The teenage entrepreneur talked with Food & Wine about vegan pancakes, the melancholy of pasta, and Just Water, the eco-friendly beverage company he began building at 11 years old.
Jaden Smith might be best known for his outsized Twitter presence, the platform for his musings on science, life as a celebrity, and crying at your reflection in the mirror—but in truth, the teenager is a whip-smart crusader for an environmentally-conscious planet. When he was just 11 years old, he first learned about the Pacific Garbage Patches, huge masses of plastic floating in our oceans, and began planning a business that would reduce plastic production and support sustainable practices. His parents thought he was just going through a phase, but years later, the family founded Just Water, which creates water bottles from reusable resources. In a chat with Food & Wine, the 19-year-old detailed his mission to make the world a more mindful, healthier, cleaner, and well-hydrated place. He also discusses the melancholy of pasta and the benefits of dining alone.
On his mission to create eco-friendly water bottles:
"We started Just Water when I was 11. It was because I was so concerned with the Pacific Patches, and the amount of the CO2 that goes into creating plastic. There were no other water bottles that had an alternative to [plastic], so that’s when why we started Just, and found Tetra Pak.
CO2 and greenhouse gases are a big concern for me as well. That’s why the bottle is made up of 82 percent renewable resources and has a 42 percent reduction in CO2 compared to any competitor.
As the science continues to evolve, so do we. Before, we only used 52 percent renewable resources, but then we discovered that we could make the cap out of plant-based plastic. That was a really big jump for us."
On what sustainability looks like in his day-to-day life:
"I don’t drink soda for health reasons, and aluminum is a lot worse than plastic. I don’t eat meat that has environmental repercussions. I just try to drink as much water as possible. I just drink water out of the faucet if I think it tastes good.
It’s really hard just because the way that our energy has been set up, the way that our lives have been set up, it’s all been set up to be really not good for the environment. If you turn on a light, you’re burning fossil fuels. If you turn on the water, you’re burning fossil fuels. It’s really difficult."
On his go-to snacks:
"Tea and mangoes. [He says this while chewing on the skin of recently consumed mango]. I like green tea. It’s good for your brain, it’s good for your body.
I try to stay hydrated. Soon science will come out to say how important it is to hydrate ourselves. I feel like it’s going to say that you need to hydrate yourself slowly throughout the day. I’ll just down a bottle of water and then another one, and think I'm good. You need to hydrate yourself slowly, throughout the day. You need to take a sip of water every five minutes."
On how you can be more environmentally friendly:
"Reuse as much as possible. If you’re a painter, and you get a box from something, make that box flat and use it as a canvas. Try to buy anything that is made out of recycled plastic.
I have this piece of Just re-wall material [made out of recycled Just water bottles], and you can make a table out of this, you make drywall out of this. These are the types of materials that are made out of sustainable materials, but these are not really accessible on the marketplace right now."
On the most melancholy food and eating alone:
"I think pasta is pretty melancholy. I had Italian food by myself last night [at Il Mulino]. That was pretty melancholy. I do like to eat alone. I think it’s good. I know people that won’t go out to eat if they don’t have someone to do it with. When you’re with other people and you’re eating, you’ll just eat and eat, and you won’t pay attention to how full you’re getting.
When you eat alone you can really be like, okay I am getting more full, let me stop, let me sit in silence for ten minutes and see how my stomach feels. I haven’t eaten in a long time and it’s because I overate last night and this morning. You have to pay attention to how you eat.
I’m trying to be more mindful of everything that I do, and just really be aware of every step that I take throughout the day. If you can be [mindful] we wouldn’t be having any of the problems that we're having right now."
On cooking and being a vegetarian:
"I’m not really big on eating. I’m going back to Il Mulino tonight [before leaving New York]. I do cook at home because I can make meals for myself really easily, some brown rice, quinoa, beans, maybe some kale, maybe some herb aioli.
It’s a solo effort on my part. Everyone in my family has such different tastes. I don’t want to cook things that aren’t vegetarian. I don’t want to cook meat because I don’t want to breathe it in.
Some people in the family are vegetarian for two days. That’s what I always tell people. Don’t think you have to be a vegetarian and stay vegetarian for the rest of your life. Just have one day out of the week when you’re a vegetarian. Just follow it at your own pace."
On what he craves when he gets back to California:
"Definitely Erewhon, definitely The Ponte, and waffles and pancakes. Vegan pancakes and vegan butter is the best combination. And vegan bacon and vegan sausage are the best things I’ve ever had. Usually, at my parents' house, there are vegan pancakes."