Monday, October 01, 2012

Elite Coffee Limits

Most of my friends and acquaintances -- and even people who happen to see the family car -- know that I care a lot about coffee. In fact, a favorite part of my web site is the Caring for Coffee page, where I provide details about how to get the best flavor from the brew. I must admit that I care about the coffee for some of the same reasons I care about other foods and beverages -- I have learned to appreciate differences that result from the selection of ingredients and approaches to preparation for many foods. Our food blog celebrates many of those discoveries.

As with foods, however, the appreciation of good coffee also has a lot to do with wanting a better life for farmers and a better relationship with the land. If coffee tastes terrible, it is probably grown and traded under conditions that were not good for soil, water, or farmers. Conversely, if the coffee is very good, the chances are improved that the farmer and the land have been treated fairly.

For a variety of reasons that I discuss in some detail in my courses (and elsewhere on this blog), the free market does not always (or even often) treat labor and land fairly. For that reason, social and environmental certifications have emerged that create "fair" markets that can often improve the treatment of both. These have empowered us to act as consumers where we have failed as citizens. That is, where the political process has not succeeded in protecting human rights and the environment, we can "vote with our wallets" to affect change far from home.

The limitations of this approach are three-fold: first, those with an interest in justice have far fewer dollars to spend than those who either do not care or those who have an active interest in injustice. Second, and related to the first, the certifications themselves are susceptible to being "captured" by those who are thriving in the free market. Witness recent changes in Fair Trade certification brought about by Starbucks and other heavyweights.

Third -- and the impetus for this post -- certification programs help commodity producers only by taking them out of commodity markets. This is helpful for those producers of coffee, tea, cocoa, and the like who are in a position to improve their quality and therefore their livelihoods, but it does nothing to change the lives of millions for whom these products will always be commodities. And it does even less for the people and places responsible for all of the goods that will almost certainly remain commodities -- corn, wheat, copper, and the like. 

I have seen first-hand the ways in which attention to quality has helped farm families and the land, so I remain committed to good coffee and the good it can do. But I am also convinced by the argument of blogger @nickcho, who argues that an extreme focus on the pinnacles of coffee quality can turn coffee advocates into coffee snobs, members of the One Percent (or, really, the Point Zero One Percent), for whom boutique coffee can become an end, rather than a means.

Where does all this lead us? Coffee paralysis? I do not think so. In the short run, we should get to know as much as we can about our roasters. What have they had to say about changes in fair trade? What are they actually doing in the field? 

In the long run, however, we need to take more responsibility as citizens than we do as consumers. We need to push politicians -- regardless of party -- to prioritize human rights and the environment when they negotiate trade agreements and other areas of domestic and international law and diplomacy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment and your interest in my blog. I will approve your comment as soon as possible. I had to activate comment moderation because of commercial spam; I welcome debate of any ideas I present, but this will not be a platform for dubious commercial messages.

Blog Ideas

coffee (19) geography (16) climate change (13) musica (9) Texas (8) education (8) Brazil (7) Mexico (7) migration (7) Massachusetts (6) US-Mexico (6) borderlands (6) deBlij04 (6) cultural geography (5) fair trade (5) food (5) geographic education (5) immigration (5) nicaragua (5) Arizona (4) climate justice (4) deBlij05 (4) music (4) politics (4) water (4) Bolivia (3) Boston (3) GEOG332 (3) GEOG381 (3) Managua (3) Obama (3) Safina (3) border (3) cartography (3) drought (3) libraries (3) pesticides (3) trade (3) unemployment (3) Alaska (2) Amazon (2) Bridgewater (2) Canada (2) Chiapas (2) China (2) EarthView (2) Economy (2) Environment (2) GEOG130 (2) Google Maps (2) Government (2) Hawaii (2) India (2) Lexington (2) Maldives (2) NPR (2) National Monuments (2) National Parks (2) Religion (2) Rio Grande (2) Taunton River Wild and Scenic (2) Tex-Mex (2) The View from Lazy Point (2) United States (2) Venezuela (2) africa (2) censorship (2) central america (2) chocolate (2) deBlij07 (2) deforestation (2) education reform (2) employment (2) environmental geography (2) film (2) global warming (2) islands (2) land protection (2) librarians (2) maps (2) organic (2) peak oil (2) refugees (2) sense of place (2) soccer (2) suburban sprawl (2) television (2) water rights (2) whales (2) ACROSS Lexington (1) Accents (1) Adam at Home (1) Alice (1) Alt.Latina (1) American Hustle (1) April (1) Association of american Geographers (1) Audubon (1) Aunt Hatch's Lane (1) BSU (1) Baby Boomers (1) Banda Aceh (1) Bay Circuit Trial (1) Bechtel (1) Beleza Tropical (1) Belize (1) Beloit College (1) Ben Linder Cafe (1) Bet The Farm (1) Bhopal (1) Bikeway (1) Bill Gates (1) Bill Moyers (1) Boeing 777 (1) Brazilian (1) Brazilianization (1) Bridge (1) British Columbia (1) Bus Fare (1) Bush (1) California (1) Cambridge (1) Cape Cod Bay (1) Carl Stafina (1) Catholic (1) Ceuta (1) Chalice (1) Chipko (1) Citgo (1) Climate risks (1) Cochabamba (1) Colonialism (1) Common Core (1) Commuter (1) Computers (1) Cuba (1) Cups and Summits (1) Dallas (1) David Byrne (1) Delaware Valley (1) Dunkin Donuts (1) EPA (1) Earth Day (1) Earth View (1) Easton (1) Elizabeth Warren (1) Emilia Laime (1) English-only (1) Environmental History (1) Ethiopia (1) Euphrates (1) European Union (1) Evo Morales (1) FIFA (1) Fades Out (1) Farms (1) Food Trade (1) Frederick Kaufman (1) French press (1) Fresh Pond Mall (1) GEOG 332 (1) GEOG 441 (1) Garden of Gethsemane (1) Gas wells (1) General Motors (1) Gini Coefficient (1) Girl in the Cafe (1) Google (1) Gordon Hempton (1) Gravina Island Bridge (1) Great Molasses Flood (1) Guy Lombardo (1) Hawks (1) Heart (1) Higher Education (1) History (1) Holyhok Lewisville (1) Homogenous (1) How Food Stopped Being Food (1) Hugo Chavez (1) IMF (1) Iditarod (1) Imperial Valley (1) Income Inequality (1) Indonesia (1) Iraq (1) Irish (1) Japan (1) Junot Diaz (1) Ketchikan (1) Key West (1) Kindergarden Students (1) King Corn (1) Kiribati (1) Latin America (1) Limbaugh (1) Love Canal (1) Luddite (1) M*A*S*H (1) MCAS (1) MacArthur Genius (1) Maersk (1) Malaysia (1) Malaysian Air Flight 370 (1) Manu Chao (1) Map (1) Marblehead (1) Mary Robinson Foundation (1) Maryland (1) Massachusetts Bay Colony (1) Math (1) Maxguide (1) May (1) Maya (1) Mayan (1) Mayan Gold (1) Mbala (1) McDonald's (1) Melilla (1) Mexicans (1) Michael Pollan (1) Michelle Obama (1) Micronesia (1) Military (1) Military Dictatorship (1) Minuteman Trail (1) Mongolia (1) Monsanto (1) Montana (1) Morocco (1) Mount Auburn Cemetery (1) Mozambique (1) Muslim (1) Nantucket (1) National Education Regime (1) Native Americans (1) New Bedford (1) New Hampshire (1) New York City (1) New York Times (1) No Child Left Behind Act (1) Norquist (1) North Africa (1) Nuts (1) Oaxaca (1) Occupeligo (1) Occypy (1) Oklahoma City (1) Oppression (1) PARCC (1) Pakistan (1) Pascal's Wager (1) Peanut (1) Pearson Regime (1) Philadelphia (1) Philippines (1) Pink Unicorns (1) Poland (1) Portuguese (1) Protest (1) Public Education (1) Puebla (1) Puritans (1) Quest University (1) Rachel Carson (1) Reading (1) Republican (1) Retro Report (1) Robert Reich (1) Rock Legend (1) Ronald Reagan (1) Rondonia (1) SEXCoffee (1) Safety (1) Samoza (1) Sandino (1) Sara Vowell (1) Save the Children (1) Scotch (1) Scotland (1) Seinfeld (1) Senegal (1) Sergio Mendes (1) Severin (1) Sharrod (1) Silent Spring (1) Sinatra (1) Slope (1) Somalia (1) Sombra (1) Sonora (1) Sonoran desert (1) Sonoran hot dog (1) South America (1) Spain (1) Stairway to Heaven (1) Storm (1) Suare Inch of Silence (1) Sumatra (1) Swamp (1) Tacloban (1) The Amazon (1) The Amazon Trail (1) Tigris (1) Tucson (1) Tufts (1) U.S Federal Reserve (1) U.S Government (1) U.S. economy (1) USDA (1) USLE Formula (1) Uganda (1) Unfamiliar Fishes (1) Union Carbide (1) Vacation (1) Vexillology (1) Vietnam (1) ViralNova (1) WNYC Data News (1) Wall Street (1) Walsenburg (1) Walt Disney (1) Walt and El Grupo (1) Ward's Berry Farm (1) West (1) Whaling (1) Winter Storm Saturn (1) Wisconsin (1) World Bank (1) Xingu (1) YouTube (1) agriculture (1) anthropocene (1) antitrust (1) aspen (1) aviation (1) banned books (1) bark beetle (1) bean (1) bicycle (1) bicycling (1) bike sharing (1) binary (1) biodiversity (1) bioneers (1) books (1) boston globe (1) cacao (1) cafe (1) campaign (1) campus (1) cantonville (1) cape verde (1) capitals (1) carbon dioxide (1) carbon offsets (1) carioca (1) cash (1) cashews (1) census (1) chemex (1) chemistry (1) chronology (1) churrasco (1) coffee grounds (1) coffee hell (1) coffee prices (1) college (1) compost (1) computerized test (1) congress (1) conservation commission (1) corn (1) corporations (1) countries (1) cubicle (1) deBlij06 (1) deBlij08 (1) death (1) deficit (1) dictatorship (1) distracted learning (1) distraction (1) drug war (1) earth (1) economic diversification (1) economic geography (1) election (1) embargo (1) energy (1) enhanced greenhouse effect (1) environmentalist (1) ethnomusicology (1) exremism (1) failed states (1) farming (1) financial crisis (1) football (1) forestry (1) forro (1) fracking (1) free market (1) free trade (1) fuel economy (1) garden (1) genocide (1) geography education (1) geography games (1) geography of chocolate (1) geography of food (1) geologic time (1) geotechnology (1) gerrymandering (1) global pizza (1) globe (1) green chemistry (1) guatemala (1) high-frutcose (1) home values (1) hospitality (1) housing (1) illegal aliens (1) income (1) interfaith (1) journalism (1) kitchen garden (1) labor (1) language (1) libertarianism (1) library (1) lingusitics (1) little rock (1) llorona; musica (1) maple syrup (1) mapping (1) medical (1) mental maps (1) microstates (1) mining (1) monopoly (1) municipal government (1) nautical (1) neoclassical economics (1) new england (1) newseum (1) newspapers (1) noise pollution (1) pandas (1) petroleum (1) piracy (1) pirates (1) poison ivy (1) police (1) political geography (1) provincial government (1) proxy variables (1) public diplomacy (1) rabbi (1) racism (1) real food cafe (1) remittances (1) resistance (1) respect (1) rigoberta menchu (1) rios montt (1) romance (1) roya (1) runways (1) russia (1) satellites (1) science (1) sea level (1) selva negra (1) sertao (1) sertão (1) sex (1) sex and coffee (1) simple (1) sin (1) solar (1) solar roasting (1) south africa (1) sovereignty (1) species loss (1) sporcle (1) sports (1) state government (1) sustainability (1) taxes (1) tea party (1) teaching (1) textile (1) texting (1) training (1) transect; Mercator (1) travel (1) triple-deckers (1) tsunami (1) utopia (1) vermont (1) vice (1) video (1) wall (1) water resources (1) water vapor (1) whiskey (1) whisky (1) widget (1) wifi (1) wild fire (1) wildlife corridor (1) wto (1)