At the height of the ongoing global dialogue on climate change, I have this growing internal conflict with myself whenever I travel, cook, and eat. “Why are they serving water in plastic bottles on a plane? Do I really need to marinate this chicken in a ziplock? No, I do not need plastic utensils with that, thank you.”
I also know for a fact that I already have enough stuff. More clothes, shoes, and bags no longer spark joy. In fact, happily throwing away or donating things I barely use has become a favorite sport. Marie Kondo is a rockstar.
So this holiday season, I have tried to stay away from buying more stuff for people. The ones who are getting new stuff are the sons and daughters of my closest friends. Even that proved to be quite an ordeal — the cooler toys are made of plastic. Good thing Legos and Barbies are well-loved even by adults that a missing block or head does not keep a child from playing. They are treasured and rarely discarded, but they can be pricey.
If by this time you are still scurrying and stealing time from lunch hour for last-minute shopping, here are some options to delight your loved ones with something they cannot easily re-gift and won’t break the bank:
Food is good
I love sit-down lunches and dinners with people I like, who talk about anything and everything under the sun. The fulcrum of these conversations is gossip. Intellectuals who are averse to mindless banter have no seat at the table. We all need a break from thinking.
So the menu takes a break too, especially from dieting. December, after all, is the best excuse for carbo-loading and fried food. I happily splurge on pizza, pasta, and chicken for my friends, ideally from socially responsible companies like Shakey’s that donate surplus food to the soup kitchen I work with. And there will always be cake from Sweet Butter, which makes vegan sourdough bread. I am still vegan at home, but in revelry, I let go of structure.
Secondhand is smart
Some significant others may have discriminating tastes but likely concerned about the environment too. Feel it out — maybe it is time to make a trade or go for a used item.
If your girlfriend has been eyeing a Gucci bag, look for it online and see if you can find a secondhand version. Not only will it cost less for the same quality, but it will also reduce your carbon footprint. This will only work if she is worried about her own footprint. If she wants it brand new, you may want to set an example first that she can hopefully model later on or start having the green conversation to raise awareness.
Support a charity
The older I get, the more I meet people who are much wiser and more successful than I am. It is quite a blessing, but also a challenge when it comes to showing genuine appreciation. These people already have everything they need.
So each year, I make a donation in their name. I buy VitaMeal for undernourished children in the Philippines. One bag that costs $22 can feed 30 children, and the company that makes it matches 3 bags donated with one bag during the giving season. I did that this year but also bought a blender for the soup kitchen in Tondo that I am supporting. They need a blender to turn excess vegetables into soup much faster.
Another non-profit that is worth supporting is Hands on Manila which comes up with charming and useful holiday gifts annually. For this year, they are selling gift tags made of seed paper, which is plantable and can grow into vegetables and herbs after use. All the proceeds from the sales will benefit their volunteer initiatives. (Disclosure: I am an adviser at Hands on Manila.)
Explore and experience
We also have loved ones who love to move, eat and try new things, as proven by their peripatetic Instagram feeds. Those who travel frequently for work have likely accumulated enough miles that are about to expire and can be converted to a luxury suite at a five-star hotel. If such an experience is within your reach and will assure quality time with your family and friends, go for it, especially if your destination of choice does not require air travel. There will be a significant time for bonding and travel from December 24 to January 1 so take advantage.
You can also purchase gift certificates from hotels and travel agents that can be redeemed at a later time. Not only will the recipient feel special, but he or she can also plan travels for 2020 in advance.
Go for homemade and earth-friendly products
I am quite easy to please and look forward to repeat homemade gifts from a couple of close friends. These are toasted garlic flakes and soap bars. I happen to like adding pizazz to my rice meals with some garlic and will always need paraben-free and all-natural soap.
Homemade strawberry and other fruit preserves also make for good presents. I have yet to know anyone who hates peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Fermented vegetables like our local version of the sauerkraut called atsara is also a timeless choice. If you have the time to make them, please do.
Are you a starving artist? No problem. Make a poem or a Spotify playlist for your special someone (when CDs were still prolific, I used to burn my version of the mix tape and gave those away).
But if you do have cash to spare, the bamboo toothbrushes and dental floss by The Bamboo Company are enticing. Think about our dental consumption for a second: how many toothbrushes and floss yardage have we discarded since we started looking after our teeth? More than 33 years for me. That is an incredible amount of non-biodegradable plastic that billions of people on planet Earth are using as they age.
I hope you find something you like. Happy holidays!