If Valentine’s Day is an important celebration for you and the one you love, you can show a bit of extra love for the environment and its citizens by carefully considering what you buy and how you celebrate.
By Wendy Priesnitz
At Valentine’s Day, many people’s thoughts turn to images of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Fortunately, hearts and chocolate go very well together…especially if it’s high quality dark chocolate. Scientists at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that a few squares of dark chocolate a day can reduce the risk of a heart attack by almost fifty percent in some people. Apparently, substances in cocoa beans have a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing blood platelet clumping, which can be fatal if it leads to a clot that blocks a blood vessel. In other words, it functions in the same way as aspirin in preventing heart attacks.
However healthy dark chocolate might be, it’s not necessarily good for those who produce it. Many cocoa plantations around the world use child labor. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA,) based in West Africa, reports that more than 284,000 children are working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms, which are heavily sprayed with pesticides and insecticides. Save the Children Canada reports that 15,000 children between the ages of nine and twelve have been sold into forced labor on cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast, West Africa, in the last few years. However, you can give a gift of chocolate without guilt by purchasing Fair Trade products.
Wine is another staple of a loving celebration. So be sure that the wine you buy to toast your Valentine is made from organically grown grapes. Most organic wines also contain no added sulfites as preservatives, so your red wine toast won’t cause her to have a headache! Organic wines from local growers are the most environmentally-friendly choice because they have not been shipped long distances.
You’ll want to turn the lights down low while you’re celebrating with that Fair Trade dark chocolate and organic wine. It is a great way to create a romantic mood. And it’s also a great way to save energy! But be sure that the candles you choose are made from beeswax or soy instead of paraffin. They are made from natural materials, will last longer and you won’t be dirtying the air with soot. Unscented is better for your true love’s health, since most commercial scents contain harmful chemicals.
Flowers are the other favorite gift for Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, giving a gift of cut flowers may not be the wonderful expression of love that you intend it to be. That’s because whenever you or a loved one touches or inhales the scent of your conventional bouquet, you are likely contacting poisonous chemicals.
The floral industry is one of the heaviest users of hazardous agricultural and processing pesticides. In addition, the majority of flowers sold in North America are imported from countries like Ecuador and Columbia, where labor practices are sometimes questionable. Studies by the International Labor Organization and Ecuador’s Catholic University have found that many farm and post-harvest workers complain of pesticide-poisoning symptoms. Women, who represent 70 percent of all rose workers, experience significantly elevated rates of miscarriages and birth defects.
So be sure you look for flowers and ornamental plants certified with the Veriflora label. This certification program requires growers to use pesticide-free, sustainable agriculture methods and includes fair treatment of workers. That means that workers have health benefits, safe labor practices, fair wages, the right to organize, etc. It also includes water conservation, habitat protection, waste management, and a commitment to energy efficiency and responsible packaging. Bouquets with this certification are increasingly available both in stores and online. Better still, give flowers grown locally – again, increasingly available. You might not be able to find local roses in February, so try to keep an open mind as you choose.
An alternative to cut flowers is to buy your sweetheart some rose bushes. For the price of a dozen roses, you will be able to give a gift certificate worth a few bushes, which will yield many dozens of cut flowers over the years. You could bundle the gift certificate with tickets for a spring garden show. Or take your loved one to a Seedy Saturday event and get started planning your own romantic garden together.
Jewelry is another traditional Valentine’s Day gift that’s fraught with eco problems. Half of all newly mined gold comes from indigenous lands. And, by some estimates, the production of one simple gold ring results in twenty tons of mine waste. The world’s trade in diamonds is a cartelized, multi-billion dollar industry, which damages human rights and has environmental and legal repercussions.
Fortunately, there is no need to purchase new jewelry. There are many opportunities to choose pre-owned jewelry from a vintage shop or even a pawn shop. Another option is to buy recycled jewelry, such as jewelry made from post-consumer gold or, if your Valentine is particularly special, give a family heirloom piece. Local artisans are also a great source of one-of-a-kind jewelry.
We’ve been conditioned to think that spraying ourselves with perfume (and thus giving it as a gift for Valentine’s Day and other romantic occasions) is sexy. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. The scents in perfumed products are made from petroleum products and many toxic chemicals. Certain fragrances and their chemical constituents can trigger an allergic, rather than an aphrodisiac, response. Fragrance is increasingly cited as a trigger in health conditions such as asthma, allergies, and migraine headaches. So rather than a gift of perfume, consider a gift certificate for a session at an organic spa or a yoga class membership.
Ever since we have been in kindergarten, Valentine’s Day cards have been an important part of the celebration. However, a more planet-friendly choice is to dispense with paper cards altogether in favor of some of the above options. Or send an e-card. If that doesn’t seem romantic enough, there are many attractive cards made on recycled or tree-free paper, many made by local craftspeople. Or recycle some old cards and make your own one-of-a-kind keepsake.
I hope these ideas will help you avoid the cliched Valentine’s Day offerings, while keeping your loved one healthy and living a bit more lightly on this under-loved planet.