I read a lot of nonfiction about consumption, as well as about how the stuff we consume gets made. I think it's similar to why I love reading dating manuals...I never understood dating, so I love reading about it. I hate, hate, HATE shopping, so for some reason I find myself reading about it compulsively.
But that's not what's important here. What's important is that you should read Fred Pearce's Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. Pearce is a British journalist who decides, in the course of his other journalistic work, to track down where his stuff comes from, starting with his gold wedding band. From there, he tracks other things, like his t-shirts, socks, food, electronics equipment, and the metal in his soda can. Those chapters are fascinating enough (you'll never believe how many countries have a hand in making your socks), but then he also tracks where his trash and even his sewage goes. It's fascinating:
"While occupying just 2.5 percent of the world's croplands, cotton uses a tenth of all the world's chemical fertilizers and a staggering quarter of all the insecticides, mostly to fight off whitefly and bollworm." (p. 90.)
So, as we enter the holiday season, this book leaves me with one thought: Buy less, but spend more (I had that thought after the author points out how ridiculous it is to pay $10 for a t-shirt, in light of the cotton, labor, and travel needed to produce it). Or, just buy this book for everyone on your list. Sure, they may consider it a downer gift, but what's the worst that can happen? You'll be kicked out of the gift exchange?