It starts early. The indoctrination to “love”-based consumerism begins with perforated sheets of coloured cardboard bearing age-appropriate messages of affection and adoration. In it’s childhood incarnation, Valentine’s Day is often no more than another popularity contest, an opportunity to jockey for your peer’s fickle affections, and demonstrate your political power in the schoolyard.
But as with all things in life, with age, the stakes rise, and a piece of cardboard with the words “I Choo-choo choose you” and a picture of a train no longer suffices.
Perforated cardboard gives way to chocolates, flowers and jewelry and demonstrating your love for someone becomes pricier. On average last year, Americans showed their love to the tune of about U.S. $100 for Valentine’s Day.
And all of this frenzied love-based spending takes its ultimate toll far beyond our beleaguered pocket books.
As most of us know, when the cash register rings, the environment stings.
The jewelry chocolate and cut flower industries are prolific polluters.
According to a report from the Washington-based Mineral Policy Center and Oxfam America, in the United States alone, gold mines generate waste equivalent in weight to nearly nine times the trash produced by all U.S. cities and towns combined. With 80 per cent of the extracted gold going to jewelry manufacturing.
This means that one 18 karat gold ring weighing less than an ounce can result in the production of 20 tonnes of mine waste. Please re-read the preceding sentence before you rush out to purchase a shiny trinket to appease Eros. Twenty tonnes of waste including a toxic soup of cyanide and other chemicals that flow into lakes and rivers and poison surrounding communities.
A dozen roses are no better. While the impact may be relatively lighter, flowers are far from being a virtuous alternative.
Most of our cut flowers come from Ecuador, Columbia and African countries like Kenya where they must be regularly doused in a poisonous mix of herbicide, fungicide and pesticide to keep them looking perfect. In fact, cut flowers are the most heavily sprayed agricultural crops bar none.
The international flower trade flourishes by exploiting farmers and their land, and consequently poisoning communities that exist alongside flower farms. They also turn a profit by making labourers, mostly young women, work for 16-hour days for nearly nothing to fill the peak consumer demand around Valentine’s Day.
After harvest, these flowers must then travel a greater distance to get to the flower shop than most people will in their lifetime. And to make sure their beauty is not diminished along the way, they must be kept cold for the entire trip.
These transient tokens leave a pesticide and fossil fuel laden footprint wherever they are grown.
Chocolate production employs a similar modus operandi. In West Africa, notably Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, where 70 per cent of the world’s cacao is produced, child slavery is rampant and crops must be sprayed with a toxic melange to prevent pest infestation and foster a higher yield. This means that with each Godiva truffle or Hershey’s Kiss (both companies buy slave-harvested cacao) we consume, we’re actively contributing to the child slave trade and poisoning of the earth. Furthermore, we’re preventing more sustainable and humane development from taking hold in these countries.
Yes, it is all a bit of a downer. And yes it is nice to get something on Valentine’s Day, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our fellow humans or the environment.
The good news is that we do have options. Buy fair trade and organic chocolate, give a potted plant, make a sandwich, write a poem, dance a jig, do whatever you need to do to impress your sweetheart. Or if you’re so inclined, skip the V-Day hoopla altogether.
Because professing your undying love for someone shouldn’t endanger our planet or destroy human health, rights and dignity.