Dear system-change leaders,
‘tis the season! We are less than a week from Christmas! While we SYSTEMIQ-ers were rushing between our end-of-year to-dos and final preparations for the festivities, a blinking and glistening plastic-fantastic wonderworld has shaped around us and Christmas-consumerism has reached its peak.
A survey from Deloitte found that Europeans expect to spend on average €445 this Christmas, UK’s consumers even more (£540). Spending will be dedicated to gifts (52%), followed by food and drink (25%), socialising (12%) and travel (10%).
If you are still on the lookout for Christmas presents, remember that both your relatives and the planet will thank you for not giving in to the temptation of shiny, witty gadgets, which will end up more or less quickly in a pile of waste. Buy less, and buy quality. BuyMeOnce offers lots of products that come with long or lifetime guarantees, and Social Enterprise UK collated ideas of gifts produced by socially or environmentally-friendly companies in its 2017 #PresentsWithPurpose guide.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve are also a time of culinary celebrations, delicious dinners and festive feasts! In environmental terms, Christmas dinner is probably the most unfriendly meal of the year, with a typical dinner racking up to 49,000 miles in imported ingredients, while perpetuating industrial farming methods that are harmful to both animals and the planet. Because we #LoveFood, here are a few tips on how to woo your relatives and friends with a planet-friendly banquet.
Follow the 5 Commandments of a green Christmas dinner (according to The Guardian):
- Buy local
- Buy seasonally
- Go organic
- Go veggie
- Watch your waste
These are easy ways to source local, seasonal and organic food directly from your laptop: Big Barn and Organic Food in the UK or regional-saisonal in Germany. If you’re not convinced that veggie can rhyme with tasty, think twice and let yourself be tempted by these delicious vegetarian Christmas recipes! And if you absolutely need meat in your dinner, why not try venison instead of beef?
Finally, a word of caution on a bittersweet temptation, especially around Christmas: chocolate.
Most of the world’s fine flavoured cocoa is sourced in Latin America, to produce high quality dark chocolate. But 70% of the world’s cocoa originates in West Africa and is mostly used to produce milk chocolate, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter.
Small-scale cacao farmers struggle in meeting basic needs (food, water, education and medical care). According to The Guardian, the retail selling price of a chocolate bar is distributed as follows: cocoa farmers (in West Africa) receive 3.5-6.4%, manufacturers 70%, and retailers 17%. Unfair trade combines in some countries, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana, with child slave “labour”: children are imprisoned on farms, beaten for trying to leave, and denied any wages.
An increasing demand in chocolate over the past years has led to massive deforestation in West African rainforests, as well as agricultural expansion into Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests for palm oil. This multi-continent deforestation releases tons of greenhouse gases and displaces indigenous peoples.
An unpleasant picture, but fear not, you can still allow yourself a guilty pleasure: ethical chocolate.
First off, don’t be blended by labels like “organic” and “Fair Trade”. While those labels usually imply that some sort of environmental or social safeguards are in place, they don’t guarantee that a truly sustainable supply chain is in place. For Fair Trade for example, farmers must pay the expensive certification system – money that could have otherwise been invested in land, their employees or communities. It gets easier to monitor the shorter the supply chain is: look for labels like “bean-to-bar” or “farmer-to-bar”. You must also expect a higher price, reflecting the full cost of labour, shipment, processing, packaging and distribution; all without the price-subsidies of abusive practices.
Apply a few sense-checks when you buy your chocolate. Check for cocoa butter and that it has not been replaced with palm or vegetable oil. Beware of the price – if a bar costs less than £2-3 it has likely not been produced ethically. Check the origin of the cocoa bean – if it doesn’t give you at least the estate the beans come from, transparency is not sufficient for a thorough check of the supply chain.
Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of companies that you can buy from with no heavy conscience: Krakakoa in Indonesia (farmer-to-bar), RitterSport in Germany (bean-to-bar), Zotter in Austria (bean-to-bar), this list of ethical chocolates in the UK, and this US-chocolate-list.
Got the chocolate sorted out? Great! Got the veggie dinner in the oven? Even better!
Wishing you all a plastic-free, sustainably tasty, and merry X-mas!
Written by Ronja Wolf & Faustine Delasalle