The Valentine’s Day of the past: men run out and buy boxes of chocolate and bouquets of flowers for their significant others, not sure what they are getting but wanting to do what is expected.
Chocolate corporations make a killing (figuratively and literally). Kids in school fill out numerous cards, stressing about whether the cute red-haired girl (Charlie Brown’s love) or the athletic young fellow will care more about their card than anyone else’s. Greeting card companies make a killing.
Valentine’s Day as it is transitioning today into something more responsible: fair trade chocolate, roses and wine (especially in Manitoba) are purchased with a message of both love and global awareness.
A pilot project in Winnipeg and Gimli sold out of fair trade roses brought in from Kenya and Ecuador last week, with a larger initiative being planned for Mother’s Day in May. Similar efforts took place in large cities across Canada.
The Valentine’s Day of the future: the name is changed to Generosity Day, with people going out of their way to do something for others, in their immediate lives and around the world. This is the vision of several Americans involved in the charitable sector who in 2011 decided that Valentine’s Day had lost its way. They felt that it could be rebooted to be less commercial and more spontaneous, less self-centred and more socially responsible.
Using social media to showcase its idea, the group created SpreadGenerosity.com, a Facebook page and blog, inviting people to report on their "random" acts of kindness, from handing out food to the homeless to making donations for the purchase of anti-malarial bed nets. For 2013, a million people were invited to connect to Generosity Day blogs to report what they had done that they felt was altruistic and meaningful on Feb. 14.
I am someone who enjoys buying his spouse flowers any time of the year. However, I know that this industry contributes to a number of social and environmental problems in the developing countries where flowers are grown "year-round."
Cut flowers are brought in from East Africa and Latin America. They are grown on land that should be used for food rather than luxury export agriculture. Jobs are not well paid and often not safe as people handle chemical inputs with little regulation. Aquifers are drained in drought-prone areas to force quick growth of the flowers, so that lakes in these areas are actually shrinking. Air freighting the flowers to the North adds to the world’s oversupply of climate-changing pollution.
The cocoa industry has enjoyed the attention of this column before. Chocolate is one of the worst offenders in the battle against child slavery and control of cocoa production in West Africa, where 80 per cent of it is grown, has been implicated in ongoing wars in destabilized countries such as Ivory Coast and Mali. While fair trade chocolate is becoming more available on our grocery store shelves, we are still complicit in allowing our enjoyment of seemingly innocent treats to blind us to the oppression they represent.
You may not have heard of Generosity Day, but you may have felt that the bloom is off Valentine’s Day. In our busy world, it often seems like just another obligation to get, spend and fit into a schedule with little real thought. A quickly purchased and overpriced card, cut flowers and chocolates that are beautiful and tasty only to those of us privileged enough to enjoy them.
Acts of generosity can change the world but also will change us as we see what we are capable of, what impact our generosity has and what feedback we receive. It is not only individuals, but also organizations, faith communities and businesses that are taking generosity seriously, and at least adding fair trade options to their daily lives, their operations and their inventories.
Despite my involvement in fair trade Valentine’s Day initiatives, I wasn’t aware of Generosity Day until I openly expressed my frustration with the self-centredness and stress of the day. And it was one of my adult children who sent me the online link to Generosity Day.
Thus, I am hopeful that it is our young, activist generation that will champion that future celebration of love that I spoke of earlier.
» Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations active in our province.