Hot-and-sour soup, an environmental case study: You order the soup takeout from a Chinese fast-food restaurant. The soup goes down easy, but disposing of the container doesn’t. It needs to be cleaned if it’s to be reused or recycled.
You can scrub, but the oil just clings. A spurt of dish soap won’t do. A hearty blast of hot water just creates a soapy sheen.
Fran Hawthorne — journalist, wife, and mother, not the person in her household who orders this soup — has been there: “How much water am I wasting? What are these soap pads made of? To save this little piece of plastic, I’m probably wasting more resources.”
What’s a good consumer/environmentalist to do? Globalized-first-world problems demand hard decisions.
Hawthorne’s: “It killed me to put it in the garbage pail.”
Evaluating such practical-turned-existential crises characterize Hawthorne’s recent work. She explores what the “good” decisions are in modern life’s confusing and uncomfortable spots. Local or organic? Long-term, socially responsible investments or short-term, quick-return ones? Eco-friendly or economical? How much can you ask of a product? Of yourself? Hawthorne respectively addresses the last two questions in her 2012 book Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love and 2010 book The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism.
Ethical Chic investigates Tom’s of Maine, Timberland, Starbucks, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and American Apparel — cool kids on the ostensibly green-business block. These companies have their virtues, ranging from using natural ingredients to selling items exclusively made in the USA.
And yet — it’s never quite simple, Hawthorne finds.