Consumption Meets Compassion on Halloween

October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013 is here. Hello creativity, greed, magic, consumption, playfulness, unconsciousness, celebration, exploitation. Has there ever been a more complex tradition in the history of humankind? For parents, especially, the contrasts and the conflicts inherent in this holiday affect our families directly, and are begging for our attention.

So if Halloween is your favorite holiday and you don’t want to spend any time thinking about the associated problems, you might not want to read any further.

But if you, like me, have some anxiety about what we’re teaching and allowing for our kids and our communities on this day every year, maybe some of these thoughts will resonate, or be helpful, or inspire ideas YOU can share to shift things in a different direction on down the road. I’m all ears. This is not an easy one to figure out.

boysinwheelbarrowardenwoodfarmsLets’ start with some happy, grateful thoughts! Here are the things I appreciate about Halloween:

  • I love the magic and joy and excitement and creativity leading up to and surrounding the day itself.
  • I love seeing my kids and all kids get inspired about dressing up and taking on a persona for the day, and ideally making or recycling at least part of their costume.
  • I love carving pumpkins (or letting the squirrels carve them!)
  • I love discussing with my kids the history of Halloween, and its roots in and associations with Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and onset of winter) and Day of the Dead (the ancestor-honoring festival celebrated in Mexican and South American cultures).
  • I love walking around outside with my family and friends in the brisk chill of late autumn, while the sunlight fades from the sky and the candlelight shines from so many one-of-a-kind jack-o-lanterns, celebrating together a magical moment and memory-in-the-making in our children’s and our lives. Beautiful!

Shifting gears now! Here are the things I fret about:

  • Americans are estimated to have spent $2.4 billion on Halloween candy this year, with 75% of that being chocolate candy of some sort. That is an insane amount of candy! Some estimates say it’s about 600 billion pounds — of nutrition-free, unhealthy, non-food that rots teeth and guts and harms humans and the planet. What else could we be spending that money on? And I always wonder how much of it ends up in the landfill, after all that? The amount of waste and mis-used resources is overwhelming to think about.
  • Most popular chocolate manufacturers are not fair trade compliant and, despite ongoing pressure from communities and human rights organizations, have not evolved their policies to protect children and people in general. And the waste and environmental issues involved in candy creation are not insignificant. These are huge corporations not necessarily following good environment practices or holistic and sustainable business models. When we purchase and eat this candy, we are supporting their violent choices with our money and actions.
  • There are lots of nasty chemicals, artificial colors and dyes and otherwise unseemly ingredients in most of this candy. In addition, of course to the requisite sugar. What does this do to our kids and to all kids, both in the moment (can you say “bouncing off the walls”?) and longer-term?
  • Even if you participate in some sort of buy-back program (like Operation Gratitude) via your dentist or directly, you’re still sending the candy somewhere. Someone is going to eat it, and Operation Gratitude’s web site says that much of the candy sent to the troops is handed out to local children to “build relationships”. So it can rot their teeth and guts while we buy friendship with candy? I think we’re missing the point here. How about we bring the troops home instead, and offer humanitarian aid to impoverished communities world-wide in the form of healthy, nutritious food? We certainly can afford that, if we can afford to buy $2.4 billion in candy every year.

So what are we supposed to do about this dilemma?

If we let our kids eat all of their candy, it’s unhealthy for them, for other beings, and for the planet. If we don’t let them eat all of it, what do we do with the candy that’s left over, since its very existence is unhealthy for people and the planet, and just trashing it is so wasteful? And if we go to the extreme and refrain from allowing our kids to participate at all, we are potentially marginalizing them in a way that is hard on them socially and doesn’t solve the deeper problem anyway.

FThallMy response this year will be to let my kids have at their candy for a few days (within reason…no uber-binging, as my personal philosophy is just to not allow that, in any context), and then collect the remainder in return for a couple of delicious fair trade organic chocolate bars of their choice, to be eaten and enjoyed leisurely over time.

And accompanying that action will be perhaps the most important piece of all: a lot of discussion about all the topics mentioned above in the “fretting” paragraph…everything from why buy fair trade, to why eat organic non-GMO food, to why make choices not to consume more than we need, to what happens when corporate and human greed is allowed to go unchecked, to the biggest one of all: how do we, as individuals, families and communities, make ethical and loving choices in the context of a consumption-based culture that is constantly messaging, modeling, pushing and embodying the opposite?

Finally, after I trade in my kids’ candy for those organic fair trade bars and I’m left with a big pillowcase full of nastiness, what are we gonna do with it?

The best idea I’ve heard so far is to let the kids do science/cooking experiments and really get messy with it. Cutting, melting, freezing, soaking, mixing, blending, chopping, stirring…whatever! Another good possibility is to make art with the left-over pieces, maybe even inviting a bunch of families to pool their left-overs and make a huge collaborative piece — a community-based awareness-raising “collage of compassion” or “sculpture of sustainability”!

Or maybe we’ll just compost the insides and recycle/trash the outsides, making note of how much of the earth’s rare and beautiful resources went pretty much directly into the landfill as a direct result of this tradition. Quite often, the truth hurts. And feeling that pain is not a bad thing. For touching suffering with a tender, open heart is the beginning of being able to experience true compassion.

I am not interested in penalizing or punishing my children for being born into this culture or getting swept up in its hallowed traditions. And I don’t want them to feel bad or guilty about their participation and the joy they experience while celebrating it all.

But I do want to raise them in a way that allows them to open (and keep open) their eyes, wake up, and always be at least be aware of the consequences of their actions. I want them to understand that no matter what the cultural norm is, they always have a choice to act independently and from their hearts. I want them to remember that their bodies and the body of our precious earth and its plants, animals and minerals are deeply worthy of their love, protection and stewardship. And to know that it is well within their power to choose compassion over consumption, in small or big ways, again and again.

The word “hallow” means “to respect or honor greatly; to revere.” Let’s reclaim that definition, and insert as much respect and honoring and reverence for all beings and the earth as possible into our observance of this day. I hope you all have a magical night under the stars with your beautiful children. I’ll be out there walking around with you, knowing that we are together shifting and transforming and moving always closer to love, one tiny thought, word, action, or little piece of candy at a time.

Love,

Charity