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It’s the Thought, and the Research, that Counts

How to shop for the activists on your list without violating their values

Gifts are about being thoughtful. At least, ideally, they are. When it comes to gifts, George Bernard Shaw’s comment “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same” becomes the ruling adage.

But what if you have someone on your list who spends the day after Thanksgiving celebrating Buy Nothing Day, protests the labor practices of your favorite clothing manufacturer, or tsks-tsks at your virgin-forest-derived wrapping pa per? If it’s not your worldview, it can feel daunting to navigate. But it’s not really that hard to find gifts that will support your giftees’ values and still bring them the joy of receiving something they’ll actually use and enjoy. Here’s some tips for those on your list:

Eco Geek: Not exactly headed back to nature, but forward into the gloriously efficient and sustainable future, the eco geek will enjoy anything that both works better and is more environmentally sound than its usual counterpart. To set her heart aflutter, try a solar panel backpack so she can charge her laptop while she bikes to work.

Eco Chic: Dedicated to proving that the finer things in life are even finer when recycled and nontoxic, the denizen of eco chic will go gaga over the latest in organic cotton or hemp fashion. Try something beyond the usual “natural” color T-shirt with an environmental logo. Everything from jeans to suit jackets to make-up cases come in low-impact fiber now, many with different “grown-in” colors.

Local-Business Lover: A neighborhood leader and downtown champion, the local-business lover cringes at the thought of holiday shoppers crowding the big-boxes for the supposedly easier parking. To win his heart, find the closest non-mall, non-chain retail center near either his house (if he lives within striking distance of you) or yourself. Find the locally owned businesses there (extra points for ones selling locally made products) and go to town. Be sure to get some sort of story about the business owner or the maker of whatever you buy to detail in your card.

Animal Rights: Rather than adding one more bottle of cruelty-free bubble bath to her shelves, delight your favorite vegan with some of the things that are a little tougher to accommodate animal free. Non-leather shoes, especially attractive, dressy ones, are a treat. Or if she hasn’t yet mastered the fine art of substitution in baking (it’s more complicated than just two tablespoons of arrowroot to one egg, trust me), give her a helping hand like The Voluptuous Vegan, by Myra Kornfeld and George Minot. Her roommates may thank you as well.

Self-Flagellating: Not limited to any one particular cause necessarily, this is the person who never feels like he’s doing enough, do nating enough, protesting enough. For him, seek out the best of the fund-raising goodies for good organizations. You may have to sort through a lot of mugs and key chains, but plenty of groups are selling some nicer stuff to raise money for their good work. A loon-print tie from the Adirondack Council, for example, can provide a little bit of solace to the nature lover trapped in a suit-and-tie job. Or consider springing him from the burden of an AAA membership that unwittingly supports anti-environmental lobbying with a membership to the irreverent but highly competitive Better World Club.

Democrat: Not just anyone who opposes the Republicans, but someone who owns at least one thing with a donkey logo, the die-hard Democrat on your list will love that copy of the latest best seller twice as much if you tell him you avoided buying it from because of their big contributions to the party of Bush Jr. Got a present in mind, but want to know which companies to seek out for your blue buddies? Check out

Solidarity First: Much like for your Democrat relatives, when shopping for the union supporters among your family and friends, where you buy is more important than what you buy. The American Apparel clothing brand was started specifically to provide a sweatshop-free, union-made, American-made clothing option. Know anyone teetering on the brink of getting a cell phone? Cingular is the union option. To check out your product of choice, see

Live Simply: In contrast to the pick-your-company-wisely folks, for the simple livers, overwhelming consumerism and consumption, cluttered spaces, and having to get rid of yet more stuff they never use is what makes them anxious about the season. Relieve their worries with tickets to local theaters and performance venues, gift certificates for massages or yoga classes, or gourmet (organic, fair-trade) food items that will take up space in the pantry for only a transitory moment.

Anticorporate: Maybe hardest to shop for, the simple liver’s more hard-core cousin really means it about wanting to drop out of the capitalist system. If you’re dead set against acquiescing to her call to spend your traditional gift-giving time volunteering with Food Not Bombs instead, you can still offer an olive branch or two. Blackspot products, the “anti-enterprise” started by culture-jamming gods Adbusters, are producing sneakers with a black spot instead of a logo. Any purchaser becomes a shareholder in the company, and you can be sure the proceeds will go to subversive uses. Or spend some time searching for unusual thrift-store finds. Honestly, it’s not tacky if it makes them happy.

—Miriam Axel-Lute


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