When I was in high school, chocolates, flowers and stuffed animals on Valentine's Day were a must—the more, the better. Girls came up with elaborate schemes to call each other's boyfriends and make sure that they had spent enough money on bouquets, and that they knew to bring them to school rather than save them for the obligatory dinner date that night. Recipients of dozen-rose-bouquets and larger-than-life-teddy-bears strutted the halls, scornfully passing those of us with single roses—or worse yet, carnations—desperately trying to hide in our lockers.
Today, I know of an even darker side to the standard Valentine's fare. A large percentage of the world's chocolate is grown in west Africa, where child slavery on cocoa plantations is common. And in an industry where a farmer might make less than $100 for a year's work, farm owners unnecessarily plow trees and pump pesticides to encourage maximum yields. This means that your standard heart-shaped box of chocolates is probably not green or humane. But you can show your love for your Valentine, and for the planet, with certified fair trade and organic chocolate.
Locally, your best bet for a selection of green goodies is, of course, Rainbow Whole Foods Co-op. But ask around to encourage other local retailers to expand their chocolate selection. And instead of a big, red heart-shaped box which may or may not be recyclable, wrap up your sweet gift with a piece of festive, reusable fabric such as a pink handkerchief or a red cloth napkin. Or, redecorate last year's box.
Now, about those flowers. Chemicals and oil are both concerns with standard florist bouquets. Most commercial flowers are grown in Central and South America, then shipped long distances to their destinations. Pesticide use is heavy in the floral industry, since only perfect, insect-free flowers are likely to sell. The environmental concerns are obvious, and we shouldn't discount the human cost. The chemicals cause serious health problems for workers helping to grow the flowers. Many poor women work in the floral industry, and their exposure to chemicals causes birth defects in their children. Ask your florist to carry flowers that are both organic and fair trade, so that you can feel good about your support of the environment and employee health. Better yet, buy living rose bushes or flowering trees for your valentine as a gift that will keep giving flowers and producing oxygen for years to come.
Think about organic wines, too. Heavy pesticide use, low wages and long-distance shipping are all environmental issues in the wine industry. Organic and fair trade wines can be harder to find, but it is worth the effort. Ask your favorite wine store to carry a wider selection of earth-and-people-friendly wines. At the very least, consider buying only wine grown in North, South or Central America. Does the Australian wine shipped from around the globe really taste that much better? Chances are, a glass of California zinfandel or Chilean cabernet will be an excellent complement to your romantic evening meal, whether you cook at home or dine out.
Rainbow Food Co-op, 2807 Old Canton Rd., 601-366-1602
Kroger, 4910 I-55 N., 601-366-1141
Target, 6365 I-55 N., 601-956-1150
Greenbrook Flowers, 705 N. State St., 601-352-5743
Kats Wine Cellar, 921 E. Fortification St., 601-354-9181
McDade's Wine & Spirits, 1220 E. Northside Dr., 601-366-5676
Briarwood Mart Wines & Spirits, 4949 Old Canton Rd., 601-956-5108