We live in a society that is at once the most politically aware and the most consumer oriented in human history. Twenty-first-century shoppers don't just consume; we investigate and categorize the impact of our decisions on climate change, animals, our health, our political views, geopolitical relationships, working conditions, and more. Yet when we actually try to live according to our principles, it can be so overwhelming, contradictory, and demanding that we want to scream. Every step, every dollar, every swipe of a paper towel has become a decision that can make the world a better—or worse—place.
Take one daily dilemma: what jacket should I buy? If it was made in El Salvador, China, or Vietnam, was it sewn by workers in a sweatshop at near-starvation wages, forced to labor twenty-hour days in dangerous conditions? Are those jobs actually considered desirable in those countries? Can I even find a jacket made in the United States? If I do, should I insist on union-made? But what if that's more expensive? And what fabric is it made of? Does it contain animal skins? Is the cotton organic? What kind of dyes were used? Does it have fair-trade certification? Oh, and by the way: does it look good on me?
Veteran journalist and levelheaded mom Fran Hawthorne sets out to answer these questions—and spark more. En route, she interviews activists and ordinary consumers alike, including officials from PETA, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club, an organization of "EcoMoms," and the rabbinical group that has redefined kosher. She learns from ethicists, psychologists, Wall Street analysts, child-rearing experts, and policy wonks, while examining everything from Barack Obama's union-made inaugural ball tuxedo to the conundrum of how electric cars might obtain their electricity. And she delves into socially responsible investing at a moment when the wheels have come off the economy. Her odyssey will be all-too familiar and often funny for consumers who have thrown up their hands and wondered, "What's a good liberal to do?"
With a welcome mixture of facts and humor, Fran Hawthorne highlights the dilemmas of living an environmentally virtuous, healthy life in a fiercely consumption-oriented culture.—Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
"People are quickly learning that living a simple, low-impact life actually isn't so simple. Thankfully, there's much-needed relief to be found in Fran Hawthorne's funny, poignant, and often eye-opening way of sorting through the dilemmas-and solutions—facing socially and environmentally minded consumers."—Greg Melville, author of Greasy Rider: Two Dudes, One Fry-Oil-Powered Car, and a Cross-Country Search for a Greener Future