Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ethical Easter

"Hundreds of thousands of children labour in the West Coast of Africa to produce cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate. Specifically, over 40% of the global supply originates in the Ivory Coast, where the US Department of State reports that over 109,000 children work under the worst forms of child labour. Of these 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Children working in cocoa production labour long hours and are often required to use dangerous tools. They are frequently exposed to toxic pesticides in the fields that create health issues and are forced to walk long distances in extreme heat. Furthermore, because these children work long hours they are denied access to an education." -- From 
It may have been a few years since working with Not For Sale in the seemingly always foggy and slightly chilly Half Moon Bay, but the knowledge I learned while memorizing statistics and information from presentations for the Not For Sale Tour will pop up in my head from time to time. These fleeting moments of information overload present themselves at the most inconvenient of times…often when I don’t have the power to change anything, even when I wish I could.

These moments occur most often at work.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with where I work, I work at an adorable boutique bakery whose delicious treats are absolutely incredible, and whose instagram feed, social media marketing, and overall aesthetic is unparalleled by any other bakery. Sticking to brand name products ensures we provide the best of the best to our customers, who come in knowing an Oreo does actually taste different from ‘cookies and cream’ knock-off cookies.

It’s actually very interesting when you think about it—an entire culture where we’ve been sold the ideal that brand names mean better quality and a better product. Where even the name of a product alluring to a brand more commonly known is what customers will buy. They don’t want something that’s just chocolate peanut butter—they want something chocolate peanut butter cup (which is a whole blog post all on it’s own!).

This brings me to where my heart aches at a busy time such as Easter.
As someone who is continually striving in my personal and outside-of-my-day-job-professional life to not give in to the societal claims of excellence from brand names and their fa├žade of high end living, but am trying to live in an authentic way which showcases an alternative life of ethical purchasing and living, it can be hard to work where Mini Egg everything is a necessity.

So where does that leave me?
First off, it leaves me to admit that I do enjoy sneaking a mini egg (or five) when they are sitting in the kitchen. They are so darn delicious!
But more importantly, it leaves me exactly where it leaves you—looking for other ethical options for my upcoming Easter celebrations because there will always be situations in life we can’t control—which means we need to appreciate the extreme value in situations we can control, and not squander them when they reveal themselves.

SHARE this image and show you plan to have
an Ethical Easter!
This Easter I want to encourage you to make a stand for the rights of human beings around the globe in going above the cute packaging, clever marketing, and adorable egg and bunny shapes that overtake your senses in stores. I want you to commit to purchasing ethically made chocolate and candy.

While a task like this does get easier every year, it is still a leap away from being as easy as it is to head into your local super retailer, and buy some cheap priced chocolate from the shelves while also purchasing your vegetables and cat food. As you swim through an ocean of rich, milky, indulgences in Superstore, Walmart, Shoppers Drugmart, etc. do you see a Fair Trade option? And I mean a real fair trade option—none  of this Cadbury-providing-Dairy Milk-as-their-ONLY-Fair-trade option? Do you see chocolate eggs in festive packaging made by a company that is dedicated to caring about those that work to get the cocoa from the field to the production line? Chances are, in your average retail store in Canada, these particular items are not lining the shelves in mass quantities.

It's going to take time, effort, and research to find chocolate and candy options that care about those individuals making the treat first, and profits second. You'll have to venture into stores you might not normally take a look in (Ten Thousand Villages, or even some health food stores), and you may even have to order goodies online. My hope is you will realize how often we contribute to the continuation and expansion of slavery around the world. One place I’ve found recently is Bulk Barn. Surprisingly enough, they provide a decent selection of fairtrade products. Another great option are the ‘healthy/organic’ aisles of Superstore. While you might not find fairtrade adorable eggs stocked in bulk like mini eggs, an ethical chocolate bar wrapped in DIY Easter packaging can be festive enough to have someone forget they aren’t getting chocolate in an egg shape.

While the general idea behind this post is to have an Ethical Easter, I think the real challenge is accepting, acknowledging and allowing this challenge to resonate in your day-to-day life. Our day-to-day lives are tainted with slavery. Valuable and worthy human lives are often exploited in making our worthless products.  The people making the items we treat as so disposable are being disposed of themselves by our blatant disregard for their existence. Documentaries like The Dark Side of Chocolate, and The True Cost, are showcasing the direct impact our consumerism has on the lives of those creating the products we purchase often without much thought (except to our bank accounts).
The window of knowledge has been slowly opening to shine bright light into the dark room of slavery, and those who peer through the window are actively trying to do something.

People are starting to notice.
People are starting to care.
A movement is happening.

Be someone who makes decisions to pursue ideals that would make your grandma proud—choose to be a smart consumer, choose to acknowledge the lives of people making your chocolate as valuable and worthy of the same basic rights as you are, be someone who doesn’t give into the craze of mini eggs and fight back with your purchasing power. And, most importantly, allow this mentality to radiate into your everyday life.

Will you have an Ethical Easter?

Will Fair Trade or Ethical chocolate be more expensive?
Yes, it will be. With good reason-- caring about everyone in the supply chain! From those farming to those working in the factories, the people in the supply chain are treated fairly. It's worth it to spend a little more to know that people are being treated right!

So the chocolate is more expensive, which means I can't buy as much. What about the traditions of my friends/family/children/co-workers/neighbours/general human beings I am in contact with have? 
I understand that your family tradition is to hid a bazillion chocolate eggs all around the house and do a massive hunt on Easter Sunday. Traditions can be adjusted! Instead of hiding a bazillion eggs, hide clues that lead to a basket of treats! It's still a hunt and still awesome! Maybe you could splurge and hide a bazillion fair trade eggs!

How can I explain to my youth group/family/co-workers why they aren't receiving the generic chocolate they expect and love, without making it seem like I am being a jerk?
No one wants to make someone feel bad. Explain to them that you have been learning about what happens with the production of chocolate, and that you are using your purchasing power to make a difference. We've all been the person who had no idea this was happening. Take this opportunity to share with them the excitement you have about being a conscious consumer! Maybe you'll get them in on the movement! Even kids can find a connection. Does your kid love to go to school? Does your kid love to play sports, or dance, etc. Connecting the dots of "You get to do this, but not all kids get to. Some kids have to work all day long." can make a huge impact!

Here is some information I have found to be helpful in both learning about the topic and having information to share!
My Favourite Easter Candy Doesn't Exist (one of my favourites since they broke down the only ethical alternatives to the delicious mini egg!)
Also, feel free to google "Ethical Easter Chocolate" and see what comes up! Countless articles of people expressing information on how slavery goes into our festivities is available for your viewing. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Love is in the Air

Ahh yes... Love.
Valentine's Day recently passed, celebrating our love for our significant others.
Easter is on its way, celebrating the love of God so great and unimaginably full of grace.
And then, to those in any industry involving flowers, sweet treats and planning, wedding season begins.

I love weddings. I didn't have a wedding.
Those two statement tend to look quite funny standing side by side. One would assume if you love weddings, you would have a wedding, and put all your heart and soul into it and it would be the 'most amazing day of your entire life'. I love weddings-- but my husband doesn't (he also doesn't like engagements, or really anything traditional) so we compromised. The deal was as follows:
1 - He had to propose.
2 - Then we could sign the marriage license papers anytime, anywhere. This was risky on my end because the example he most often gave when alluding to it's romantic spontaneity was signing papers in a butcher shop... not really the thought I had in mind...
3 - At a later date we would have a party with family and friends to celebrate the marriage.

This worked wonderfully for us, and while I love weddings and everything to do with them, I have not once regretted the decision we made to skip out... And really, having the party later on (which we did as a masquerade theme) gave me all the 'wedding' type fun I wanted!

What makes one love weddings?
I love Love. I love how weddings are an expression of each person as an individual, as well as their lives as one unified front. The meaning behind the event is even more enchanting than the glitz and glamour showcased to the loving guests throughout the celebration. Let's be honest though, I also do love that glitz and glamour. The flowers, the dresses, the delicious food and sweet treats... pretty colour palettes and signature styling woven into the littlest detail from the guest book, to the name cards, favours and centerpieces... it's all just so lovely. How can one not be completely enthralled with the love put into the smallest of details?

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to create wedding cakes for two unique and lovely weddings. This was also the first time I have ever made a wedding cake and it was such a great experience! Meeting with excited brides, chatting in cute spaces over delicious drinks about their upcoming celebration made their enthusiasm contagious! Ideas being bounced back and forth, the endless combinations of flavours and styles being discussed and crossed off lists until settling on the perfect compliment to the wedding being planned-- it's wondrous. The sky's the limit, and it's amazing to see what each bride is looking for. With each unique wedding comes a unique palette of preferences, colours and creative freedom, which makes my job so much fun and very rewarding.

The two wedding cakes I created for two lovely brides may look quite similar, but each one was unique to the couple it was created for.

The first cake (being my first wedding cake ever!) was created for a bride whose rustic charm wedding was full of handmade touches, vintage books, paper hearts, and a down-to-earth feeling of warmth and love. This two tier cake started with an incredible chocolate base-- it's actually the same recipe I use for cupcakes and is my amazing go to recipe! The layers of cake were filled with espresso cream cheese frosting and homemade salted caramel! Since making cupcakes with this flavour combination over 6 years ago, it has become one my signature flavour offerings. Covered in a simple vanilla butter cream and laced with fresh eucalyptus greens, the romantic garden roses were added at the venue from the garden of a relative of the bride. One of my favourite parts of this cake was the burlap used to hide the cake board. It created such a cohesive look to the entire wedding.

Next up was a cake for an elegant black and white theme wedding. This wedding was show stopping-- all guests dressed like they were heading to the Oscars, chandeliers above the dance floor, it was truly immaculate. This cake had a flavour combination that spoke to my soul-- the cake had a chocolate base and was filled with marshmallow flavoured butter cream AND homemade marshmallow fluff! Chocolate and marshmallow together is an amazing marriage of flavours. The live floral accents were added at the venue and were of the brides flower choices complimented throughout her other floral touches.

The second wedding also included a dessert bar of 200 mini cupcakes and 100 cookie sandwiches! All of these tied in with the black and white theme-- the cookie sandwiches were filled with vanilla butter cream, black chocolate drizzle and cookies & cream sprinkles on top. The mini cupcakes were a variety of flavours including chocolate Oreo, chocolate Nutella, vanilla mixed berry, and vanilla cookie dough.

There are really no words to describe the honour I felt being asked to create a delicious detail of these two weddings. Just being part of something so special is truly a gift, and allows me to express my love of weddings to those who appreciate it-- the excited individuals coming together in the name of love for the rest of their lives. Here's to more weddings in the future, and more delicious details to celebrate exciting milestones in the lives of those we love.

Do you love weddings? What is your favourite part?