The No-Gifts-Please Letter to My Family (aka: Buying for a Sourcetarian is Difficult!)
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
I have thought about writing this letter a number of times, but the topic is so awkward and I feel so conflicted that I end up not writing it. I have even gotten advice that I shouldn’t do it and that it’s kind of tacky. All of this said, I’ve decided I need to let you all know what is on my heart...it is time. (Disclaimer: I realize I risk coming across as self-righteous by writing this. That is not my intent, and I hope that is not the case when you read it, but I don’t know how else to write this.)
**If you don’t want to read this, here’s the short version: please don’t get me gifts (I love you for the thought though!)...please just donate to any of the nonprofit organizations listed at the bottom, or pick your own!
The level of anxiety and concern I begin to struggle with starting around September of every year is fairly intense. The gift-buying holiday season is fast approaching! As most of you know, for a few years now, I have been very passionate about implementing an idea called Panthmas. This is not just my idea--there are a few of you who have been part of dreaming this up with me. And it is born out of the desire to protect and nurture Nature and to also give back to the world. The word ‘Panthmas’ is a cross between Pantheism and Christmas. Christmas because it is a holiday pastime for me with good memories of my family when we would go visit my two sets of grandparents in Texas each year. And Pantheism because the term embodies how I feel: that Nature and the Universe are of utmost importance and are what I believe in. There are somewhat varying ways that Pantheism is defined--to be clear, my central tenet is the love of and caring for Nature.
Now, I definitely do not ever expect to get gifts from anyone! However, if I’m on your list, there are some things I need for you to know. I realize it can be very annoying and difficult to buy gifts for me as you all know how I do my best to source things/foods well: local, organic, regenerative, humane, non-toxic, zero waste, etc. And I don’t expect you to shop for me in this way because a lot goes into it and it can be difficult as we live in a world with a very industrial mindset--for example, you might find some organic socks, but they were made in China with bad labor practices. Plus, ‘organic’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as industrial companies have taken over ‘organic’--there is even something called ‘industrial organic’. I’ll save the idea of industrial organic for another post.
Trust me, I know it’s overwhelming and frustrating. A lot of times, it is just lack of access! Or not knowing how or where to get local foods/products (a couple of food sourcing links: Local Harvest and Eat Wild). When considering food, there is the aspect of seasonality too--which we are no longer used to as we can get something like asparagus during the winter from South or Central America. There is also the issue of affordability and sourcing well, and this enters into another topic realm revolving around social stratification and inequality. There are many facets, so it is a constant conundrum. Personally, when I’m not able to buy something I feel really good about, I feel like such a hypocrite and I feel awful.
But c’mon...surely not everything is like this? What about something like honey?
I’m not going to talk about industrial 'honey' right now...that is for a different conversation (and spoiler: it is awful in every way). But what about just local honey? There are even things to consider with that, like: was it harvested ethically? Does it come in plastic? I point these things out to show how difficult it really is to source well and that I *do not* expect you to take this on (unless you want to, of course!)! It’s difficult for me too!! And sometimes you just can’t avoid certain aspects. Like: I have bought local honey harvested ethically, but for some reason, they packaged it in plastic! But I still wanted to support them. So I got it anyway.
At least we can recycle though! So that helps with the trash? Not so much...
Speaking of plastic, our country’s recycling situation is a disaster--so even when you get things that aren’t toxic to you and are more easily recyclable like glass, you’re still crossing your fingers that it does get recycled. For example, only about 9% of virgin plastic has been recycled--this is worldwide and includes all plastic ever made! On top of that bad news, tons of our ‘recyclable’ items get shipped to developing countries, which not only creates an even larger carbon footprint, but also people in those countries are getting paid very little to sift through our debris.
Trying to buy mindfully, both for your own health and for your local community and the planet is not easy--I get it.
Books have to be a safe gift option though, right?!
Books are another great example of something that presents somewhat of a difficulty. I *love* books!! But there aren’t many publishers out there who are doing things right--recycled, local, etc. It’s so tough!! In case you’re wondering what a good publisher looks like, I really love and respect Chelsea Green Publishing. That said, books are tricky! They can be the source of new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration which is so very important! In this industrial phase of our evolution as humans, I feel that sometimes the quality and importance of the content overrides how it was published because if we don’t have new ideas circulating, how do we ever evolve past this phase? Fortunately, there is the option of buying used books and also of supporting your local small bookshop…!
Conundrums similar to the book example are numerous. Sometimes bad sourcing just can’t be helped and there are reasons why you’re buying what you’re buying--whether it’s a health and safety situation, for example, or that you just can’t find that item well-sourced. I get it. For me, the idea and the goal behind bringing attention to this issue of sourcing is to raise awareness, to create mindfulness, to plant seeds. It is my very strong belief that, any time it is possible and you’re able, to source well is to send a message which can and does have a positive ripple effect--it is something to strive for. It may seem like a small thing: like buying regenerative, organic food from a local farmer as opposed to buying conventional, industrial food from a big chain grocery store. It’s just little old you, right? However, it is the culmination of these small acts by many people that creates big change. How big of a change you ask? I will have to write about that another time (...it can and will change the world! Money is simply energy and we can use it to create positive change!).
I’ve been studying how best to source things for 7 years now as it is a main focus in my life--I term this being a 'Sourcetarian'. I do not expect you to deal with this. Now all of this being said, it does not mean that I don’t cherish the gifts I’ve been given by each of you! Sometimes you really hit it--sourced well and everything, and my eyes glaze over in stars and I love you for it! And even if it’s not well-sourced, I love the spirit with which it was given to me--you were thinking of me and you love me and I feel loved.
Ok, so no gifts. Then what to do? Enter: Panthmas.
I have many reasons for not wanting to be part of the industrial gift/consumption machine:
Inhumane treatment of animals/nature
Horrendous working conditions (modern-day slavery, including child labor)
Carbon footprint of something coming from far away
The utilization of things that are bad for the environment and us (like plastics and chemicals)
Supporting huge conglomerates with no regard for ethics
Also, Ben (my husband) and I are trying to be more minimalistic with our possessions as well, having sold or gotten rid of probably 70% of our stuff when we left the Denver area.
For all of these reasons, getting gifts often causes me more anguish and sadness than anything, and a lot of guilt because I know you mean the best! So, here we are with quite the gift-buying/holiday conundrum...what to do?!
The holidays were never meant to be about gifts, yet it is a favorite pastime for many people and is baked into our society. Enter: Panthmas. In my mind, Panthmas is about giving back to and nurturing nature and the world. One of the ways we can do this is via nonprofit organizations that are doing things right. For me, the most loving thing, and also the easiest, is donations to nonprofits!
Explanation of donation format: Now, my original idea with this was to have friends and family donate to nonprofits of my choosing for me, and I wanted to do the same for them. I felt that by doing it this way, it would still feel like we were each 'giving' each other something as a gift! However, after some much appreciated feedback on this idea, there is a much more simple way of doing this which will also help with another aspect: people's desire to donate to nonprofits that they themselves want to support. In light of this realization, this is what I will be doing with my family/friends this year: I will take all of the gift money I was going to spend on gifts for them and instead redirect it to a few of my own favorite nonprofits. And, in return, my family and friends will give to their own favorite nonprofits instead of buying a gift for me! I love this as the organizations are going to get the money either way--it just creates a much simpler format! If you are wanting to try this whole idea, I hope this simplifies it a bit! The last thing I want to do is add any kind of stress or confusion to the holidays, especially since what I am proposing falls outside of tradition.
My Panthmas Wish:
Can you imagine if this caught on?! If the holiday season was about each person (kids included!) picking their favorite nonprofits and those nonprofits actually getting loads of money from all over?! Not only would we be helping to solve the insane industrial consumption problem (as in it would nearly cease to exist during the crazy holiday season), but we would also be supporting organizations that are healing the planet and making the world a better place!! Oh, and we would also solve a major part of climate change as this would be a part of slowing the destruction of the planet! I mean, really think about this...it’s MIND BLOWING!
Have you always been like this?!
Yep! As I was writing this, it brought back memories. Indeed, I even did this as a child! I recall getting some money from my grandparents and a few others for Christmas every year. As soon as we would get back home from our Christmas trip, I wanted to sit down and figure out what nonprofits to send my money to! I was always so excited to do this. The struggle, however, was always wanting to support them all!! I would finally narrow it down though, and then sit down with my mom as we wrote checks to them and sent them off! I really loved doing that.
Conscious Companies are on the Rise!
To be thorough, there are more and more companies starting to respond to the growing trend of people wanting to source their purchases better. A lot of these thoughtful companies are even doing give-back programs! So you can buy something that is both well-sourced and have part of your purchase go towards a charitable effort! It’s a win-win! Here are some examples of companies doing just that: Patagonia, Earth Hero, Happy Earth Apparel, Coyuchi, Zero Waste Store, Uncommon Goods...the list goes on. An amazing land regeneration organization called the Savory Institute has even published a Regenerative Buying Guide! They also have a Land to Market program where they partner with companies to produce items regeneratively. Fibershed is another fantastic organization transforming the way clothing is grown and produced. There are more and more options all the time! Gift certificates to conscious companies like these are also a great gift option!
Are there any other options for gift-giving?
What about something like a gift certificate to a farm-to-table restaurant? This one can be tricky as the same rules apply and you’d be surprised at the amount of ‘farm-to-table’ restaurants that just source a few items from local farms so that they can say that they are ‘farm-to-table’. So when I choose a restaurant like this, a lot of research goes into it! I’ve even been known to call the restaurant to find out exactly what menu items are sourced well, and then I’ve even called the ranch/farm to confirm that the restaurant is in fact sourcing from them and supporting them and that the ranch/farm is using good farming practices like regenerative etc! It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it! How about an experience-based gift certificate or a gift certificate for a class of some sort? Maybe! I still ask the same kinds of questions though! Another option is used-but-in-good-condition gifts! This is something that is off the radar for most people when buying a gift for someone, but there are some amazing used items out there! There is also always the fun idea of actually making/creating something as a gift!
Conclusion: buying for a Sourcetarian is difficult! If you have a Sourcetarian in your life, just talk to them! Ultimately, nonprofit donations are probably the best, safest, and easiest.
When my husband and I were on our honeymoon in New Zealand, we went on a sea kayaking adventure in Milford Sound. We specifically sought out a locally-owned sea kayaking company. It was a marvelous experience! When we were paddling back to shore, we were chatting with our guide. We ended up finding out that we’d in fact chosen the last and only locally-owned sea kayaking outfit! He told us that sadly all the rest had been bought out and taken over by huge companies. Take-away: It is my belief that we can support local wherever we go!
*A note about our honeymoon trip: are you thinking I am a hypocrite for talking-up "buying local" when my husband and I flew half-way around the world thus making a huge carbon footprint just for our honeymoon? I get that. And these are the kinds of conundrums we are now facing in modern society--is it possible to travel for reasons (like going on a do-gooder trip where you are volunteering and trying to make the world a better place) or in ways (like spending money locally once at your destination) that justify the travel itself? Or will we need to consider that air travel is just plain irresponsible and should no longer be done? This is hard to imagine for a lot of people, but it may become something that isn't even a choice as the fuels themselves (whether they are fossil fuels or biofuels from industrial monocrops) just are not feasible or run out all together. This questioning of air travel is a tough one because another positive of seeing other parts of the world is the awareness of and respect for other places and cultural differences which is invaluable in and of itself as this realization usually also creates humbleness. All are aspects to ponder...
Just giving a gift certificate or a donation receipt can kinda suck though...
I know that gift-giving is just as much about the person giving the gift as it is about the person receiving it. And I also know that donating to nonprofits doesn’t carry the same flare as giving a really cool gift. For some people, giving gifts really is their love language! I know it’s probably not as fun, but a donation to an amazing nonprofit really is the most loving thing you can do for me. I will truly be so happy through and through my soul knowing that my gift money energy went to a good cause. And if you happen to find something that you think really hits the mark on sourcing, I would love that!
I know you mean the very best...
Please know that sending out this letter to my family whom I love gives me a lot of angst and I actually feel kind of terrible for writing it. I know each and every one of you absolutely intends the best and I know I’m asking a lot. But I don’t know what else to do. I do know, however, that I can’t go through this every year. I’d really like to start enjoying the holidays again and not have 4 months of stress leading up to it. If you feel so inclined, I’d love to know what you think and what ideas you might have! I so hope I have worded this letter in such a way that it will be received by you knowing that I also mean the best.
All my love, Mandy
P.S. If all of this was just a bit much for you and has left you feeling frustrated or just not really getting why I’m so worked up about it, you could frame it in terms of: what if this were my religion? Because for all intents and purposes, it is. I am simply asking for my wishes to be honored. There is one other way--don’t get me anything! I understand that may be the easiest of all...
**If this letter resonates with you, please share and jump on the Panthmas bandwagon with me!!
Need Inspiration? Some Amazing Nonprofits:
*But first, something to be aware of: like anything, nonprofit organizations can fall victim to industrial, mechanistic, greedy mindsets just like the huge extractive, destructive corporations they are claiming to be different from. For this reason, things like this can happen: colonialism disguised as conservation. In light of realizations such as this, it is imperative that we do our homework as well as we possibly can when choosing organizations to support with our money.
Below is a list of organizations that are my current recommendations as these are ones I've recently done my best to vet. I try to find organizations that are focusing on solving root problems (for example: protecting indigenous peoples' rights, regenerating/rewilding land and oceans, creating healthy food access for vulnerable populations, increasing education and awareness, etc.). These issues we and the planet face are multi-faceted and so are their solutions.
*All Mission/Vision statements are taken directly from the websites of the organizations.
Land Regeneration Nonprofits:
Savory Institute Mission: "To facilitate the large-scale regeneration of the world's grasslands and the livelihoods of their inhabitants, through holistic management."
Kiss the Ground Vision: "Our vision comes from our heart. Earth is thriving because humanity is in balance with all living systems. Reverence and interconnection are the foundation of our relationship with nature. Our participation in ecosystem regeneration is restoring the health of soil, water, the atmosphere, and communities. Humans have embraced their role as caretakers of the planet and each other."
Quivira Coalition Mission: "The Quivira Coalition builds soil, biodiversity, and resilience on western working landscapes. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration."
Here is a list of nonprofits fighting for social and environmental justice (from onepercentfortheplanet.org)
And more awesome nonprofits:
Survival International "We work in partnership with tribal peoples to campaign, lobby and protest for their land rights. We investigate, expose and confront atrocities committed by governments and big business. We are here to amplify the tribal voice and make sure it is heard."
Wild "Mission: Wild expands and empowers global coalitions that defend earth's life-saving wilderness. Vision: A wild and healthy world in which people and nature flourish."
Global Food Justice Alliance "The Global Food Justice Alliance advocates for the right of all people to choose nutrient-dense foods such as meat, milk, and eggs, which are critical for nutritious, environmentally sustainable, and equitable food systems that can sustain both human life and the planet."
Protect Thacker Pass "We are an independent, grassroots collective of people resisting the Thacker Pass lithium mine. We work in solidarity with regional indigenous people. Thacker Pass, or Peehee mm'huh, is sacred land to the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone, and critical wildlife habitat. We invite all people with good hearts to help us stop the greenwashing! Join us to defend this land!"
Navdanya International "Navdanya and the Navdanya movement was created by Dr. Vandana Shiva 30 years ago in India to defend Seed and Food sovereignty and small farmers around the world. Navdanya pioneered the movement of seed saving and seed freedom, which began in response to the crisis of erosion of agricultural biodiversity and introduction of GMOs and patents on seeds through intellectual property rights (IPRs) and so-called ‘free trade’ agreements. It has long fought against biopiracy, the patenting of indigenous knowledge by self-interested multinational corporations and won cases related to Neem, basmati rice and wheat in India.
Navdanya promotes a new agricultural and economic paradigm, a culture of food for health, where ecological responsibility and economic justice replace the present greed, consumerism and competition which have become dominant in society. It aims at regaining the common good as a foundation for a renewed sense of community, solidarity and culture of peace.
We strive to achieve these goals through the conservation, renewal and rejuvenation of the gifts of biodiversity we have received from nature and our ancestors, and to defend these gifts as commons."
Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots "Our mission is to empower young people to affect positive change in their communities."
Sea Change Project (from the documentary My Octopus Teacher) "We tell stories that connect people to the wild, motivating them to become part of the regeneration of our planet. We are a team of media and science professionals dedicated to connecting people to the wild through incredible stories backed by scientific knowledge. Our goal is to contribute to the long-term protection of South Africa’s marine environment by making the Great African Seaforest a global icon. Our work includes films, books, exhibitions, marine biology research through living science, and impact campaigns."
There are so many fantastic nonprofits out there doing phenomenal work. Also, be sure to check out nonprofits local to you!