This Valentine’s Day, before planning your romantic dinner or buying roses and chocolate, think about how your choices will affect the hands that feed you.
According to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, the average consumer spends around US$116 on Valentine’s Day, and florists make about US$400 million in revenue. Approximately 48 percent of consumers spend money on candy and 34 percent spend money on flowers, and about 35 percent dine out.
Workers in these industries, including service workers and farm laborers, are among the lowest paid in the world. They face exposure to pesticides and sexual harassment in the workplace.Valentine’s Day is the highest grossing day for the US$600 billion restaurant industry; yet the 4.3 million tipped workers in the United States only earn US$2.13 per hour. Unfortunately, this rate has remained the same for more than 23 years.
The choices we make as eaters can support the livelihoods of farm and restaurant workers, and organizations like the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, Fairfood, and Rainforest Alliance are gathering citizen support for workers’ rights.
This Valentine’s Day, spread the love by supporting farmworkers and demanding justice in the food system (and please share this article with all your networks by clicking HERE).
1. Rethink the Roses
Every rose has its thorn, and a Valentine’s Day rose is no exception. From Ecuador to Colombia to Southeast Asia, the cut flower industry is characterized by high energy use, low labor standards, and low regulation. Floriculture takes up valuable land and water, and can crowd out local food production and family farms. In Colombia, women make up the majority of flower pickers, and face difficult working conditions, health hazards, and sexual harassment. According to Oxfam, some women in the Colombian flower industry work for more than 15 hours per day.
Finding fair trade and sustainable flowers can be challenging, but Fairtrade International and Rainforest Alliance provide certification to qualified producers. Researchers at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences propose American flower production as an alternative to imported flowers, which come at a high energy cost: flowers are picked in the middle of the night and transported via cold chains to U.S. customers. This process requires vast amounts of energy to quickly cool flowers and prevent fragile blossoms from wilting during travel.
Whole Foods is cashing in on the US$19 billion Americans are expected to spend on flowers this year by offering delivery of its “Whole Trade” flowers. According to marketing reporter, Bruce Horovitz from USA Today this could, “undercut the costs of both local florists and national delivery services,” but also offers higher quality and more sustainable options.
2. Care about the Cocoa
Chocolate’s primary ingredient, cocoa, is fraught with sustainability issues, from its huge water footprint to overuse of pesticides. Africa produces more than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa, but more than 60 percent of consumption occurs in North America and Europe. Fair Trade chocolate, Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic chocolate are some of the many options for sustainable chocolate.
One company, Mānoa Chocolate, has recently implemented a “bean to bar” approach to chocolate, reducing food waste by making tea from cocoa byproduct. Others, like Cemoi, are working to improve transparency within their supply chains, which will improve farmer incomes and quality control in post-harvest handling. In 2009, Mars partnered with Rainforest Alliance to receive certification. Companies such as worker cooperative Equal Exchange have been implementing high standards through partnerships with small farmer co-ops for more than 25 years. Look for the Equal Exchange sticker on chocolate, bananas, olive oil, coffee, and tea.
3. Focus on Food Workers
Participate in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ weekend of action by sending a clear message to Wendy’s: stop breaking our hearts and join the fair food program! Take a Wendy’s selfie to voice your support for farmworker justice. The Fair Food Program is a worker-driven, consumer-powered alliance, dedicated to farmworker justice and supply chain transparency. Wendy’s is the last of the five largest fast food corporations to resist participation in the Program, a commitment that requires companies to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes to support farmworkers in Florida.
You can also pledge to support a living wage in Morocco, Thailand, and the Philippines by signing Fairfood’s Valentine’s Day card to food workers. These three countries have some of the lowest wages, highest worker turnover, and least ability to organize in the global food system.
Now in its third year, the Fight for 15 has spread to several hundred U.S. cities and is demanding a minimum wage increase to US$15 per hour. “The Fight for $15 movement is growing as more Americans decide to fight for better pay and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few,” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry during a statement in December 2014.
This week, Food Tank joined the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s (PIRG) Thunderclap Campaign, asking McDonald’s to help stop the overuse of antibiotics. McDonald’s is one of the Fight for 15’s main targets, and one of the world’s largest fast food chains in the world.
Pamela Clough, Campaign Organizer for U.S. PIRG, wrote this week, “Other restaurants, such as Panera, Chipotle, and Shake Shack, have made commitments to buy meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics or have gone antibiotic-free. If a company the size of McDonald’s makes this commitment, it would be the equivalent of banning antibiotics in meat production in a small country and could change the paradigm by making antibiotic-free meat more affordable and accessible to everyone.”
4. Eat out Sustainably
No matter where you live, small businesses are looking for some love on February 14th. If you’re planning a romantic dinner, look up a restaurant in your area that features local foods.
Eaters and consumers can support Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United by learning about the labor practices of their favorite restaurants. ROC published a National Diner’s Guide for consumers to get information on the wages, benefits, and promotion packages of places where they dine.
One of ROC’s tips is to leave behind a note, as simple as: “Noticed you still pay the subminimum wage of $2.13/hour to your tipped workers, as a frequent customer, I’d love to see that raised!”
GRACE Communication’s Eat Well Guide helps diners find resources on sustainable agriculture and make more sustainable food choices. Consumers can search by keyword or location, and receive the most sustainable options in their area, from local butchers to bed and breakfasts.
Before you make dinner reservations, research the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Guide. Diners can search by location online, or look in the window of the restaurant, to see if the restaurant has a ‘Sustainability Champion’ badge. Restaurants are rated on 14 key focus areas, from treating workers fairly to waste management.
5. Cook at Home
Another option is to skip the restaurant and stay in. A 2012 survey by the Hartman Group showed nearly half of adults’ meals are eaten in front of the computer, in the car, or on the go. Valentine’s Day is a time for conviviality and to spend time with loved ones. According to a report written by founder of the International Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, the best expression of conviviality is a conscious rapport between consumers and producers—no longer passive but aware, responsible co-producers.
Sustainability doesn’t end with your last bite. “Landfills are the second largest human-related source of methane. Food is the second largest component of landfills. In a sense, we’re aiding global warming when we throw food in the garbage,” explains Jonathan Bloom, food waste expert and author. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, planning menus in advance can limit waste. Love Food Hate Waste provides recipes to creatively use leftovers. Using leftovers in another recipe following dinner makes meals easy.
6. Take Action
Consumers vote with their purchases and can make their voices even louder by signing on to these worthy causes:
• Stand Up for Food That Is Responsibly Grown and Farmworker Assured: Pledge to support safe food and safe workplaces by buying Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) certified produce from farms that comply with the EFI Standards, which include improved working conditions, pesticide management, and food safety.
• Stand Up for a Food System That Is Fair and Just: Pledge to support The Milan Protocol, an international agreement that will connect citizens and policy makers to address the issue of food sustainability with a triple objective: to promote healthy lifestyles and fight obesity, to promote sustainable agriculture, and to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2020.
• Take the Sustainable Seafood Pledge: Learn about sustainable seafood, and make choices that protect workers and the environment.
• Take a look at TakePart’s Tastemakers, a list of 100 food-focused businesses dedicated to local, sustainable, organic, humane and unprocessed foods.
(Danielle Nierenberg is the President, Food Tank)