Three-course meal, red roses, chocolates, Clinton cards and the dulcet tones of Michael Buble? It must be Valentine’s Day.

This may be an exaggerated stereotype; but it exists for a reason. The average Valentine’s Day spend is $13.19 billion, or approximately $116 per person. For just one day: more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold; 190 million roses will be grown and packaged; and 1 billion cards will be purchased and sent, with 85% of cards bought being by women.

The principles of love, happiness and value are extremely important, however the practice of Valentine’s Day risks becoming another exemplification of how these are supposedly achieved by adhering to the deeply embedded ‘spend more, consume more, waste more’ mantra that permeates our already-abundant society.

This blog aims to emphasise the love behind February 14th, but provide some alternative, more sustainable ways of making your beloved happy.

Cook your own meal

Cooking is intimate: you get to share the experience with your loved ones; and it builds a connection and deeper understanding of food. You are not simply buying and consuming food like any other commodity: it is now part of a personal, labour intensive, thought-provoking and ultimately delicious process. Options include going vegetarian, buying only seasonal foods, or from your local farmers markets or butchers, and even using your own home-grown fruit and veg. People may say that oysters and steak are aphrodisiacs, but the same can be said about chickpeas, almonds, prunes, honey and bananas.

If you only have access to a supermarket, why not use the ‘buycott’ app to check which of your ingredients are ethical and Fairly Traded, or visit Angela Morelli’s ‘virtual water’ website to see the hidden costs behind our food. Want a romantic meal of steak and chocolates? 15,400 litres of water are used to produce 1kg of beef, and 24,000 litres is used in producing 1kg of chocolate. Now, that’s food for thought. But while a lot of grazing livestock is managed very inappropriately, it can also play an indispensable role in sustainable food systems, preserving biodiversity and preventing long term land degradation. So as a more sustainable alternative, make sure the beef you buy is pasture fed – a much better choice for your health and the planet.

Eating out ethically 

If cooking fills you with more dread than delight, below are some options for going out. The Happy Cow website is a fantastic search engine to find vegetarian and vegan restaurants close to you. You could also look for restaurants that adopt a local food philosophy, such as The 25 Mile in Wales. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t just be about getting closer to your partner, but also to your community, farm land and local cuisine. Finally, rather than seeing extravagant romantic gestures as synonymous with extravagant portion sizes, adopt a ‘small is beautiful’ approach. Bristol’s Poco, which recently claimed the Best Ethical Restaurant award for 2013, only serves tapas-size platters for sharing, but also recycles 95% of everything used each day to make its carbon footprint small too. For other ethical restaurants in the UK, click here.

Drink eco-responsibly

A good meal needs a good drink. On Valentine’s Day, this is often alcoholic. Alcohol can be far from eco-friendly, requiring heating, cooling, and agriculturally-intensive ingredients, not to mention the air-miles and preserving chemicals used. Many drinks are bottled in the country of origin and then shipped over to consumers, with transportation accounting for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, shipping contributes to a massive 35% of wine’s CO2 emissions. To mitigate this, you could buy wine from your own country, or you could choose wine that has been ‘bulked’ in flexitanks. For example, bulk shipping wine from Australia reduces emissions by 164g for each 75cl bottle: this is a 40% reduction compared to bottling at source. It can then either be bottled within the country of consumption, or some companies are starting to use more sustainable Tetra Pak containers.

You could opt out of alcohol all together, and try pressing your own juice, making your own herbal tea, or buying Fairtrade juices and carbonated drinks. But we’re sustainable not bonkers, so for those of us who enjoy a glass or two with our dinner it makes sense to choose alcohol that has been produced with love and integrity.

Many beer companies have now adopted organic standards, with the top five organic beers being listed here. But the UK has also witnessed an explosion in craft-breweries and home-grown wines over the last 10-years. The important thing is to choose companies that put passion into their product. When something is made with love, using only the best ingredients, you can’t help but taste it in the end of product, and Valentine’s day is, after all, about getting your taste-buds tickled.

Our favourite new breweries include: Kernel Brewery, The Wild Beer Co and Moor Beer Company, but new offerings are to be found up and down the country. The English Wine Producers website states that there are now over 400 wineries in England and Wales, producing from 3,500 hectares. Our personal favourites are Chapel-Down in Kent  and Three Choirs Vineyards in Gloucestershire, but with this many home-grown offerings, there is no excuse for air-mile laden bottles of plonk.

Give herbs or seeds instead of flowers

Fertility is not simply about humans, but also about soils. In third century Rome, Valentine’s Day was linked to the Pagan festival of Lupercalia; a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of Agriculture. Priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility, and a dog for purification. The goat was skinned, the hide dipped in blood, and the priest took to the streets and fields to gently slap women and crops to boost fertility.

Before you get any thoughts, you are not in third century Rome.

Instead, why not give some seeds to plant? This is a much longer term investment than flowers; escaping the monetary and environmental cost of buying roses from Kenya, and the emotional cost of them dying after a week. Contribute to your Valentine’s Day meal by providing a potted herb. Basil is known as the ‘herb for lovers’; warming the body and promoting circulation, helping to conjure-up loving feelings.

Make a ‘scrap’ card

Valentine’s Day cards only emerged in the early 1700s, with love letters being dominant before that. Mass-produced cards arrived in the 1840s, but still held a hint of personality: real lace, ribbons, colourful pictures known as ‘scrap’. Now, in the 21st century, affection is given for us, via a shop-bought card displaying ready-made quotes.

‘Scrap’ can be romantic. Why waste our scrap when we could make a heartfelt Valentine’s Day card from it? I urge you to find your old birthday and Christmas cards, magazine scraps, receipts from your first date, photos, favourite song lyrics… and make a card. My friend even makes Valentine’s Day collage cards out of leaves. We have an illogical hierarchy of worth when it comes to Valentine’s Day: a shop-bought card is worth more than a home-made card or letter. The great thing about making your own is that you can turn something priceless that would normally be (leaf) ‘litter’ into something of value. Now, that’s worth something.

Give to something other than your relationship

Share the love: remember that we are part of a community; whether local or global. Many people do not have the liberty to live in a world of surplus, or are going to be alone this Valentine’s Day. The more we divide the world in terms of economics or culture, the more we divide our moral compass.

So, buy Fairtrade gifts, give to charity, visit family and old friends, participate in a Random Act of Kindness. In Scotland, a popular tradition is ‘the search of the Valentine Date’. Here, the first man or woman a person encounters on the street becomes his or her Valentine. While this, in practice, may seem a little odd, the principles behind it are inspirational.. The amount of happiness you give (and gain) from simply approaching a stranger is immense.

Celebrate on another day

The principles of Valentine’s Day do not have to be limited to February 14th. One of the risks of having a short time frame is that you only focus on short-term impact. One long-term gift idea is to make a set of IOUs; promising experiences and favours to your loved ones in the future. Or, take after South Africa, and celebrate Valentine’s Day over a week rather than a day. Another holiday that celebrates love, kindness and value is on the 22nd April. This day is Earth Day, and is now the largest secular holiday in the world. Earth Day has many parallels to Valentine’s Day: i’s about creating value; it brings people together; and even recommends using candle light rather than electricity.

So for me Valentine’s Day should embody the principles of the quote “Love does not dominate, it cultivates”. Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day by not allowing a celebration of waste and excess to be indicative of love: any element of Valentine’s Day should be slow, thoughtful, and not detract from real values in the world.

Photograph: Ginny

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