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Stuff Free Lent: By Julie Peller, Ph.D.

Green Junction

The two American holidays where I commit to Scrooge mode are the 4th of July (due to the polluting/expensive/obnoxious/harmful fireworks) and Valentine’s Day. I see the latter as problematic consumerism disguised as a heart. This year, Ash Wednesday falls on America’s Valentine’s Day. Consequently, there is a reason to pass on Valentine’s Day stuff for those who observe Lent/Ash Wednesday. (Can I insert a snarky smiley face here?)

Before I offer a convincing reason to forego the flowers on Valentine’s Day, I will share that my dad was the gift giver on this holiday when I was a kid. I have happy memories of receiving a few pieces of candy and an endearing card from him. Mostly, my dad has been a very loving person, for which I am so grateful. The following wonderful guy in my life – my husband..well, he is happy that I am not materialistic and that I typically request no stuff. Instead of flowers and candy, his gifts to me over the years have been thoughtful, heart-warming notes or cards. Again, I am incredibly blessed. (Happy Valentine’s Day.)

“Why giving roses on Valentine’s Day – or any day – is really a bad idea” is an article recently written by Amanda Shendruk. She explains that 80% of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported. Once grown and cut, the flowers require energy-consuming refrigerated trucks for transport to and from airports; the flowers travel by planes, making them different from most other perishable, overseas products transported by ship. This energy-intensive transport of cut flowers means these gifts have incredibly high carbon footprints. Suppose you are committed to purchasing flowers for someone. In that case, experts advise avoiding roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums since these are mostly imported. Locally grown flowers or those grown in the US (“Certified American Grown”) have far lower carbon footprints. The last thought of her column: “Because when our effort to bring the beauty of nature indoors is harmful to the beauty itself, it begs that we question the absurdity of our way of life.”

Along these lines, my overseas collaborator reminded me of the awful amounts of microplastic released from Mardi Gras celebrations. Author J.B. MacKinnon asks in his book, “What would really happen if we simply stopped shopping?” He explains that American society utilizes Earth’s resources five times faster than the regeneration process. I pray we find more ecologically sound ways to seek happiness and celebrate holidays. I sincerely wish for a meaningful, stuff-free Ash Wednesday and Lent for those who observe the Lenten season. 

Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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