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Deconstructing Coffee

Podcast: Is organic, fair-trade espresso guilt-free?

By Jon Steinman 1 Jun 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Jon Steinman is producer and host of Kootenay Co-op Radio's program Deconstructing Dinner. A new podcast with notes is posted here every Friday afternoon. All Deconstructing Dinner podcasts can be found here.

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Next to petroleum, coffee is the most valuable traded commodity in the world, and the most valuable agricultural commodity.

As coffee has historically been an integral piece in helping shape empires, economies and cultures, deconstructing coffee comes close to deconstructing humanity itself.

Coffee is constantly scrutinized for its human and social impacts around the world, but rarely do we examine the environmental consequences of a double-double, a cappucino, or even an organic/fair-trade espresso.

This broadcast examines how the removal of human labour from the coffee industry has led to poverty, hunger, environmental destruction and climate change. It originally aired on May 3, 2007.


Adam Tomasek, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (Washington, D.C.) -- In January 2007, the WWF released a report titled Gone in an Instant. The report finds coffee lovers the world over are unknowingly drinking coffee illegaly grown inside one of the world's most important national parks for tigers, elephants and rhinos -- Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Indonesia. Illegally grown coffee is mixed with legally grown coffee beans and sold to such companies as Kraft Foods and Nestle, among others. This coffee is threatening the future survival of three animal species.

Daniel Fourwinds, Capulin Coffee (Nayarit, Mexico) -- Capulin is a hand-crafted, traditionally sun-dried, 100% jungle-shade-grown natural coffee. Capulin claims to provide the sweetest, least bitter and most stimulating 100% Arabica Tipica coffee available anywhere, and provides more money per pound directly to local villagers than any other coffee company on the planet. This coffee illustrates the destructive forces all water-processed (washed) coffees are having on people and the planet.

Benji Hansen, Clean Bean Café (Nelson, B.C.) -- The Clean Bean Café exclusively sells Capulin Coffee. Located alongside the main highway running through the city, the coffee is sold out of the back of a trailer and is essentially a drive-thru coffee shop. But while Capulin Coffee presents a real opportunnity for social and environmental change, Benji Hansen is encouraging yet another level of change by not offering any take-out cups. Instead, Hansen maintains a 'mug orphanage' whereby customers are free to take their ceramic mug with them! Hey fast-food chains and coffee shops, take some notes!

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