The Overloaded Liberal—Lessons from Fran Hawthorne

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I want to buy local and organic, but if I can’t find food that is both, do I buy local or organic? I believe in supporting local businesses, but if I can only find the notebook with recycled paper at a national office supply store, do I buy it or go with a less environmentally friendly version at the local store?

We each have a set of values that we live by—or try to live by. Whether it is supporting local businesses, buying union-made goods and services, eating organic food, or buying recycled goods, the list goes on. Oftentimes, though, our values start to overlap one another, and it is difficult to find a product to buy or a company to support that falls in line with all of our values, let alone one that we can afford. So what are we to do?

Fran Hawthorne has spent time sorting through these dilemmas of everyday life, and then some. The author of The Overloaded Liberal spoke recently at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City, Iowa on exactly how to juggle each value and principle. Hawthorne, who discusses the values mentioned above—and more—in her book, said that she hears from a lot of people that they “feel guilty” when they can’t do everything or support every value all of the time.

“So, instead of trying to do it all,” she says, “choose one or two things you can do—and do them.” For example, Hawthorne buys organic, cage-free eggs because it gives the chicken a better life; and she can afford the price, since eggs are cheap anyway.

For you, your “one or two things” could include recycling every soda can you drink, going through your closet every season and donating the clothes you no longer wear, or making one meal a week with local ingredients.

Once you establish the routine of doing your one thing, push yourself to the next step, Hawthorne says. Then slowly spread the word, and more and more people will start catching on.

As a college student on a tight budget, it can be difficult to buy organic food, which oftentimes is more expensive. However, there are ways that you can do your part and spare your wallet. Hawthorne suggests turning off your lights (an obvious action, but one that many of us forget while rushing to class), buying used textbooks and selling them back, recycling, and being fashion forward by buying used clothes (they don’t have to be your grandma’s clothes).

Furthermore, as a college student, she says, you have the best resources to learn about the ethical and consumer debates and recognize movements. Whether you go into a related department or email a professor who is teaching an intriguing course, get involved, and be active.

Finally, you shouldn’t be in constant gloom if you don’t recycle one soda can or you buy blueberries from New Zealand during December, Hawthorne cautions. Balance humor and the serious side of the issues; otherwise, you’re likely to get too discouraged.

The author’s bottom line: “You aren’t perfect; laugh about it.”

Hailey Courtney

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living

Note: The original article appeared on the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability blog. We’re pleased to reprint a version of it here and to welcome contributing writer Hailey Courtney to the BPGL team.—Julia Wasson, Publisher