A generation or two ago, giving your sweetheart chocolate and flowers was a guy’s way to a woman’s heart. For many men today, it still is (they hope!). And women give Valentine gifts today, too.
But our world has become more complex than ever, and what were once simple things are simple no longer. Most commercial flowers for instance, have a very large carbon footprint, having most likely been flown-in from Central or South America by jet aircraft overnight; the labor cost is so low in some countries that even the price of jet transportation, trucking and handling often keep retail prices of long-distance flowers lower than flowers grown domestically. Unless you’re buying flowers at the local farmer’s markets, it’s nearly impossible to know where they’ve been grown, or by whom at what cost.
The same is true of chocolate, which is surging in sales, worldwide. Chocolate is derived from the Cacao plant, which produces large Cacao “pods” containing the seeds from which chocolate is refined. Given its high value in the global market, and the fact that it requires tropical conditions for growth, chocolate demand is responsible for much deforestation in those areas where it grows well. Those areas, of course, are also the poorer regions of the world, and to assume those who independently grow chocolate are getting rich is not accurate. Companies like Nestle can control the market and drive independent farmers and cooperatives under. If you want to buy your sweetie fair trade chocolate that does not exploit labor or the environment, you’ll have to be very picky and be prepared to spend more money than you expect.
Buying clothing is also more complex than it used to be; a responsible approach demands knowing about the manufacturing process and the labor conditions under which the clothing was made. The multi-national, global economy has shifted manufacturing to many poor nations where people earn just cents per hour sewing, cutting or assembling. Yet interrogating a shopkeeper is neither practical nor productive.
So, what’s the responsible valentine to do?
All of this inclines us to once again proclaim the value of thinking, buying and shopping locally, but even that is challenging when so much of what we buy locally is made elsewhere. If being truly local in resourcing our food and consumables is the goal, then the other element that needs to shift is letting go of conventional thinking. The Community Center for example, has hand-made pottery for sale created by local artisans; small farmers and winemakers in Sonoma Valley offer their products produced locally. The Sebastiani Theatre sells gift certificates. An even less conventional approach to gift-giving on Valentine’s Day would be an offer to do all the dishes for the week, or vacuum out the car, or a month of daily foot rubs.
Our point is that there are many ways to demonstrate the love we feel towards others. Although flowers are traditional, and look and smell wonderful, and chocolate is very tasty, such gifts are perhaps among the less meaningful–and responsible–ways to show our affection.
— Sun Editorial Board