house in DC, I went to the store and bought them all kinds of vegan meat substitutes, vegan cheeses, and vegan butter.
I’m not going to name brands. What’s important from a health standpoint is some of those meat substitutes have a lot of ingredients that would be better for the planet 100% but some of the ingredients are sketchy with some of the oils and the things that they put in. I’m not going to name brands. It’s to do it or don’t, in a way. Meaning, I had a cashew cheese the other day brought by Elijah, our mutual friend from a place called The Uncreamery. This stuff costs a fortune but it tasted insane.
The encouraging thing is technology is catching up that we’re going to get there but it’s still important, at least from my point of view, that people are still careful about certain oils or certain things that get put in. For your cellular health, mitochondria function certain things, you have to be careful. You go there and you buy them all these things. That probably tasted great and was satisfying.
That’s good transition food. I have to be honest, even though I’ve been vegan for more than nine years, I still eat a lot of that stuff. I get the vegan beef crumbles and I cook with that stuff, but I have a healthy balance. I do vegan junk food, but I also do healthy stuff. What they ended up doing was stuff out from Meatless Mondays.
Meatless Mondays are great, but it feels like a small commitment. What they decided to do was 2/3 vegan. For their breakfast and lunch, they made vegan, but then they could do anything that they wanted for dinner. They loved that because they felt dinner was usually when they were doing social things. They were going to restaurants and they wanted to not have to think about it. They didn’t want to make it inconvenient for their friends because they didn’t have great vegan options at whatever restaurant.
They called me three months later and said, “The funny thing that happened is at breakfast and lunch, we learned so much about these vegan meals that we like that it started to spill over into our dinners. We would get to dinner and we’d be like, ‘Why would we use the dead animal when we enjoy the vegan chicken as much?’” Now they still say that they’re still not fully vegan, but they say they’re probably 95% vegan. That’s a good way.
Maybe if you pick one meal a day or two as they did, you’ll learn enough and you’ll start to see the vegan spots that are in your areas or the places that have good vegan options. It’s because you’ll become aware. You start to pay attention to that more when you think about what’s happening to the animals. When we did my Vegan Strong car, we gave away 30,000 vegan burgers.
It’s a vegan hippie chick with a race car. Is that right?
Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car. We did the vegan burgers and that was a relief to the fans because the fans thought I was trying to tell them to go vegan. If I had shown up at a NASCAR race at Daytona and been like, “I want you to go vegan. Please have a kale salad,” I would have gotten kicked out of the garage. Here I was offering them a comparable cheeseburger to what they had next door that was completely plant-based but it tasted the same. I had fans come through.
We did two vegan race cars. We did the vegan-powered car in 2017. That one was focused on all the reasons to be vegan, your own health, the animals, the planet, and world hunger, and it encompassed all of that. In between that race car and 2018 Daytona, the marketing company that we were working with on this campaign did a lot of research and it showed that overwhelmingly, the reason why people initially make that switch to try it is for their health.
Whether it was wanting to avoid the antibiotics or hormones that are being fed to all these factory-farmed animals, or whether it was about directly their own cholesterol or they were facing diabetes or heart disease. That’s when we changed the messaging on the car and it’s hard for me because it’s me being vegan for the animals and the planet was what I always want to talk about because that’s what I’m passionate about.
You’ve got to make it about me, my numbers, and my well-being because that’s where people live. It’s like, “That doesn’t impact me.” “That impacts me. Interesting.”
I didn’t know how to talk about health but we brought out all these muscly vegan athletes like a bodybuilder and NFL players.
They’re these huge bodybuilders.
Be careful about bodybuilders though because some of them might be like, “I eat kale,” but they also do steroids. But that’s another story.
There was another guy named David Carter who came with us. His nickname is 300 Pound Vegan. He was an NFL player. I had all these big tough guys around me. I’m only 5’3”. I’m tiny. In my little racing shoes, they’re flat. I have no heels helping me. It was good for me to be able to say, “Look at this giant strong athlete. He’s vegan.” It opened the NASCAR fans up to it and I had NASCAR fans come through my tent and Daytona 2017 come back to my tent in Daytona 2018 when I had the vegan power strong car. They’d say, “I’ve been vegan since I came through your tent last year.”
There were fans posting pictures of their grocery carts full of vegan stuff. It’s those transition foods. Burger King has a vegan burger. McDonald’s is testing their vegan burger in Canada right now. In Charlotte, we now have vegan chicken. Beyond chicken is being tested at KFC. These fast food places, when you think of vegan food deserts, are starting to get these vegan options where if you want to get your chicken nuggets not the healthiest meal but now at least you have an alternative base version of it. I’m not in it for my health. I’m not picking apart the fat content and all those things. In general, if you’re looking at all of the chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that you’re getting with factory farms, it’s scary.
Also, the lives of those animals live. Laird and I eat high-quality meat but we have a vegetarian dinner. For us, it’s about as much real food as we can get our hands-on. I can reverse engineer it differently. I’m interested in the environment and I’m interested in my health and also being in this space. I also have a lot of people around me that give us information about food.
Processed foods in general, whether they have animal products or vegan products, at some point, we’ve gotten so far from eating real food, but this is for me all about baby steps and it isn’t about making people feel guilty. It has been interesting because I’ve even gotten notes from people who go, “You and Laird seem like such good people but I can’t believe you still eat animal products.”
I am fascinated by the militant part of vegetarianism and veganism and I’ve had a lot of discussions about this. This is another reason why I was so happy we’re here because you are doing a good job of sourcing, “Let’s talk about it.” With people’s lives, we don’t know where they come from. We don’t know their education. We don’t know what they have access to and it’s about honoring that.
To your point, you’re an ethical vegan so you’re fighting for something. You’re fighting for the animals and you’re fighting for the planet. That can make the message come across as the planet and the animals are violent. There’s that element where people aren’t informed and it scares them. All of a sudden, they’re like, “I’m guilty by this association.”
If I could say anything, and it’s not to you, it’s to the outside world, sometimes sharing, educating, and offering are more impactful than, “You’re bad and you eat that.” First of all, my parents bought me fast food for dinner. Not me. They don’t even realize sometimes how far people come trying to figure out how to eat more vegetables in their diet. Never mind abandoning it. They just don’t know. Do you have any place where we can direct them? I know you have your website. It’s also making people feel like it’s something that it’s okay to look at and explore.
The website that I would recommend is called TryVeg.com and they offer three starter kits. They offer recipes and tips like what is it that you missed, a good product that you could get instead, or this is something you could substitute. If you’re militant like that then you scare people away and it makes our movement feel scary.
I got fully attacked.
By the militant vegans that were upset.
Did they turn on you?
They did when I did the Impossible Burger. When Impossible Foods were making their vegan burger, which in and of itself is completely vegan. They have a new ingredient in it that’s called heme. It was a Stanford professor that started it but the food scientists found that heme is what meat-eaters crave. That’s what they felt was missing from the vegan burgers. The difference was the blood.
There are vegans right now rolling around. They’re like, “The blood.”
They essentially figured out a way to make plant blood because everything has heme, even plants. They figured out a way to brew plant blood and that’s what they put in the Impossible Burger that makes it look like it’s bleeding. It has that flavor. In order to get that approved to be in all the restaurants, they had to do a test with rats. They did have 70 rats.
[bctt tweet=”The people that were telling me, “You can’t do this.” “Women don’t race,” made me try harder because I want to prove them wrong.”]
What do you mean by testing with rats?
They had to feed heme to the rats to prove that it wasn’t going to kill them or cause problems. I look at the Impossible Burger and I’d say, “They’re shipping millions of these. They’re saving millions of cows. They’re shipping 500,000 pounds of that vegan burger out to restaurants.” Beyond Burger is the other big one. That’s the big one that McDonald’s is testing. There are others but those are the two big players. Beyond uses P-protein so they’re not using the heme so they didn’t have to do that kind of testing.
They’ll catch on. Don’t worry.
That caused a huge backlash. Even though I gave away 30,000 vegan burgers to race fans, they were saying, “It’s not really vegan because they tested on these rats,” which they hadn’t had to do that test once. Once you get the sign off that’s it. I would have preferred they didn’t do that but the way that the requirements from the FDA to be in all these mass fast-food restaurants was to get the sign-off. A lot of those restaurants require that. They call it No Questions Asked. We’ve done everything required to make sure this is safe for human consumption. I had a backlash even though I had been vegan for more than nine years.
How do you feel when they turn on you like that? Do you get pissed? I would be pissed. I would be like, “You guys are traitors.” Sometimes it’s unrealistic if you have an entire system. The fast-food system is built around hamburgers, burritos, or whatever. It’s like, “We’re making progress here.” Everything, whether we like it or not, when we live in this world, there’s economics to it. You can’t be like, “Eat vegan.” What does that mean?
If we can sell a vegan burger, that’s great. It was great in theory and now it’s gone. For me, it’s the nuanced part that I find so fascinating where it’s like, “We’re making progress. We’re making more choices for people. We’re educating people. We’ll get further if you don’t make people feel guilty.” You’re not going to get everybody. Laird and I might well be like, “Laird wants elk and it was killed in a civilized manner,” or whatever. If people are upset about that, I can totally honor that. You’re doing the best that you can.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That’s what I say. When the Impossible Whopper came out, I went and got one. I posted a picture because I was so excited. It was the first time I’d been in a Burger King in decades. When the Beyond Chicken came out, I went and tried it. This is great because it’s offering vegan food that’s accessible to everyone. It’s what people are craving and now they can go there and have their chicken nuggets but they can get a vegan version.
I look at that as being a positive thing but there are vegans that are upset with me because they say, “You’re promoting this awful company that’s killing all these other chickens.” I’m saying, “Yes, but now they’re going to kill fewer chickens because they’re adding a vegan option.” Trying to make people feel guilty doesn’t work.
When the marketing company did the study, they found that 80% of the people tried veganism and made the switch based on health reasons. Once they made the switch and saw that they could do it, it was possible that they were still able to get all the flavors and the taste that they wanted and the meals that they wanted, then they opened up to the ethical arguments.
You can talk to them about animals and the planet. They’re receptive and that’s oftentimes what keeps people but it’s not what makes them switch in the beginning so that’s why we changed the car. My car changed paint schemes. After the Vegan Strong car, we did What the Health car, which was a documentary that was about the health benefits of being vegan.
Speaking of that, I have a lot of friends that are vegan and they supplement. They talked about B12 as mandatory, especially for kids if they’re vegan. It’s an absolute must. There are a couple of other things that you have found. Even if you eat high-quality animal protein, you have gaps. We all have gaps in our diet about things that we’re not getting. Is there anything that you use in supplementation? I know your thing is more ethical but because you don’t eat any animal products.
B12 is the one I take. They go over this in Game Changers where a lot of meat-eaters are also low in because it comes from the soil. Now that we’re feeding all these animals in these factory farms, even meat, they’re getting supplements for B12 so you get B12 in the meat. B12 is added to coconut milk, almond milk, and a lot of those vegan milk that are out there. The only vitamin that I’ve ever been deficient in is vitamin D.
Laird is in the sun more than any person I know but he’s deficient in vitamin D. It’s hard to get vitamin D also at certain times of the year. Even if you live in Hawaii, there are only a couple of hours in the day that your body will process it. I’ve heard a lot of things. For example, it’d be better not to wear sunglasses because your eyes can register what’s happening with the light and it gives information to your brain to help produce the things that you need besides protection in your skin. It’s a tricky thing, vitamin D. That would not be the worst thing for everybody to take. I would be interested to meet one person who has an excess of vitamin D. That’s across the board.
That’s the only time I’ve ever failed my racing physical. Every year we have to do a racing physical. You have to re-up your license. Twice was low in vitamin D. Yes, that one I made sure I take.
I love that your pit is solar so it’s more quiet. Tell me a little bit about how easy that was for you guys to switch your pit over to solar power.
I wish I could run an electric car and everything would run off of the sun but we can’t do that at the track. We had a portable device that was like a battery storage battery that was almost in a briefcase and then you could unfold the solar panels. The interesting thing that happened was there were other race teams that were then interested in it. It’s not because they wanted to be green, and not because they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint but if you’re in those pits, if you’ve ever been to a race, except for maybe Formula E, it’s loud.
Not only do you have these loud race cars going by and coming in and pitting and the crews yelling at each other but those pit boxes are filled by a diesel generator. You’ve then got that extra loud noise there. The race teams that were coming to ask us about as we’re saying, “This would be a competitive advantage because our pit would be quieter. We wouldn’t have these misunderstandings where people can’t hear each other.” That was fascinating.
I was also driving my electric car to all the races too so I got my electric car in 2013. We put solar on our roof so I’ve run 92,000 miles on my Tesla without buying a single drop of gasoline. Also, the electricity, at least when I’m at home charging and I’m not using a Tesla supercharger on the road. If I’m charging at the house, it’s free solar power that’s landing on my roof every day. That’s as clean as you can possibly get if you have an electric car and then it’s completely charged by renewable energy. We were doing this outreach where I was doing the vegan car, but I was also on the side, “Here’s my cool electric car. It’s fast.” Race fans inherently like fast cars.
You wrap everything in the fast bond. I like that because it’s sexy. Going fast is sexy and it’s fun.
It’s fun and the car looks cool. I wouldn’t have done as well if I had shown up with an unattractive slower electric car but I had the cool fast one so it worked well. Sometimes the tracks would even ask me to pull the car up, and they put it on display so the race fans would be able to see it and ask questions about it. The world is definitely shifting in the right direction with electric cars, and solar and vegan food being offered.
The thing that concerns me is we’re adding so many people to the planet so it’s an average net growth of a million more people every 4.5 days which adds up to be a billion people every twelve years, which means at our current rate of meat consumption is 10 billion more farm animals for those billion people. My concern is humans are waking up and we are starting to shift but I don’t know if we’re shifting fast enough.
2050 is a big number for you. You have a mission for 2050.
There are a lot of people, countries, and places that are pledging to get to 100% renewable energy by 2050. I don’t know if that’s what you’re thinking of but that’s not fast enough.
What can we do to make it faster? In your perfect world, what happens?
Vote for candidates that believe in science. That’s something everybody can do.
You like Bernie.
I’m a Bernie girl. I believe in the Green New Deal. He’s been fighting for what is right for decades. It’s his whole life so I feel like he’s authentic. What scares me the most is the pushback against science. These talk shows, these news shows, these 24-hour news shows that always have the climate change scientists that get half the screen. On the other side of the screen, they have some shills for the fossil fuel industry that’s being paid to say something to counteract it and plant a seed of doubt in the general public that doesn’t have time to follow and read all the scientific papers.
They’re giving a 50/50 split and attention when in fact, 97% of the scientists agree that climate change is caused by man. The news came out that Antarctica hit 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s starting to become more obvious to people that there’s no way to deny it now. What scares me is how much within governments, people are dismissing science and they’re trying to sell this.
It’s a funny thing and it’s a different thing. Everyone’s like, “It’s the moral responsibility.” I’m like, “There are politicians.” I almost feel like it has to be the private sector and big groups, the groups with a lot of money. By having the tech people, they have a lot of influence and a lot of money, we would have a better chance than trying only on policy because it feels that you can be more nimble when you do it through the private sector.
I agree. Look at how well Tesla’s doing right now. In the beginning, when I first got my car, they were losing money every quarter. People were having countdowns online of when they were going to go bankrupt. What happened was that they forced the hand of all the other electric car companies, and now every single car company in the world is going to make an electric car.
Now they have to make something to compete with Tesla because they’re losing their customers to Tesla. That’s a great example of the people who bought the product and so that helped that product survive and now. It forced the hand of the Old Guard, the GMs, the Mercedes, the BMW, and all those guys. Their hands are forced, not that they wanted to make electric cars, but now they have to.
You should open up an agency in North Carolina on the economics of saving the planet. What is an economic strategy? Unfortunately, unless it impacts me directly, it’s hard for people to look up and it’s also scary and daunting. What are the ways that it can be economically viable that are not so depressing?
Companies are like, “We’ll throw dollars at that.” Nevermind saving the ocean, our own lives, and the generations of our children. That’s secondary. How can we make money at that? Maybe what you should do is also continue down and be like, “Here’s how your company can make a ton of money by providing these products or doing these types of things.”
The hard thing is in the beginning when the tech is being developed. That’s always expensive. They have to get over that hump. That’s why in the beginning, the Teslas were expensive because they needed that money from the expensive cars to be able to make the tech and make it cheaper to make the ones that are now starting at $35,000, which is the average price of any other new car.
I saw one of their cars. I had a young lady come over here and it was a brand new car. It was on what would be called the lower end and it was a nice car. Completely, there was an entry point. I was impressed.
It’s getting cheaper. If you remember when flat-screen TVs came out and they were $20,000. Now you get the same thing for a few hundred dollars. It’s all about scaling up. As they make more batteries get cheaper.
That’s what we have to figure out. We have to figure out how people can make money off of doing good or doing right. I do find it fascinating. Laird and I talked about how the rain falls on everyone’s house. I like how people whether it’s industry or politics think in some way about how this is not going to impact them in the long run. It is curious to me.
If someone’s reading, do you have 2, 3, or 5 things that they could do right now? We know the meat. We could back off on the meat. Is there anything a little more aggressive they could do for the carbon footprint? I know you were talking about planning an acre of rainforest. Is there a group that’s doing that that you can donate to?
I worked with a group called the Rainforest Trust. As I made it higher up into racing, I was able to do more than an acre of rainforest. In 2018, I did 1,500 acres.
No. I did 1,500 acres total in the eight races that I did. I still want to go visit it. I’ve never gotten to see these areas that they’re protecting. That’s a great group. I work with the Oceanic Preservation Society so they are a nonprofit that makes environmental documentaries that are meant to inspire people to learn about and change the way that they’re living to save the planet.
[bctt tweet=”They feel guilty because you’re then turning the mirror back at them and they’re having to think about these things that they’ve never had to question before.”]
We made a film called The Cove that came out in 2010. I saw The Cove and became fascinated. I became a volunteer for Ric O’Barry, who’s the activist in the film. I ended up working on their second film which is called Racing Extinction, which is about the sixth mass extinction of species that we’re living through right now.
Right now, we’re driving species to a rate of extinction that’s 1,000 times faster than the natural background rate. As we take out the natural world, that’s going to impact humanity. One of the things we go over in racing extinction is phytoplankton bloom. It’s something you can’t see but it happens every year. Ever since the Industrial Revolution and since we’ve been putting carbon in the atmosphere, those phytoplankton blooms have gotten smaller and smaller. Half the oxygen that we breathe, some say 2/3 is coming from the phytoplankton bloom.
That’s a direct impact but it’s something so far removed from you that you’re not going to see. Unless you’re NASA and you’re documenting the phytoplankton blooms, you’re not going to be aware of this. I love what the Oceanic Preservation Society does. Film is one of the few times that people turn off their phones and they’ll focus. They’re not flipping through Twitter. I’m as guilty of that as anybody.
It’s a drug.
Trying to get people to lose themselves in a story and get emotionally moved by it to where they’re going to walk out of the theater or walk away from their couch and change something is powerful. That’s one of the groups that I focus my work on because film is so powerful. It changed me. All the things that I’ve changed have been because of first seeing An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove, and these documentaries about veganism. All that information comes from documentaries. I’m a little bit of a documentary junkie but I’ve learned so much and that’s a powerful way to change people. That’s not making a huge ask of people but it’s sharing films, watching these films, and sharing them with other people.
I’m trying to work on a new documentary film right now with the Oceanic Preservation Society about the fragility of life on Earth. We are in a happy goldilocks zone where we are from, not only the sun but also where we are located in the Milky Way galaxy so we’re out in the boonies, in the country. That’s why there are not a lot of extinction-level events that are happening around us like stars dying and things that would take us out and prevent life from getting to the evolutionary level that we’ve gotten and we’re vulnerable.
I don’t know if you heard about this but in the summertime, there was an asteroid that was about the size of a football stadium that came five times closer to the Earth and the Moon and we didn’t even know it was there until less than 24 hours before it went past us at 55,000 miles an hour. It didn’t hit us but if it had, it would have had a big impact.
It wouldn’t have been extinction-level like the dinosaurs. That one was seven miles, but still, it would have been a significant event and we weren’t even aware that it was there. It was spotted less than 24 hours before by some Brazilian astronomers. We don’t have any plan in place if a comet were to come or an asteroid that we were unaware of like this one. There are so many things that can take humanity out of these things that we can’t control like asteroids and comets.
Let’s participate a little bit in the stuff that we can.
Also, global pandemics and us taking ourselves out with overpopulation and overusing our resources and acidifying our oceans. We have to do everything we can to control the things we can control but there are also these outside things.
Which you can’t worry about, in a way. What can you do? You and I are not stopping an asteroid. It’s like anything if you can do your part. The thing is people think, “What can I do? I’m one person.” For me, that is at the bottom line of all that you’re saying. It is overwhelming but what’s the alternative? There’s no alternative. We can’t stick our heads in the ground and not look at this now. Randomly, do you wear a certain kind of makeup? Is there makeup? Is there a place people can go to go, “If I’m trying to align myself with these ideas, I can navigate if these brands are practicing ethical practices.”
They’ve got labels. If you go to a makeup place and you go to Sephora, it’ll be like, “We love vegan.”
Is it pictures? We’re all about pictures.
Yeah. It has a little bunny on it. It’s cruelty-free or something like that. Also, you can google and there will be lists like PETA and other organizations.
They scare people.
For sure, because they’re on the militant side. They’re good for checking these lists. Also, one of the things I keep in mind when you’re saying you feel like this is big and what can one person do? One of the statistics that always makes me feel a little bit more hopeful about it is that some scientists did a study to see if there was a tipping point for ideas. Is there a point when an idea spreads to where it’s not going to stop?
What they found is that 10% of the population has an unwavering belief in an idea. It’s inevitable that the rest of society will adopt that idea and it’ll struggle. One of the scientists that worked on it said you’d watch it barely climbing and it felt like it was going nowhere. The second that it hits the 10%, they said it spreads like a wildfire.
It’s like the 100th Monkey Rule. Have you ever heard that?
No. What is that?
There was a tale or a tall tale but I like it nonetheless. It’s a level of consciousness, what you’re saying. We forget that we’re all tapped in together. It’s consciousness. There was a group of monkeys that lived in the same place. One of the monkeys took a root and went by the water and washed it off and ate it. All the monkeys there, that was a normal practice.
This tall tale or tale that I choose to believe because it represents consciousness is that when 100 monkeys did it, all the monkeys all around everywhere started practicing that same practice. We all think we’re behind our gates and in our houses and in our own troubles and we are but we are all connected. To your point, that 10%, if we can have that solidarity, we can impact positively on one another.
Why I wanted you to be here is because I still think it has to be done. With a real conviction, you gave up things to do this. You’ve given up. It’s not like you’re just giving rhetoric and lip service. You gave up things that you feel, wanted, and are passionate about but you’re still coming at it in a non-judgmental, loving way. We live in a world of snippets and all these things.
I want to encourage people that if they feel strongly about this message, maybe they look at someone like yourself and that tone and see if the invitation for the change is, if not more impactful at least equally impactful to shame, guilt, and all these other things. If I’ve missed something that feels important, I’d love for you to share it. What you’re doing is not only so important but the example that you set is it’s admirable.
Thank you. We are more connected than ever through the internet and social media and that has good and bad things but it can also help good ideas spread. That’s powerful. I agree with you. By being positive, you’re going to win more people over. You always have to keep in mind that people are at different parts of their journey. I ate meat. I had a gasoline car. I didn’t have solar. I didn’t know a lot of these things. It was a journey. I was learning as time went on and got to where I‘m at. For me to then get here and then turn around and be like, “How dare you drive that pickup truck? How dare you eat that meat?” That could have easily been me if I hadn’t stumbled across learning all these things.
You always have to keep in mind that they’re maybe at an earlier part of the journey. By having the knowledge, a lot of environmentalists and activists can get depressed because they’re thinking the same thing. It’s a mountain too big for us to climb. I always feel like I wake up an optimist and I go to bed a pessimist. It wears on me over the day, all the bad news. If you surround yourself with people that are also trying to do good things, you help lift each other and you tend to find those people. When you’re planting seeds together, they spread faster. Overall, I feel optimistic about the way that humans are going. It’s the speed that I’m worried about.
You’re always into speed. We know that’s going to be your whole life. Are you going to miss racing?
I felt a pang of missing it for the first time because they’re qualifying. They’re out on the track for the first time at Daytona. I still follow my old race team and I raced with them for so many years because they’re like family to me. I started to feel more and more like, “What is the point of this?”
You have things to do.
I remember 2014, I was testing and I was the fastest car at the test. It was a big deal and I was telling Craig, “Go take a picture of my number at the top of the pylon.” It was important to me that I had an image of myself being the fastest car on the track. When I looked at the numbers, that was a difference of a couple of thousands of a second between me and the guy in second. It was hundreds of a second separating the top ten. I was like, “This is silly.” Yes, I was this much but it’s such a small difference. You start to think about all the money, all of the effort, and all of this going in a circle faster by 1/1000 of a second than the guy in second. It seems crazy.
The way that I was able to be okay with that for so long was that my car was carrying a message and my messages were about things I cared about like solar, clean energy, veganism, and The Cove. I ran Blackfish in my car. They were things that I was passionate about. I felt like my car had a deeper meaning. I also started to feel that it is insane that we spend this much money and time doing this. I get it, sports are not gonna go away. Sometimes it drives me crazy how much money and everything that goes into it when you hear about these $400 million contracts and you’re like, “Can we give 3/4 of that to science and cut back?” It’s funny saying that because I know you’re a professional athlete.
I don’t feel guilty. In beach volleyball, we got paid nothing so I’m good.
I didn’t know that.
I made all my money on endorsements. I’m joking. You start moving into the pocket with entertainment. We look at it as a sport but it’s entertainment. It’s a weirdly ambiguous cost on entertainment if you think about it. We’re looking to entertain ourselves, escape, or things like that. There are risks. People like to watch things where something could happen that’s like, “I feel alive because something could happen.” I want you to know that I appreciate a girl who will wear a dress with butterflies on it, put her foot down, and drop the hammer. Thank you for coming to my house.
Thank you for having me.
If people want to find you, maybe you could share where they can find you.
My website is CarbonFreeGirl.com because I wanted to be carbon neutral. I started to realize I might have to change that because I’m not a girl anymore.
You’re always a girl. I know 80-year-old girls.
Is that okay?
Absolutely. You should never lose the girl. Until we die, I should look in your eyes and say, “I see some of the girls in there.”
I love that.
Do you ever get pulled over? Do you drive fast in your everyday life?
I joke that I save all this money on gas with the Tesla.
Tesla has moved.
I’ve gotten three speeding tickets. With tires, because you have so much torque, you have 100% torque from 0%. I burn through my tires pretty quickly. Also, speeding tickets. I had three in one year.
Does Craig drive now?
Do you go into a different mode when you get in your car to drive even if it’s a Tesla?
I’m still always going to enjoy that speed. What I’ve learned to do is to use that 0 to 60, the torque, but then slow down. I do speed. I try to keep it to the level where you think you’re not going to get pulled over.
Break the rules but don’t get caught. My kids live by that motto, too.
It’s a good motto.
It seems to be working for them. Thank you.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo. And Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About Leilani Munter
Leilani Münter is a biology graduate turned race car driver and environmental activist. She believes it is essential for humans to adapt and evolve the way we are living to a sustainable way that does not destroy the world around us. Leilani is an advocate for renewable energy, solar power, electric cars, plant-based diet, and animal rights. She sits on the board of three non-profits: Oceanic Preservation Society, Empowered by Light, and EarthxFilm. Leilani is also an ambassador for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and a patron of Population Matters. Leilani was featured in the 2015 documentary film Racing Extinction. Leilani wants our future to be a cleaner and kinder world.