Growing up in rural Argentina, our family hardly ever went shopping. My father had been raised in the same solid brick house where my six siblings and I grew up. The surrounding land was wooded with eucalyptus, willows and poplars. To the east, fields of wheat and sunflowers bloom in the spring. From the open windows of our bedroom we could hear the rustle of grass on hot August nights, and in late summer grain was harvested and stored in silos until the market price rose. be good.
There was an orchard, a vegetable garden, large stables with dairy cows, sheep, chickens, ducks and goats. It was the perfect setting for a back-to-the-land existence: bread, butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, sausage, cuts of meat, eggs – almost everything we ate was grown on our land and prepared in our kitchen. .
Most of the outfits we wore were made in house. Although we had a lot to do, most of it was not store bought. Since we didn’t watch TV, we weren’t exposed to consumer culture. I don’t remember having any material temptations, or wanting to go shopping – not even to buy presents during the holiday season. Every gift we gave was handmade. It never occurred to us that someone would prefer something bought from a store. Our parents certainly did not: on the contrary, they encouraged us to collect pieces of fabric, scraps of wool, sticks, stones and feathers that would be reinvented as gifts. The mud turned into figurines that sat on shelves until they collapsed and were swept away in July. It was a simple and rich way of life.
A generation later, my three children have very different childhood experiences, with easy access to stores, the internet, and money. They are constantly bombarded with advertisements and all the temptations that come with them. In their world, shopping is an entertaining social activity, and store-bought gifts are vehicles for showing love and appreciation. Even though my husband and I have expressed our preference for gifts made by them, the pressure from outside is just too much: December was the perfect time to shop, for them and for us.
As Christmas approached, I remember the many times my husband and I dutifully bought the gifts our children had chosen. We didn’t pay attention to the fact that many of these items were barely used. Or that they were made by poorly paid workers in factories powered by coal-fired power plants, transported across oceans in polluting ships and trucks, and packed in many layers of packaging, paper and cardboard. that ended up in the trash. We just got caught up in the consumer frenzy. Yet, as reports of natural disasters caused by climate change scream at us, I can’t help but wonder: Is what we do at home over the holidays what everyone else does? ? What is the true cost of these senseless purchases?
We know that human activity is the main cause of climate change, and that if we continue on the path we are on, we will see a temperature increase of 3+C by 2100. In this scenario, fires will ravage West, floods will inundate Europe, droughts will devastate Australia, storms will decimate coastal areas and millions of hectares of farmland will be rendered unusable. Are we going to let that happen while we shop happily?
Given all of this, this year our family will try to give in more sustainable ways, by making handmade gifts, cooking, sharing experiences – and limiting the number of gifts we buy. To help us swim against the tide of consumerist culture, our friends have offered us these thoughts, which I would like to share:
1. Buying a few sustainable gifts reduces the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill.
2. Choosing wooden or fabric toys from sustainable sources rather than plastic is more environmentally friendly.
3. Avoiding battery-operated toys reduces the amount of toxic waste that can contaminate water bodies and drinking water supplies and kill animals and wildlife.
4. Gift cards for restaurants, local attractions and museums do not deplete the Earth’s resources. Tickets for shows, concerts and sporting events; gym memberships; massages at the local spa and other experiences have less impact on the environment.
5. Personal services can be a wonderful way to show your appreciation during the holidays: Offering “coupons” for babysitting, lawn care, cooking, tech help, chores, dog walking, pet sitting, etc., is a meaningful way to show love without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
6. Handmade gifts are unique and do not deplete limited natural resources.
7. Homemade food is personal, eco-friendly, and unlikely to go to waste. Baked goods are a popular choice, but dried fruits, pickled vegetables, jams and jellies, homemade jerky, smoked meats, teas and personalized pies are examples of other edible gifts that can be homemade and loved by all.
8. Vintage and antique shops are full of cute gifts that tell a story and deserve a second, third or fourth life. Accompanied by a heartfelt note, thrift store purchases can be more meaningful than new items arriving in Amazon boxes.
9. For socially conscious friends, donating to their favorite charity is a great option. The same goes for donating social services, like volunteering on their behalf at the local animal shelter).
If we rethink the culture of consumer gifts, we may get to the point where receiving the gift of a monthly pie will be more memorable than a store-bought shirt, and a concert for two will be more special than another pair. shoes. And while not all of us will have to go back to growing our own food or donating mud figurines to stop climate change, incorporating sustainable donations will bring us one step closer to saving our beautiful planet.
Valy Steverlynck is co-chair of the Freeport Sustainability Advisory Board.