CONSPICUOUS UNCONSUMPTION

No Impact Man is, in fact, having an impact. But probably not the one he intended.

“Don’t you just hate No Impact Man?” my friend Katrina asked over dinner last night.

There’s no denying it; No Impact Man’s tales of eco-extreme derring-doo chafe like cheap toilet paper, one of the many niceties No Impact Man has nixed in order to achieve notoriety. He, his wife, and their 2-year-old daughter are doing without everything from double espressos to disposable diapers for an entire year in order to reduce their collective carbon footprint while generating plenty of publicity; see last week’s NY Times profile, “The Year Without Toilet Paper.”

His pee-yew p.r. stunt is paying off; witness noimpactman.com’s blog entry for February 14th “There’s Going to be a Movie!”, followed a day later by a post entitled “There’s Going to Be a Book!” What a neat trick, turning austerity into affluence. Sweet!

Or sour, if you find penury for profit oxymoronic. The breezy gee whillikers punctuation implies that all this hoopla came as some kind of pleasant surprise to No Impact Man and his fossil fuel-free family, despite the fact that No Impact man’s literary agent had been shopping the No Impact concept around town, pitching the premise to publishers and movie producers.

Once upon a time, virtue was its own reward. Now, a vow of voluntary simplicity is just another entrepreneurial enterprise. The fact that No Impact Man’s ostentatious embrace of all things organic did not come about in, well, an organic fashion, is what bothers me. I say phoeey to phoney LOHASes.

LOHAS, for the uninitiated, is Madison Avenue shorthand for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. You have to be fluent in agricultural acronyms to be a LOHAS. If you belong to a CSA, boycott CAFO’s, and fear the advent of GMO’s, you, my friend, are a LOHAS. And your willingness to pay more for certified ethical eggs has all kinds of companies scrambling to find ways to give their products a green patina.

Unfortunately for peddlers of pseudo sustainable schlock, the LOHAS is a particularly discerning kind of bird, and highly allergic to mass marketing manipulations.

“Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style,” is how the The NY Times characterized No Impact Man’s “haute bourgeois nest.” But No Impact Man’s conspicuous unconsumption turns Thoreau’s celebration of simplicity on its head.

No Impact Man’s wife admitted to the Times that the prospect of a year sans shopping sent her on a buying binge which included the purchase of two pairs of calf-high Chloe boots, whose cost was equivalent to “two weeks’ salary, after taxes and her 401(k) contribution.”

It made the whole thing doable, she told the Times. Now, No Impact Man and Co. are only permitting themselves “the occasional thrift shop purchase.”

As Thoreau might say, beware of all enterprises that require old clothes.