It’s obvious that Valentine’s day is an outwardly consumerist holiday. I’m not sure how it originated, but presently, that reason seems to have no relevance, as Valentine’s day has just become a bridge holiday to keep us busy and buying things in between Christmas and Easter, which are other religious holidays-turned-consumerist. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still nice to have something to celebrate during these harsh and cold winter months, but showing love to your loved ones shouldn’t harm the planet.
It is estimated that people in the US will spend about $21.8 billion on flowers, chocolates, cards, plushies, wine, and jewelry. Please try to fight me on how this is not a consumerist holiday, I dare you. In addition to the consumerist nature of Valentine’s day, that supports overconsumption driven by capitalism, harming the planet in so many ways, what can seem as harmless as buying a small bouquet of flowers, could be supporting so many other systems of oppression.
Let’s start with the flower industry: not all flowers come from the US and Canada, where working conditions and regulations are much more regulated and stable; In Latin American countries, workers lives are transformed through changing social structures. A study in 2003 found that the flower-cut industry in rural Ecuadorian Highlands, has had drastic impacts on women workers and their children. Work on flower farms leads to a sharp decrease in the amount of time spent with the rest of the household, including young children, subsequently reducing these young workers’ exposure to leadership experiences. These effects are especially damaging in impoverished indigenous-populated areas where the weakening of integral communal structures without a parallel strengthening of respective state institutions (or unions) is likely to cause deterioration in the already low quality of life in rural areas surrounding cut-flower plantations. Another study in 2017, found that workers in the flower industry in Ethiopia are frequently exposed to organic dust from the flowers and the soil, including endotoxins, and to pesticides, which may result in adverse health effects. Even in the US, under strict regulations, pesticide fumigants used to protect market-ready florals still have been cause for workers becoming ill. Additionally, undocumented flower workers face many intersecting environmental and social injustices through exposure to toxic pollution (by working near freeway exists and busy street intersections), and dealing with constant fear of deportation, as the immigration industrial complex targets BIPOC immigrants. It is important to support locals florists who are victims of this industry.
The chocolate industry is another Pandora’s box of social and environmental injustices. Around 58 million pounds of chocolate are purchased during Valentine’s, the majority of which being unethically sourced and build off slave labor. Around 1.6 million children as young as five are working West African countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana harvesting cocoa. These countries are being ever more exploited by environmental colonialism, and are dealing with ever-increasing demand from developed countries, as they currently produce 70% of the world’s cocoa beans, raw ingredients for products made by Hershey, Mars, and Nestle. The overconsumption of chocolate in the West actively contributes to the mistreatment and exploitation of coca farmers/slaves. Finding chocolate that is sustainably sourced is very important!
Something as seemingly harmless as a handwritten card, can also contribute to a tremendous environmental footprint. Americans send 145 million Valentine’s cards each year, 1/3 of which are not recycled and end up in landfills. When these paper products degrade in landfills, they release GHG emissions. Cards also contribute to deforestation for wood and paper. E-cards are the way to go!
After all this information, it may seem that loving sustainably and without harm is impossible. No one is perfect and we all contribute to forms of exploitation (there is no true ethical consumption under capitalism), acknowledging these oppressive systems in holidays can allow you to take steps for a more sustainable future #progressoverperfection ❤ Here are a few tips to celebrate a cruelty-free Ecotine’s Day:
- Gift your loved one a book, supporting local book stores and BIOPOC authors
- Make paper flowers that can easily be upcycled form paper lying around
- Donate to a charity they love and support!
This year, I donated to the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation through CanadaHelps, as they offer the option to give your donation in honor of someone (of course, I chose my SO) and send them a holiday-themed e-card (they have ones for birthdays, Valentine’s, etc, and generic too!).
Now I want to know, what small step have you taken this year to #fightconsumerism and have a more eco-friendly Valentine’s Day? Let me know here.