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How sweet is that message?

February 14, 2008

“Be mine.” “Hot stuff.” “Kiss me.” Cute messages of love on a classic Valentine’s Day candy — the biggest selling sweet other than chocolate for February 14th.

But not the sweetest message you could give to the planet. Here are the top three reasons why Valentine’s conversation hearts are not eco-friendly:

#1 — Sugar
Did you know that sugar production around the world is damaging natural treasures like the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast and the Everglades wetlands in Florida?

According to WWF International, 121 countries produce the annual 145 tons of sugar the world eats. And unfortunately, this sugar cane and sugar beets are grown with plenty of pesticides and create toxic runoff into soil and water.

Candy heart from ACME Heart Maker

The Sugarcane Production and Environment Report (PDF) notes that it takes a whopping 1,500-3,000 liters of water to produce just 1 kg of sugar. Refining factories regularly belch out soot, ash, and other solids, while ammonia is released during sugar processing.

Better management practices could make sugar a cleaner product. But until cane growers agree to be sustainable, consumers might want to make more informed choices.

It’d be great if we could find more fair-trade sugar, but in the meantime, it’s not a bad idea to cut back on sugar. Easier on the waistline anyway.

#2 — Corn syrup
Next in the original recipe for Necco’s Sweethearts Conversation Hearts is corn syrup. Now, we’re not positive if this is the awful high-fructose corn syrup that’s in so many of our processed foods (and has been linked to the American obesity crisis). But any kind of corn syrup has little to recommend it.

Corn is massively over-farmed and subsidized in the U.S., and this is causing a host of environmental problems right on our doorstep. Grist points out that corn farmers pour 10 billion pounds of fertilizer on their fields every year, and this junk washes down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. The waste creates a giant algae bloom known as the “Dead Zone” that kills fish and marine plants.

#3 — Gelatin
Number three in the recipe and the third reason these seemingly innocent treats aren’t so innocent for the eco-minded is the stuff we usually associate with wiggly-jiggly Jello. Gelatin is often used in candies and desserts as a stabilizer or to simulate the mouth-feel of fat.

Candy heart from ACME Heart Maker

If you weren’t aware of it already, gelatin comes from animals. Specifically, it’s the boiled-down collagen from connective tissues, bones, and skin of cattle and pigs.

As we’ve noted before, raising livestock for food is pretty inefficient and produces far more greenhouse gases than eating a plant-based diet. You don’t have to be hardcore about it — just cutting back on animal products a few days each week for a more flexitarian lifestyle is earth-friendly.

Intstead of conversation hearts …
Want some alternatives to those candies? If you’re the sentimental type, buy a pack of recycled-content pink construction paper, cut it into big heart shapes, and write your own sweet messages on each heart.

Scatter them around your Valentine’s house, tuck one in your honey’s briefcase or purse, sneak one in the car before your loved one drives off to work — this will be a Valentine’s Day to remember!

Or if your sugar prefers something edible, go for fair-trade or organic chocolates. That’ll guarantee a gift that’s rich, decadent, and sweet on Mother Earth too.

One Comment leave one →
  1. yarn and glue permalink
    February 16, 2008 1:46 am

    Great post + research! I found you through the ppk. I grew up on candy hearts so now I’m doing penance by purchasing ‘endangered species’ chocolate. Sweetest penance ever…

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