Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coffee; Eco-Ethics (Part 1)

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays! Hosted by Food Renegade- please go check out all the other fantastic REAL FOOD posts over here!

Starbucks and Lululemon... does anyone else see a trend here? Since the beginning of my yoga journey, five years ago in Montreal, Lululemon and Starbucks were close behind. Late nights studying for my grad degree required lots and lots of coffee, and boy do I LOVE mochas. It was so common to see yogini's decked out in Lulu gear while sipping on their starbucks that it just seems like the two companies should be somehow in cahoots together. In Montreal we used to always always stop for a Starbucks pre-yoga with Jim (dreamy Brit instructor at the Y). (The Bean Scene, my favourite coffee shop in Vernon BC)

Most of us know that coffee is "bad" for us, that most likely huge corporations like Starbucks make a zillion dollars in profit at the expense of the little guys... but did you know just HOW much your latte is costing our planet and it's people? The USA consumes one fifth of the world's coffee, making North America the largest coffee consumer in the world. You would think with such a huge demand that setting up your very own coffee field and becoming a coffee bean farmer would be a worth while venture... Unfortunately coffee farmers have been, and continue to be exploited to the point of slavery. Coffee farmers are often paid less than 50 cents per pound and live in appalling conditions, are indebted to the point of working for nothing.

Coffee beans are grown in countries that typically have delicate rainforests and unique, essential ecosystems. According to the National Resources Defense Council reports that deforestation is a huge part of "sun grown" coffee (40% of coffee growing lands in Columbia, Mexico, Central America and the Carribean; where deforestation takes place for "monocultures" of coffee bean plants) and the World Wildlife Fund reports endangered species habitats are being destroyed by illegal deforestation for coffee plantations along with a 90% drop in migratory bird species.

Want some DDT with that latte? Although measures have been taken to ban many (but not even close to all) pesticides in North America, many coffee beans purchased today are grown in countries where such carcinogenic pesticides are still permitted. For example, NRDC also reports that Costa Rica allows the use of the toxic insecticide chlordane that has serious health and lasting environmental impact. Chronic, dangerous pesticide use also erodes the coffee farmer and their communities drinking water safety, soil health and food safety. Discharges from coffee processing plants have been a major source of river pollution in Latin America, releasing thousands of tons of organic waste into the water systems, clogging up the water ways and decreasing oxygen supplies of the local aquatic wildlife (NRDC).

Of course these environmental concerns are only the beginning of the coffee empire. Huge corporations such as Starbucks (who buy coffee beans at "slave" prices, followed by an almost 200% markup to us, the North American consumers), also ship these beans to roasting plants, emitting huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Followed by the energy needed to roast the millions of pounds of coffee beans and finished with beautiful plastic packages that are shipped all over the world for another bunch of carbon emissions.

I knew all this, I did. The kicker, was a documentary called "Strong Coffee: The Story of Cafe Femenino" that I was invited to watch by my friend Sharyn in B.C. It has changed how I view my coffee and being the sap that I am, it also made me cry. (I strongly urge you to check our the Trailor here).

Cafe Fememino tells the story of the women in these coffee communities who are marginalized, continue to have no rights, are not educated, are abused and are treated as subhuman. Despite progress made by Fair Trade organizations, the women in these communities (50% of the population... don't forget!) continued to be abused and were without basic human rights. With limited resources farmers invested money in educating their sons, daughters stayed home and were married between the ages of 12 and 16 years.

In 2004, 464 female coffee workers banded together, and with some support decided to separate their coffee from others. The label requires that coffee be grown, sold and the land owned, by women. That they be paid above fair trade prices, that the coffee be grown sustainably and organically and that the women have humane and improved working conditions. (Cafe Femenino bean bags are tied with a pink ribbon!)

Finally, buying Cafe Femenino also means supporting a local woman's organization in YOUR community. Coffee roasters that agree to carry the Cafe Fememino label are bound by contract to donate 2% of their profits to a local woman's program of their choice and must have the Cafe Femenino label on their packaging. A true pay it forward- women in third world countries decided that other women elsewhere would benefit from their hard work and commitment to make our world a better place.

Although I began this post with the purpose of talking about mostly Starbucks... the story of why buying locally roasted, organically grown, fair trade certified coffee is an essential backdrop and took up quite a lot of space.

My options were to either find an alternative or quit drinking mochas. Quit?? Lol, one day without my one cup and I have a headache (sad I know).

Obviously, certified organic coffee is a fantastic way to assure a mocha sans pesticide residue and decrease your latte's impact on our precious blue planet. Fair Trade certified also assures that the yummy coffee you are drinking isn't supporting "slave" labour. However, having one does not automatically assume the other. So both was a must for myself.

Buying certified shade grown coffee assures that those "sun", monoculture, bird-killer fields are not involved and that you are supporting a return in biodiversity. Of course, my absolute favourite... Cafe Fememino, certified fair trade, organic and a pay it forward to support women in MY community from a local roasting company. How do you find such a fantastically awsome tasting and ethical coffee??

Well, in Halifax "Just Us!" (a Wolfville fair trade, organic coffee roasting company) claims to carry Cafe Femenino. However, recently I have been having a difficult time finding it in their Coffee shops. They've never promoted it and it seems to have quietly disappeared from their shelves. I'll be writing them soon to find out the latest.

Otherwise, go on Cafe Femenino's website here, and search by company and region. Currently, Canada has not implemented their Certified Organic Logo (federal website states June 30th 2009), so make sure to closely examine logos when purchasing, logo copiers are out there!

Next stop: Starbucks and my love-hate relationship :)

Blessings and happy ethical coffee drinking!


  1. You rock my world....

    I just knew there was a reason that Starbucks gave me the willies....having nothing to do, of course, with the obscenely overpriced bevvies and the fact that the freakin' place intimidates the crap out of me. Why can't we just say 'large', people?

    Staying tuned....

    And off to scout out some Girlie Beans...


  2. I actually gave up coffee related to this, now I have fair trade green tea every now and then, but that's it. The headaches pass after 2 days or so! In Australia there's been massive protests about starbucks, people protesting openings etc- even preventing them from opening on one street in Melbourne (Lygon St- home of Melb's coffee if you were wondering...)
    I just finished a really interesting book about fair trade issues, written by one of the pioneers of the movement, Harriet Lamb. It's called fighting the banana wars and other fair trade battles:

    I love hearing stories about people going above and beyond fair trade- it's only the beginning!


  3. We have actually taken another step towards ethical coffee drinking in our house where we replace table sugar with local unpasteurized honey. I was pretty skeptical of this at first, because honey is specifically supposed to go in green tea, and sugar goes with coffee. I also thought it might taste weird.

    The honey does not make my coffee taste weird, thank goodness! Seriously I wouldn't be able to handle that. I've tried other natural sweeteners such as stevia and that DID change the taste of my coffee, which forced my to shake my fist at the heavens and wonder how we could live in a world where this kind of injustice can happen to middle class white urbanites.

    Seriously though, honey is great, if you don't do that give it a try, stevia is gross and the stuff I used was pretty obviously processed AND in individual sachets so I vote honey yea, stevia nay.

  4. In our house, we are also coffee drinkers trying to do our best (but often failing!).

    Thanks for introducing us to a new brand with a good cause, and for sharing this in today's Fight Back Fridays carnival.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  5. This is great! I had been looking for fair trade coffee localy and now I know which brand I want! Girl Power to the People!

  6. I don't know... Starbucks may not be that ethical, but they're a heck of a lot better than Nabob, Nescafe, Coffee Time, Country Style and most other coffee chains/companies. They do carry a Fair Trade blend as well as a shade-grown variety from Mexico, and I believe they've worked with Rainforest Alliance to look at greening their operations, paying fair wages (often, we look at what these coffee harvesters get paid and say it's "slave wages", but as I learned at Unilever's tea plantation, many workers also get free healthcare, schooling, transportation and housing provided by the parent company), and so on. I don't know -- I always try to purchase my beans from local, independent stores that specialize in Fair Trade stocks, but the occasional latte at Starbucks shouldn't be considered totally evil in my mind :)

  7. Thistle: I agree :) I started out the whole post wanting to lay out the pros and cons of Starbucks... but then got caught up in the "traditional" evils of coffee farming and the industry... and then after posting realized that I didn't follow through with the latest "eco" starbucks news lol.
    I do know, for example, that starbucks actually doubled their fair trade coffee purchases this year (still only 12% of the beans they buy...but still) and are looking into greening their cups (hasn't happened yet though).
    However, they do waste millions of litres of water a day from their constantly running taps and are on par with Wal-Mart for being anti-union and treating their employees poorly.

    However, I have been known to stop at starbucks and with my reusable mug... buy a personal, grande, three-pump, non-fat, nowhip mocha. LOL :)

  8. I read this post this morning...and went to Starbucks this afternoon! :\ Arg! I had an itch for an iced tea. But yeah, like you and Thistle said...we all need an indulgence from time to time!

    I'm glad I have never developed a taste for coffee - makes it easier not to shake my fists at the heavens! (Andrew is a kick!) But I have other major food addictions that are equally bad for the environment. We'll all get there. One step at a time.

  9. Great post! another point... is the paper cup and plastic lid you walk out of Starbucks with! North American waste sites will be swiming in them for the next 100 years. A total waste of the planets resources.

    I have heard that you can ask for a mug or have your own travel mug filled with your order at most Strabucks.

    However there is nothing green about going into a Starbucks. What I do is whip up my favorite hot drink at home in a travel mug and take it 'to go" from there;-)) Saving money, the plaets and buying ethical fair trade products all in one action!


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