In my personal practice, and in my classes, it is tradition to put offerings of fresh flowers on the altar. Flowers represent space element, a gift of pure beauty to the deities and guides found on the altar, and, in their wilting, keep us attuned to impermanence. When class is full and everyone brings flowers the beauty of the altar can be mesmerizing.
But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things I know about the flower industry and the terrible impact it has on our lovely planet. I want to share some of the reasons that I cannot continue to support fresh cut flower offerings as a part of our loving ceremony with the exception of locally grown organic flowers.
• Pesticides: Flowers farmers are some of the highest users of agrochemicals, and because flowers are not meant to be eaten, the regulation around use of toxic chemicals is more slack in the flower industry. At least 70% of cut flowers in the U.S. are imported from other countries. And while pesticide use on flowers grown in the U.S. is rampant, when it comes to importing flowers from other countries oftentimes pesticides that have been banned here are utilized. All those pesticides, in whatever country the flowers grow in, have a huge environmental impact, hurting soil, rivers, oceans and animals. The cost of a beautiful rose might very well be the well being of a sea turtle. On top of that, those who work in the flower industry are constantly exposed, with migrant workers often being the ones who bear the brunt of the health impact with low to no health care. I’ve talked with health care professionals who work primarily with migrant worker populations who have reported that health conditions directly related to exposure to agrochemicals is horrific. But it’s not just those working on the farms; florists are also exposed to unsafe quantities of pesticides through daily handling of cut flowers.
• Water and Land: Growing flowers uses high amounts of water, often from water impoverished countries and takes up land space that could be used for food production or nature. I think that’s probably all I need to say about that.
• Plastic: Cut flowers are frequently packaged in clear plastic wrapping that long outlive all of the people giving and receiving flowers. Plastic is choking our planet. We all know it. It’s killing animals, filling our oceans and landfills, and it never goes away. It’s hard enough to avoid plastic with essential items - let’s just refuse it with non-essentials such as flowers shall we?
• Fuel and carbon: With more than 70% of flowers sold in the U.S. coming from other countries as mentioned above, that’s a big carbon footprint and fuel use.
So, what to do about the altar, and tradition, and ceremony. I’m still thinking about it actually, and am open to ideas. I am looking into cloth and glass flowers. I know that certain aspects of the tradition of these offerings will be lost in this, but I’ve put a lot of thought into the benefit and toll and I just can’t justify it anymore. I think that for the purpose of offerings, I’ll encourage students to bring (organic) fruit that can last the duration of the class so that after class is done we can offer it to the local homeless population. Or to bring organic potted plants that can be put into the earth to grow. Preferably plants that bees like, since bees need our help these days. And if people want to bring cut flowers I would ask that they be local and pesticide free.
Traditions are lovely and I adhere to a lot of them in regards to my Thai medicine practice and teachings. Ultimately though, caring for Mother Earth is my spiritual path, and, with climate change looming, my mandate as an even slightly good human.
Well wishes and peace to you all,