Ecoholic + The Virtuous Consumer

Reviewed by: Cecile Ross
Categories: Consumerism
Ecoholic book review A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Ecoholic \ Adria Vasil + The Virtuous Consumer \ Leslie Garett

It isn’t easy being green. There’s the guilt that comes with every plastic bag or paper napkin tossed, with each imported peach eaten, every jar of face cream or new pair of shoes bought. There’s the confusion of recycling and reusing, of figuring out what to do with those used batteries and wine corks, broken toasters and old TV sets. And plastics? Don’t get me started on plastics.

It seems that every consumer decision we make these days is a choice between convenience and planetary peril. And even when we think we’re doing the right thing, are we really? What is worse for the planet: All those disposable diapers going to landfill, or the hot water and detergent needed to launder cloth nappies? What uses more energy: Driving from market to market in the search of locally produced food, or transporting goods across continents to the centralized warehouses we call supermarkets? What should we buy: Polyester or cotton? Fair trade bananas or local apples? Carpeting or hardwood? How far are we willing to go: Homemade toothpaste? Lambskin condoms? Reusable feminine hygiene products?

Yes, environmentalism has taken most of the fun out of shopping and replaced it with anxiety. And while I can’t say that these two timely and useful green consumer guides will put joy back into your shopping trips, they will help you deal with the inevitable conundrums of green consumerism.

Both books raise awareness about the downsides of many of the everyday products we use (from deodorant and dandruff shampoo to wallpaper and pet food), unmindful of their impact on the environment or our health. Both highlight Earth-friendly alternatives to many of the no-no’s lurking right now in your bathroom and kitchen.

Of the two, I found Ecoholic to be more useful. Adria Vasil has been writing about the environment for NOW several years. Her matter-of-fact tone is never preachy, and her recommendations are directed specifically at Canadian consumers. She also includes recipes for homemade products whenever possible. And though it’s hard to imagine that a mixture of baking soda and sugar will actually kill roaches, I suppose it’s worth a try.

Vasil also includes an appendix that differentiates the seven deadly plastics that, no matter how committed we are, are almost impossible to avoid altogether. At least it helps to know bad from worse.

Leslie Garrett’s The Virtuous Consumer grows out of her popular online column. It, too, is a comprehensive guide to sorting through the confusion of consumer choices. I, however, found Garrett a tad too virtuous at times. (She eats only organic meat, uses a rubber menstrual cup and always walked to school as a child.)

But this is a quibble. Both books are packed with helpful information. Both are fun to browse through, more fun than shopping even (well, almost), and way better for the planet. And both, as they should be, are printed on 100-per-cent post-consumer recycled paper.

Ecoholic, Adria Vasil, Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2007, 352 pages

The Virtuous Consumer, Leslie Garrett, Novato, California: New World Library, 2007, 224 pages

This review originally appeared in The Best in Books, Issue 34.2. Subscribe now to get more book reviews in your mailbox!

Reviewer Information

A senior editor at The Globe and Mail, Cecily Ross is the author of Love in the Time of Cholesterol. She eats good quality meat, doesn’t use a rubber menstrual cup and rode the bus to school.

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