As an optimist, I believe that most of us are doing our best to preserve our world for our children and grandchildren: we recycle, we reuse, and we reduce. We enjoy local foods and buy organic when we can. The Virtuous Consumer is a celebration of new technologies and industries that are coming into their own to support future generations’ health and happiness.

The eleven chapters discuss various aspects of our lives, with often startlingly information revealed. Some examples:

Chapter One: “personal” discusses cosmetics, feminine products, and (surprise!) sex toys. Did you know, for example, that the ex-gassing from sex toys can be as toxic as painting a room?

Chapter Two: “eco-chic” covers clothing and jewelry. If you’ve managed to avoid knowing much about sweat shops before now, you will look at major brands with a different perspective. Also: dry-cleaning and cotton clothing are nearly equal in toxicity. Who knew? Also, the history of jewels and mining will make you think carefully and look into the integrity of Canadian, synthetic and ‘used’ jewelry.

Chapter Three: “food” discusses farm vs wild fish, the ‘watering down’ of organic standards, genetic and pesticide legacies from large-scale operations, and why eating locally makes a lot of sense.

Chapter Four: “kids” will scare you if you have children (I shared it with my sister).

Chapter Five: “clean living” discusses the toxicity of various cleaners and how to reduce one’s ecological ‘footprint.’ I think Organic Housekeeping does it better – but that is an entire book.

Chapter Six: “home” discusses materials and habits that reduce toxins and promote sustainability. I’ve been considering exchanging my wall to wall carpeting, and this chapter convinced me to switch to cork and bamboo flooring.

Chapter Seven: “energy” discusses renewable resource energy, appliances and ways to reduce your energy consumption. Not a lot of ‘new’ information here, but it definitely rounds out the books’ presentation.

Chapter Eight: “gardening” discusses safe pest and weed controls as well as composting. Similar to chapter seven in its usefulness, and appropriateness.

Chapter Nine: “car” discusses new options to the old gasoline powered vehicles, as well as ideas for driving green.

Chapter Ten: “pets” discusses caring for your pet (including appropriate spay/neutering); zoos, and stain removal. The weakest chapter (and one of the shortest).

11) Chapter Eleven: “celebrations” discusses over-consumption resulting from, holiday mayhem, including ways to get a hold of the madness and get back to the reason for the season: celebration, family, and renewal.

Throughout the book Garrett shows the consumer that there much more that we could be doing, but avoids lecturing us in the process (a rare feat!). It’s about better options, no matter where you are staring from. For me, information about organic gardening isn’t very useful (I’ve got a container garden, and no ability to compost), but the eye-opening discussion about feminine products was incredible. I really hadn't thought about how my pads and tampons were adding to the landfills, and although I haven’t actually changed my habits, I’m considering options in a way I haven’t before.

The Virtuous Consumer is an interesting read, an eye-opener at times, an oft-useful reference about places to check out, and a reality check on your purchasing habits. Although I don't see myself following Garrett’s recommendations to the letter or worrying about how every purchase I make effects the world, I am looking at familiar objects and routines with a new awareness.


~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Leslie Garrett

New World Library, 2007

pp. 212, $15.95