As you know, one of our favorite suggestions at Postconsumers for Valentine’s Day gifts that treat your loved one to something special without adding to a massive collection of “stuff” is to indulge in food. In fact, we’ve even created a step-by-step guide to making an eco-friendly Valentine’s Day dinner. But dinner doesn’t have to be the only option. There are plenty of snacks and treats out there that are equally sensual – or even more sensual. At the top of the list are chocolates and sensual fruits. And of course there’s also the option of combining sensual fruit and sensual chocolate for the ultimate indulgence. But no action we take these days comes without some carbon footprint cost. So we decided to take a bigger look at the eco (and social) impact of both of these options.
The Not So Sweet Side of Chocolate
Chocolate is delicious. There, we said it. And the likelihood that we’ll be giving it up any time soon is, well, unlikely. But it’s important to remember that chocolate does have social and economic impact and, not unlike coffee, global warming and climate change are affecting the production of chocolate and how natural or non-natural it can be.
Firstly, you need to consider your comfort level with child labor practices. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Labor, almost two million children were involved in cocoa harvesting in Africa within a twelve month period. In fact, the chocolate industry is considered one of the worst industries for incorporating child labor into the mix. There’s also the packaging factor to consider with Valentine’s Day chocolates. Do your chocolates need to come in a huge cardboard heart? Probably not. In short, when you add it up, there are reasons to pause before you plop down a chunk of change for Valentine’s Day Chocolate.
Pro Tip: These Brands are Eco-Friendly and Socially Conscious (and May Surprise You)
You may be surprised that one of the most eco-friendly chocolate brands that you can buy is available in almost any grocery or drug store. It’s Dove chocolates. Dove chocolates is owned by Mars, and Mars takes sustainable chocolate growing about as seriously as anybody. In fact, Mars is responsible for having held the very first International Workshop on Sustainable Cocoa Farming and they regularly work with cocoa farmers on both sustainable growing and having a prosperous livelihood. We suddenly feel a lot better about our not infrequent chocolate binge breakdowns while picking up grocery supplies! But Dove isn’t the only brand that you can turn to. Also look for chocolates from Divine, Green and Black’s, Theo, Newman’s Own and just about any brand you’ll find at your local organic grocery store (though it’s also good to research first).
How Exotic is Your Fruit?
It may seem as though fruit clearly has a lower carbon footprint than chocolate does, but that’s not necessarily true. And the reason that your fruit may not actually be a better eco-friendly option really may not have anything to do with chemicals or growing practices (though obviously you should be aware of those and opt for organic fruit and other produce whenever possible). The biggest strike counting against the carbon footprint of your fruit is likely the food miles involved with getting it to you. Food miles are the miles of distance that your food has to travel between its origin and the market where you buy it and includes all of the carbon emissions associated not only with shipping but also with cooling, refrigeration and packaging. You can probably see without having to go through all of the math that it’s a fairly substantial emissions factor if your fruit has to travel any real distance at all. Now consider that most of the fruit that you purchase is grown south of the equator and then think about how far it must have traveled to get to you. As a basic rule, the more exotic and tropical the fruit, the more likely that it comes with a massive trail of food miles behind it.
Pro Tip: It’s Not That Difficult To Minimize Food Miles
Unless you’re one hundred percent committed to the idea of Chilean raspberries, it’s not that difficult to find locally grown produce even in a winter climate. Head to your local farmer’s market where even in the dead of winter you’ll find people who are growing fruit locally in indoor greenhouses. And if you live in a warmer, all-year produce environment, then you should have no problem at all.
We like the idea of food gifts for Valentine’s Day, and we like eating so that shouldn’t be any surprise. Just keep in mind that every consumer choice that you make can have positive or negative consequences for the planet. That’s as true for food as it is for anything else.
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