Guilt Free Gifts for the Holidays

Gift giving over the winter holidays is a tradition that many religious and non-religious families share. It can be a source of joy both to the giver and the recipient, but it can also be a source of guilt; particularly at a school where anti-consumerism is a strong sentiment among some students. So, where’s the middle ground? You don’t want to be a scrooge, but you also don’t want to fill the world, or your loved ones homes, with more useless stuff. Here are some gift ideas that may balance your conflicting interests.

Taza Chocolate
by Caroline Carney
If you want to give the gift of chocolate, look no further than Taza Chocolate. This Somerville company, founded in 2006, crafts 100% organic stone ground chocolate that is both fabulous and conscientious.

Taza Chocolate is devoted to sustainability and grounded in social responsibility. The farms Taza works with– in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic –all follow organic and biodynamic practices. Taza practices direct trade, meaning the company deals directly with the farms to ensure the quality of the ingredients and ensure that workers receive fair wages. Direct trade also avoids any added costs of a middleman. The company recycles all materials possible and most of the packaging is made with 20%-100% reused materials.

To show its commitment to the community, Taza has worked with GoGreen Somerville to create a sustainability plan for the town. They even give their cacao shells to local business to use as mulch, and bike delivery is available to buyers in the greater Boston area.

If this were not enough, the chocolate itself is a deliciously rustic work of art. The rough surface of the granite millstone gives life to a distinctive chocolate bar, almost gritty in a good way. Each rich morsel of chocolate begins with a slight crunch and then melts on the tongue. There are dark chocolate bars ranging from 60% to 80% dark. Most intriguing are the chocolate disks that come in yerbe matte, salted almond, vanilla, cinnamon, and guajillo chili. No wrapping is necessary: its best to show off the artisanal, recycled wrappers. Taza chocolate is a gift anyone would be happy to give and to receive.

Heifer International
by Amy Scheuerman
Heifer International gives animals to impoverished families worldwide, and is a unique alternative to the typical sweater or DVDs you give your friends. You can choose a gift based on your financial situation and your personal preferences. For example, a chicken loving ex-roommate of mine used to receive a post card each year explaining that a flock of chickens had been given to a family in India in her name.

My grandmother, whose pockets are considerably deeper than my own, once gave an entire “arc,” two of each animal, to a village for me. Each donation also includes training on how to manage the animals and use them to build a working business. This precious gift can increase the economic security of an entire town in some cases, and embodies the essence of “the gift that keeps on giving”; each recipient is required to donate one offspring from their gifted animal to another impoverished person.

Recycled notebooks
by Mari Quinonez
A perfect gift for a fellow student.  Use some of the single-sided paper waste you’ve collected throughout your time as a graduate student and bind it into a notebook. Binding machines can be found at copier stories such as Kinkos, or, if plastic bindings aren’t your thing try the needle and thread method.

Homemade Recipe Book
by Mari Quinonez
Scour the pages of the volumes upon volumes of cookbooks you own to find a couple dozen of your favorites. Type them up (be sure to include any variations you may have made), combine with a few pictures of your culinary handiwork and bind them using the same technique listed above.

Home Canned Goods
by Amy Scheuerman
Your fully aware of the fact that you made one too many jars of delicious plum jam this summer, and now is the time to share the bounty. If you did not can items over the summer, there’s still time. Pickled cauliflower or carrots are still seasonal and make lovely gifts when stored in jars and tied up with pretty ribbon. Or you could try your hand at pumpkin or apple butter, both of which taste fabulous when spread on toast in the morning. The best part about this gift is the lack of waste it produces. The food gets eaten (you may want to include a home-created recipe if the preserve is an unusual one) and the jar can be used the next year. Only the bands need to be replaced.

Potted plants and Indoor Gardens
by Mari Quinonez
Take cuttings from your houseplants, root them, and repot them, the ultimate waste-not gift when done properly. Good candidates include vining plants like Pothos and Spiderwort, as well as many types of cactus and succulents. Herbs and heirloom seeds make great practical gifts. If you don’t already own a plant you’d like to share, you can still give a tasty treat to friends who are agriculturally inclined. Satisfy the urges of the green thumb in your life with an indoor mushroom or sprout kit.

Do It Yourself Baked-Good Jars
by Mari Quinonez
Do you make amazing cookies? What about cocoa? Head to your favorite bulk foods seller and buy flour, sugar, nuts and whatever else suits your fancy. Take a small jar, layer the dry ingredients in a lovely pattern, and seal it up with a ribbon. Attach a recipe card listing the wet ingredients to be added and the accompanying cooking instructions.

Tickets to an Event
by Amy Scheuerman
For the person who has everything, here’s something that won’t fill up the shelves. Do they love music, art, or theater? Buy them tickets to a show, concert, exhibit, or play. Boston offers many great venues for all of these events. The Berkly School of Music and New England Conservatory specifically are downtown and feature excellent music, frequently with discount rates for students. We also have the Institute for Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, and the Museum of Science, all fine gift choices that may make for wonderful memories.

Fair Trade Coffee or Tea
by Mari Quinonez
Buy several boxes of your favorite teas and mix and match depending on the tastes of your recipient. Make this gift extra special by including explanations or sentiments for each of your tea selections. If you are feeling extra crafty, try drying herbs from a local grocery store (or farmer’s market) and make the tea yourself. Another great alternative; buy Fair Trade coffee or tea from the Friedman Student Counsel Fundraiser.

Online Subscriptions
by Amy Scheuerman
Magazines and newspapers can create a lot of waste, but people still enjoy reading them. To compromise, consider gifting someone with an online subscription to a favorite magazine. Cooks Illustrated, The Economist, and The Washington Post all have amazing online access for lower rates than their print editions. Cooks Illustrated even gives subscribers free access to all of their archives recipes, which is a treasure trove for any food lover.

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