Home/Health/Flowers and Chocolate? The truth on two Valentine's Day (and more) classics

Because we pour our heart and soul into it, love is unique. Yet, most of us rejoice around some hard to avoid Valentine’s Day classics: flowers and chocolate, anyone? Green gifts? Flowers are from Mother Nature and chocolate, well dark chocolate at least, is good for our health, right? Not so fast… Here are some food for green thoughts on these two V-Day staples.

The not so rosy roses…    

A bouquet of flowers, make them red roses, is probably the most common way to express love. They smell good, embody romance, and red is the universal color of love. Deal! Except the cut flower industry is not that romantic. California is the American flower state, follows the tight national regulations, but only accounts… for 5 to 10% of the U.S. market. Most cut flowers come from Latin America (Colombia, Ecuador), where floral workers protection and pesticide rules are subpar.

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) describes insufficient wages, sexual harassment, child labor as most common violations, all worsened by excessive exposure to harmful pesticides. The U.S. custom’s stiff zero-tolerance policy toward pests and disease and Latin America’s economic pressures perpetuate this pesticide overuse. With terrible consequences: Runoff contaminates water supply, nearby humans and cattle altogether. A 2007 study found that Ecuadorian flower companies use over 30 pesticides on cut flowers, and that 20% of the chemicals applied in Colombia are restricted or banned in the U.S. and Europe. The problem is, flowers are not edible goods. So U.S. custom inspectors do not check them for pesticide residues… We, end customers do get our share of contamination.


The saving seals

Watchdog groups help with abuse reporting and some progress has been made. Just like third-party certifications exist for food (think USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project seals), similar programs were created to guarantee that flowers and potted plants have been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way, under high quality standards. On the consumer end, not knowing the quantity of pesticide residues on flowers or its long term impact makes it a safety “wise necessity” to purchase Fair Trade or VeriFlora approved products.

The Fair Trade program guarantees compliance with rigorous environmental standards, and ensures that workers in developing nations receive fair wages, work under safe conditions, and receive education, childcare, paid maternity leave and vacation. Quite similarly, VeriFlora growers and handlers must meet standards related to sustainable crop production, ecosystem protection, fair labor practices, community benefits and product quality.  Phasing in organic practices over time to lessen the amount of chemicals sprayed is also included.

Rainforest Alliance and Whole Foods Market's Whole Trade Fair Trade seals for flowersOn the retailers front, Whole Foods Market created its own Whole Trade Guarantee Program, through which the chain works with official certifier partners (Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade International, Rainforest Alliance, Fair For Life). Several national plant and flower retailers also offer Fair Trade and VeriFlora certified products. Check out FTD’s selection of Fair Trade Certified roses,  1-800 Flowers’ Planet Friendly selectionOne World FlowersOrganic BouquetCalifornia Organic Flowers.

Now being green is a complex topic with many variables to consider: In this case, is being socially responsible by helping to improve working, health and social conditions in other countries, which also means shipping fresh flowers from thousands of miles away, greener than supporting local flower growers who need their community’s support just as much to stay in business, and while likely more expensive, do not require such a high carbon footprint price to pay? Consider the options available in your area, and… get ready to decide what to prioritize!

 Well cared for potted plants live longer and help lower indoor air pollutionAs for the ultimate green choice, once you find the place to buy from, prefer a potted plant to flowers. Plants are subject to the same green certifications, they’ll live longer, and if you pick them well, they’ll work hard at reducing your home’s indoor air pollution level. One gift, two benefits: lasting beauty and healthier air at home.


Chocolate…. or candies?

Now switching over to chocolate, it is pretty established that the darker it is, the healthier it gets. Milk chocolate contains, well, dairy, and much, much more sugar than a darker version.

Heart Shaped boxed Chocolates, a must of Valentine's Day but not the best or healthiestYet the Hershey’s of the world and the average heart-shaped red box of chocolates contain loads of sugar. If coming from (high fructose) corn syrup, it is a very cheap kind, most likely made from Genetically Modified corn. The same goes with sugar beets. These two are among the top Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) U.S. crops, and there are a few reasons to, at a minimum, learn more about Genetically Engineered foods. You’ll also find food colorings, dyes, preservatives and a host of hard to read likely toxic chemicals in these candies (they don’t really fit the chocolate definition). Not the best way to say I love You to someone!


Nibble on nibs…

Not milk, not dark, the only healthy chocolate: organic non GMO cacao nibsGreener options? Health-wise, the darker you go, the better it gets (nutritious, packed with antioxidants, especially protective against high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases). Even better if for these too, third-party certifications are involved. When it comes to food, top concern is Health, and buying USDA organic, non-GMO verified products, is the way to avoid the unhealthy ingredients. And with 70% of the world’s cocoa being grown in West Africa, choosing a product sporting the Fair Trade logo will guarantee decent living and working conditions to these local farm workers. Yes, price will go up with these 3 seals, but it is your one and only health, AND your Valentine’s one and only health. Plus Valentine’s Day is only once a year. And we’re not supposed to eat chocolate all day long, right?

An even healthier alternative (hello magnesium, iron, fiber, antioxidants, calcium) is to go with the real deal when it comes to “chocolate”: cacao nibs, or small pieces of roasted cacao beans that have been removed form their husks and crushed. These require educated taste buds, because chocolate here is all about taste, not sweetness since there’s literally no sugar. Flavor vs sugar. Dark chocolate is a good (healthier) transition from milk chocolate (candies really), but the full chocolate experience is really about re-learning the definition of chocolate. Exit the old one, bring in the “Bliss Beans” for heart disease prevention and sugar-less top-notch nutritional intake. Recipe ideas? Ground or not, use it for baking, tea flavoring, homemade trail mix, smoothies… anywhere you feel like adding a pure, tasty flavor. Try them raw too.

Adding the personal creativity of a homemade cacao nib-based recipe gift to the health factor and there’s no way to go wrong. Back to unique love again.


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