As Meryl Streep DRA ’75 began to explain the “my children are your children” philosophy behind her consumer advocacy group, “Mothers and Others,” she chuckled to herself as she looked at her audience of college students.
“I did some mental math and realized that [when I started this] you were all four or five years old,” she said. “The more mature ones maybe six.”
With this motherly tone, Streep — a longtime environmentalist and an award-winning actress — spoke at a Jan. 31 Berkeley College Master’s Tea about her activism in supporting organic foods. Berkeley Master John Rogers said Streep came to show her enthusiasm for Berkeley’s plans to become Yale’s first all-organic dining hall by this fall.
Streep focused her talk on her years as a consumer advocate, highlighting her fight over the “Intolerable Risk” study, which the National Resources Defense Council released in 1989.
“The study showed that all the tolerances for the amounts of pesticides that were allowed to be sprayed were set to the standards of a 180-pound male,” Streep said. “The result of this was that infants and little children, who metabolize so quickly, were being exposed to much more [pesticide] than they should be.”
Streep explained that her true concern for the cause did not come until after the birth of her son.
“Back then I didn’t care about myself,” she said. “I was cool and I smoked cigarettes and I didn’t care about all that stuff. Then I had my first child and then everything shifted.”
Although Streep has always been concerned with environmental issues, she emphasized her need to maintain a balance between her activism, career and family.
“It’s the Susan Sarandon syndrome,” she said. “You want to go up for everything and you want to stand up for everything because everything makes you mad, [but] in my life I have a lot going on, with my career and my children and my elderly parents. It’s a lot of responsibility that I really don’t want to jeopardize.”
Streep said she decided more recently to take a less active role in supporting the cause because of her time constraints. While “Mothers and Others” disbanded in 2001 because of financial difficulties, Streep said she still supports the cause, especially in Connecticut, where she currently resides.
“I’d rather crawl into a hole than to go on television and bark about things that I insufficiently understand, so I really did do my homework,” she said. “I had decided after a while to take a more of a backseat, that is to say a financial role in the movement [because] being out there as a spokesperson you have to really stay current.”
Berkeley students in attendance at the tea said they recognized her commitment to being an informed activist.
“She’s not just a star with an issue,” Gwendolyn McDay ’05 said. “She really educated herself.”
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