Last year Americans spent $13 billion on Valentine's Day gifts. Early projections report that this year we will spend $18.9 billion. From chocolates to cards, every year we are literally buying into the idea that love isn't true unless money is spent. These figures may look good for economists, but ecologists and other mindful communities remind us that many of the traditional gifts given for Valentines Day come from companies or manufacturers with poor environmental practices that range from dangerous to catastrophic. While it's nice to show appreciation for those we love, do we really need to perpetuate the tradition of consuming and giving gifts that harm others and our planet? Let's review some of the most popular gift choices and some of their global effects:
It's estimated that over 1 million children in West Africa work in the cocoa industry and only 5-10% work for pay. Not to mention most cocoa farms use pesticides and harmful chemicals and don't practice sustainable agriculture. The chocolate industry has had a long and often horrifying history which reveals that chocolate corporations have been responsible for deforestation, lost animal habitats, and even child trafficking. Another thing to be aware of is that the main ingredient in most chocolate products is sugar, which comes with its own dark story. Chocolate lovers be assured that if you feel compelled to fill the candy dish this year, there are a handful of artisan chocolates that guarantee fair trade chocolates. These can be researched and purchased in local health food stores or online.
90% of roses sold in the US are imported from Columbia and Ecuador. These rose gardens, nae, rose factories, employ primarily females who work long hours and are generally underpaid. Workers are also regularly exposed to dangerous pesticides, which by the way, make their way into our homes. Stop and DON'T smell the roses! It can be dangerous to your health. The import of these thousands of roses is also an oil reliant process that comes with an enormous carbon imprint as well. The good news is that many companies sell Fair Trade Certified roses (FTD) and also many online and local stores offer organically grown flowers. So if you feel you have to buy flowers for your lover, there are some sustainable choices.
Amnesty International reports that only 13% of US jewelry stores can prove their diamonds are not conflict diamonds. They estimate that 3.7 million people in Africa have died in conflicts funded by the diamond industry. Gold mining has also come under fire for the horrible conditions of workers (many of them children) and for their impact on the environment. They use large quantities of water and electricity during the mining process and have destroyed wildlife, polluted water supplies, and displaced communities earning the name "dirty gold" by a global campaign fighting to boycott it entirely.
This is a just a short list of things we buy and give for Valentine's Day. Other gifts we may include are cards, wine, and perfumes, which I bet you can guess, also have dirty practices of their own. It seems to me that Valentine's Day gifts are a 1st world luxury. These items are supposed to say "I Love You" to that special someone, but what message are we sending to our fellow beings of the world and to mother earth?
In an effort to not sound like a total downer, I feel it worth mentioning that I celebrate Valentine's Day with my children. We decorate cereal boxes which we fill with handwritten love notes to each other. I make pink oatmeal for breakfast and I give them
boring speeches about how we can be feel happy and loved without gifts or holidays. Okay, and I also allow them to eat the junk candy they get from friends at school if they choose to, because it's their life too and I'm not a total tyrant.
It's my desire for them, for you, for all of us to be more aware of how our actions affect others, and that we can show love without spending money or harming our planet. So instead of the same traditional gifts, here are a few simple suggestions for a more mindful, yet just as love-filled Valentine's Day:
- Go to a yoga class together (you knew this would be my first suggestion!)
- Meditate over what it truly means to love another person and to be loved
- Enjoy the outdoors by yourself or with your loved one
- Eat, or purchase food at organic/sustainable restaurants and markets
- Make an agreement with your partner not to buy any gifts and actually tell each other why you love them
- Rescue a cat/dog from a shelter and share your love with a new pet
- Rent a book of poetry from your local library, then ruminate and share love poems with your friends and lover
These are just a few ideas. I'm sure you can come up with more ways to feel and share love in a mindful way this Valentine's Day. I'd love to hear about them. Happy love day! Om Shanti Om.