Even at the Ecofest, Shopping Is a Natural Reaction


Who do you have to fuck to get a cup of fair-trade organic coffee around here? Nobody, it turns out. At the 20th annual Ecofest in Damrosch Park, there’s a tent offering environmentally correct java and, if you’re hungry, a full range of treats, mostly vegetarian, along with one meaty booth advertising steak-and-cheese samosas from a company that specializes in “African natural food made in Vermont.”

If you’re at sea as to how exactly to proceed, stomach-wise, the Ecofest offers a literary booth, sort of (it depends on whether you consider the 2009 Witches’ Datebook to be literature), that stocks a book entitled The New Becoming Vegetarian (can it be that hard?), along with refrigerator magnets extolling that famous environmentalist Che Guevara. (It’s a little-known fact that he started a recycling program in the hills of Bolivia.)

I’m doing my best to have fun, but it seems as if the Almighty hates an Ecofest—it’s teeming with rain, which doesn’t bother the yippy little beast sloshing around outside the ASPCA van with the “Adopt Us” vanity plates. Snappy is clearly dying to come home with me—then don’t jump on this lace skirt, buddy!—but I am not in the market for an animal friend.

Which is not to say that I don’t want to take home a souvenir. Some people are clearly here to learn about green investing from the Smith Barney guy or listen to the dubious claims about green healing, but for me, no matter what lofty ideals draw me to an event in the first place, the venture invariably devolves into a shopping exhibition, even when the likely offerings are earrings shaped like endangered species.

It’s not easy to shop with an umbrella in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other (hey, I’m a reporter! I have to write this stuff down), but I manage, perusing jewelry made from obsolete New York City glass traffic-light lenses, baskets woven of discarded bits of plastic from Vietnam, and a loquacious tote inscribed “Fair Trade Justice Peace Love.” Usually, I don’t care for a tote bag that toots its own horn (though I have been known, in my long life, to carry monogrammed bags that all but shout “Aren’t I rich and cute?”). The guy behind the table tells me, “All of this stuff is natural, organic—we’re a spiritual fashion line,” but his tote isn’t the only one bragging: A few aisles away, a carryall announces “My Bag Cares”—which is not only a blatant rip-off of Anya Hindmarch’s “I Am Not A Plastic Bag,” now selling for close to $100 on eBay, but also implies that your sack is an insensitive hunk of cloth.

Sick of chattering accessories, I move on to the next table, which holds piles of tie-dyed garments, confirming the very worst stereotypes about how members of what President Bush recently referred to as “the angry left” wish to dress. (Why can’t we save the rainforest in a vintage Dior New Look suit? What’s wrong with fighting global warming in a faux-Marni bejeweled tunic and a pair of Sigerson Morrison for Target stilettos?) But wait—here’s something I want to buy: an adorable stuffed-toy orangutan from Orangutan Outreach, a wonderful organization dedicated to preserving these animals that are so like us that you can’t look at one in a zoo without feeling really sick inside.

Embarrassing confession: In the end, I am unable to purchase a toy primate because they are all gazing at me with sad, desperate take-me-home looks, and it’s impossible to pick just one. Not wanting to face the same dilemma, I don’t ask if the stuffed sharks at the Oceana booth are for sale, but I do sign a “Stop Seafood Contamination” petition that urges grocery stores to inform consumers about the mercury content of various fish. (I mean, who’s gonna say, I won’t sign because I’m in favor of poisoning little kids?)

I turn and almost stumble over the star of the show: a huge thing that looks like a glider covered with bathroom tiles. It’s a solar-powered car, and the fellow in charge is explaining that at this moment, the car isn’t exactly legal—when it hits the highway, it has to have a normal car escorting it fore and aft. Excited, a passerby says, “Should I put solar panels on the roof of my van?” “Nah, don’t do it,” the car guy says, and launches into an explanation of why you can’t solve the fuel crisis buy nailing tiles to an auto roof, a discussion that is frankly way over my head.

I feel like I’ve been here forever, but in fact, the Ecofashion show is still 50 minutes away. So I decide to kill time at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a soul-destroying marble chamber of dull horrors with such boring, predictable stores that it makes a recycled traffic-light necklace seem like a Cartier jewel. But when I trudge back to the Ecofest, there is no sign of any fashion show. Instead, the bandshell, which has a huge banner that reads “Water not Weapons” (was “Granola not Guns” already taken?), is featuring a troupe of tap dancers in cowboy hats gamely cavorting to “I’m an Old Cowhand From the Rio Grande.” Did the cowhand repurpose his tin cup? Water, certainly in no short supply today, is sloshing over the sides of my gold Repettos. I give up and take socially responsible public transportation home.

Two days later, I explore an area neglected at the Ecofest, a subject that I’m sure would have excited a lot of interest no matter what the weather: the green sex-toy movement. I call up Lisa Lawless, who is the founder of a company called Holistic Wisdom, and ask her what’s hot right now, so to speak.

“The top sellers for us are the Lelo products,” she says, “because they’re so pretty and female-focused. One problem in the sex-toy industry is that the merchandise has been so male-dominated, like something out of a porn movie.” The Lelo items—violet vibrators, baby-blue Luna Balls, etc.—are not only completely non-toxic, but, according to Lawless, “the cool thing is they’re rechargeable,” so you aren’t forced to pollute the planet with discarded batteries when your rabbit dies.

The toxic sex-toy situation, it turns out, is further complicated by the fact that many of the goods are imported from China and are made of God knows what dangerous substances, since the FDA does not require any testing or approval of these items. So it’s a relief to know that everything at Holistic Wisdom conforms to strict safety guidelines, including Make Your Own Willy or Pussy, to which my eye is oddly drawn as I scan the merch.

Alas, the Pussy can only reproduce, according to the website, “the outer vaginal lips.” As Lawless explains a bit wistfully, “No such product going inside is considered to be safe.” But Make Your Own Willy is another story. It will faithfully render every vein and ridge, and in these war-torn times, it offers a valuable service: “So many military men give one to their partners before they have to leave,” Lawless says. “They’re great for long-distance relationships.”