Did you have a terrible Valentine’s Day? It’s not uncommon. This special day in the calendar can be especially hard, whether you’re single or in a relationship. It’s hard on the planet too! Our resident blogger Maja Staka examines Valentine’s Day through the lenses of social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Valentine’s Day is a holiday we all know too well. Our earliest memories go back to elementary school, when the holiday was basically an excuse to gorge ourselves on chocolate kisses and scour the drugstore aisles for the coolest cards to give our friends. Confetti was thrown around without a care and arts and crafts revolved around making crooked paper hearts for our mothers that said things like “thank you for feeding me so I don’t die” and “you are the bestest mom.”
At the end of the day, Valentine’s was just free candy and a giant bag of cards to feed our ego. Now, the holiday mostly involves misinterpreted text messages and endless Pandora commercials. The truth is, unless you’re the CEO of a greeting card company, a florist or a cheap motel owner, Valentine’s Day is the absolute worst—for us, and for the environment.
Love letters for landfills
First of all, the evolution of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love has not exemplified ideals of social inclusion. According to the telegraph, the earliest ancestor of the holiday was an ancient roman festival called Lupercalia, a fertility ritual when men would spank young women with dog skin whips to make them fertile.
Once pagan rituals became passé, the holiday graduated from celebrating fertility to recognizing romantic love. In the mid-18th century, the passing of love-notes became the norm. As postal services became more affordable, anonymous letters became easier to deliver, each handmade with lace and paper, addressed to secret lovers and doting wives. Unfortunately, when Hallmark began mass producing cards in 1913, it became easier to send a pre-written message than one written from the heart. Sadly, the way it works today, Valentine’s has basically become a festival of consumer excess and packaging waste.
This Valentine’s Day alone, Americans are expected to spend more than $19 billion. Imagine the kind of good that money could do if it wasn’t spent on roses, chocolates and cards. Once the chocolates are eaten and the fancy jewelry is taken out of its case, their packaging goes straight into the garbage. Greeting cards too—most people glance at them once, scream with delight and then throw them in a dark drawer or waste bin.
Worst of all are roses—which, though innocent looking, bear a thorny secret. The 100 million roses grown just for Valentine’s Day produce nearly 9,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in a single year. On top of being flown in from warmer climes, roses are so delicate that they have to shipped around in temperature controlled trucks, all of which wastes precious energy and contributes to the emissions that speed climate change and slowly destroy natural habitats.
Relationships are made, not marketed
Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day also perpetuates unhealthy gender dynamics and distorts our understanding of love. Weeks of marketing reinforce traditional, heteronormative expectations for how men and women should express their romantic feelings (whether those feelings are present or not). Men are pressured to buy gifts for their partners lest they appear cheap. Women are expected to reward their man for taking them to dinner and buying them shiny baubles. Unfortunately, the focus on material exchange suggests that love can be bought or sold; that the more money you spend on someone, the more you love them. These expectations disempower women and exploit both sides of the relationship.
Sustainable, healthy relationships are built on completely different ideals. A person must be willing to love their partner unconditionally and be prepared to learn from their relationship and shared experiences. You cannot buy love, you have to nurture it. True love doesn’t need to be evidenced by a flashy display of wealth. Simply put, if someone has to buy you a box of chocolates to prove their love is real—it’s not real.
That said. I would never say no to a box of fair trade, organic chocolates.
About the author
Maja Staka is a Campus Sustainability Volunteer with the Office of Sustainability. She began blogging in high school and has been actively pursuing ways to continue writing ever since. Currently, she is both a graduate student at the University of Alberta and a part time French translator.
Photo credit: William Foval on Flickr.