Quiz: How Virtuous Is Your Shopping?

How to be a conscious consumer
Are you a conscious consumer? Find out by taking the quiz at the bottom of this excerpt from “The Virtuous Consumer.”

I’ve never attended a rally for the poor. Or written a letter of protest to a corporation whose policies are emasculating male sea turtles. Or gone on a hunger strike (unless you count the times I needed to lose five pounds by the weekend to fit into a size six). I hate tofu, have never chained myself to an old-growth tree, and don’t drive a VW van powered by French-fry grease.

I like lipstick. And shoes.

But I think about the hole in the ozone layer as I slather sunscreen on my children. I cringe at the reports of children in third-world countries who are sold into bondage by their desperate families to factories that make my kids’ toys. I worry about the increasing number of “smog days” our local radio station warns us about. I puzzle over food packages that list ingredients I can’t pronounce. I hack away at the plastic that encases everything from CDs to tiny vials of face cream, cursing the corporations that seem to think their products are so worthy of toxic protection. I cry at Free Willy.

I buy cosmetics that weren’t first worn by a bunny. I compost and recycle. I buy secondhand. And organic, when I can afford it.

I’m probably a lot like you.

I am, however, a journalist — which means I enjoy badgering people and asking questions. I’m not afraid to phone David Suzuki to find out what, exactly, organic food is or ask Ronnie Cummins who founded the Organic Consumers Association whether organic food is really “organic” if it’s made from the powdered milk of an organically raised cow half a world away. And contact UNICEF to find out what’s up with allegations of child labor being used to make backyard fireworks. Or ask some corporate bigwig what the deal is with the way his products are manufactured. And ask again when he gives me a load of crap.

I’m also a great believer in the power of informed choice to bring about change.

Frankly, I’m ready for it. I’m not ready to move myself off the grid, grow my own vegetables, and churn my own butter. But I am ready for products that I can buy with a clear conscience. Or at least a clearer conscience. I’m ready to be a conscious consumer.

They’re out there — more every day — if you know what to look for.

I’ve also made a discovery that just might revolutionize the consumer world. If I shop armed not only with a conscience but also with the facts to act according to it, I feel better. Not just “I have a great new purse” better but “my great new purse is supporting a women’s cooperative in the Philippines and recycling juice boxes at the same time” better. I feel a genuine connection to people I’ve never met and to this planet we share as our home. Not bad for a morning at the mall.

Five products that make me crazy

  1. Hummers
  2. Swiffers, Pledge wipes, and other disposables
  3. Water in plastic bottles
  4. Polly Pocket dolls
  5. Oscar Mayer Lunchables

Five eco-products I love

  1. My bicycle and trailer in summer; my new hybrid in winter.
  2. My clothesline.
  3. My organic cotton, sweatshop free little black dress.
  4. Fair-trade organic dark chocolate from Green & Black’s.
  5. Bonterra organic 2001 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

How Virtuous Are You?

Take this quick online quiz to determine where you fall on the scale of virtuous consumption:

  1. Which is the better choice: the fair-trade apple from South Africa, the organic apple from Fiji, or the apple from the farm down the road?
  2. When you’re cold inside, do you put on a sweater and make a pot of fair-trade green tea or crank up the heat to 76 degrees and fire up the blender for margaritas?
  3. Which is the greater producer of greenhouse gas emissions: driving cars or rearing cattle?
  4. Does a car fueled by vegetable oil have zero greenhouse gas emissions?
  5. Is organic food expensive?
  6. Do you think public transit is for suckers who don’t own cars?
  7. Can meat or milk from a cloned animal be considered organic if the animal is raised to organic standards?
  8. Which fabric is more earth-friendly: cotton or polyester?
  9. With breast milk showing increasing levels of flame retardant chemicals, among others, should mothers turn to formula?
  10. Can production of genetically modified food help solve the world hunger problem?


  1. From an environmental perspective, the local apple is the one to choose. However, from a social justice standpoint, supporting fair-trade products sends a strong message. Pick your cause then take a bite.

  2. Mom was right. Snuggle up and feel virtuous. Save the hand-cranked margaritas for a hot summer day when you don’t want to crank the AC.

  3. Those cud-chewing cows are wicked with emissions, generating 18 percent more than transport, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

  4. Veggie oil as fuel is considered “carbon neutral” because, though it releases greenhouse gases when it’s burned, it absorbed COc as a plant. In some cases (such as burning oil from winter rapeseed), the original plant absorbed more COc than the fuel emits.

  5. Yes, it’s generally more expensive than conventional food. However, if you reduce consumption in other areas, it’s easy to make up the difference. In my family, for example, we buy organic meat, but eat considerably less of it. Buy fewer processed convenience food items and more fresh food and you can usually expect a healthier grocery store bill.

  6. Get yourself a bus pass, get a good book to read (like this one!), and get over yourself.

  7. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is leaning toward “yes,” but plenty of consumer groups are loudly disagreeing. As one consumer activist notes, “It’s like putting artificial apples in apple pie.”

  8. Depends on whom you ask, but more experts are leaning toward polyester, which, though it’s derived from petroleum, requires less water to wash and no ironing. And cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops in the world. Of course, there are better alternatives to either.

  9. No! The benefits of breastfeeding still outweigh the risks—studies show that the antibodies, enzymes, and nutrients in breastmilk can shield babies from some of the effects of pollutants. However, get involved with Make Our Milk Safer (www.safemilk.org) to help clean up women’s bodies.

  10. Nope again! Hunger is largely a problem of food distribution, not food production. This is an argument that proponents of genetically modified food march out to persuade detractors . . . but it’s been disproven by the United Nations.

From the book "The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide to a Better, Kinder, Healthier World." Copyright 2007 by Leslie Garrett. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.



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