Feeling good about celebrating your love

Love is a wonderful thing! Songs fill our ears that celebrate “puppy love,” young love and mature love. Love is celebrated every day. Yet, in our nation, we have set aside a special day for love – Valentine’s Day – when millions of people show their love by giving chocolate, flowers and diamonds. These iconic tokens have enjoyed unquestioned dominance as pure symbols of love; until now.

Valentine’s Day means chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Heart-shaped chocolates. Heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates. Its rich, creamy taste brings a smile to our faces. This melt-in-your-mouth, endorphin-releasing treat is a perfect way to say “I love you.” Or is it? Millions of pounds of cocoa come into our country from Central and South America and Africa. Farmers are paid pennies for crops. Children are forced to work the cocoa plantations instead of going to school. Families eke out a meager existence while middlemen and candy companies reap enormous profits. This sweet delight comes at the expense of growers and child laborers.

Valentine’s Day means flowers, lots and lots of flowers. Roses are the flower of love. By the stem and by the dozen, Americans buy more than 150 million roses each year. Their fragrance fills rooms. Pedals are sprinkled around bedrooms. Roses remind visitors of love. Many of these roses come from huge rose plantations in Central and South America and now China. These plantations pay very low wages and often expose their workers to dangerous chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. All of these roses are transported by air in refrigerated containers consuming huge amounts of fossil fuel and producing huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

Valentine’s Day means diamonds, lots and lots of diamonds. Rings, pendants, brooches and bracelets. Nothing sparkles like diamonds. This ultimate token of love is graded on the four C’s (color, cut, clarity and carat weight), but there is another C – conflict – connected to many diamonds. Conflict diamonds have funded armed conflict and civil war in Angola, Sierra Leone and now in the Congo, the Ivory Coast and Liberia. These beautiful gems have helped destroy the lives of millions. Only 11 percent of American diamond jewelry retailers have a policy on conflict diamonds. This means that many Americans could be purchasing conflict diamonds and contributing to the suffering of others.

So, what is a socially conscience person in love to do? Do we simply need to abandon these tokens of our love?

Yes and No.

Yes, we should abandon chocolate made from cocoa plantations, roses from overseas plantations and conflict diamonds. But, this does not mean giving up these tokens of love. Rather, it means being informed consumers making more discerning choices.

Low global market prices of cocoa along with exploitative middlemen mean that child labor and poverty among growers will continue. The solution is fair trade cocoa. Fair trade guarantees growers a minimum price, prohibits child labor and promotes sustainable growing methods. Fair trade allows farmers to meet their basic needs and send their children to school. Chocolate lovers do not need to give up this succulent treat nor feel guilty for indulging as long as they do so with fair trade chocolate.

Local florists often buy their flowers from wholesalers who import them from overseas plantations. Flowers brighten our day, set the mood and say “I love you.” Most customers are only concerned with quality, now with where the flowers come from and how they are grown. But, there are fair trade flowers and domestically grown roses. In fact, you could forgo roses altogether and choose locally grown flowers from florists or farmer’s markets.

While many feel that nothing says “I love you” like a diamond, it is possible to purchase conflict-free diamonds. Ask your jeweler where the diamonds came from. Ask to see a copy of the company’s policy on conflict diamonds. Ask to see a written guarantee from your jeweler’s diamond suppliers stating the diamonds are conflict free. Only buy if your jeweler can guarantee your diamond is conflict free. Nothing says “I love you and care about others” like conflict-free diamonds.

This Valentine’s Day give tokens of love and promote a better, more just world. Only give fair trade chocolate, fair trade/locally grown flowers or conflict-free diamonds. Then top it off with a card printed with soy ink on recycled paper. Celebrating love never felt so good!

For more on these and related subjects, search the globalexchange.org website.

Scott Key is a faculty member at Fresno Pacific University. He teaches in the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences as well as the School of Education.