Coffee Guilt

I should be working on a painting. However, due to a number of circumstances we won’t get into, my reaction to this damn thing is an overwhelming desire to kick my feet and scream “I DON’T WANNA!” Since that would do bad things to my self image, I’m instead gonna write randomly about something unrelated, in the secret hope that I will either get my second wind, or the magic art fairies will come and finish it for me.

I am a very bad environmentalist. Half the time I don’t buy recycled toilet paper, and I stopped buying enviro-friendly detergent when all my clothes turned dingy grey. James put a moratorium on hippy soap, on the principle that a patchouli-flavored goat milk bar is not something he wants to deal with anymore, and I don’t blame him. I couldn’t care less if something is organic or irradiated, I will chow down on pesticide and antibiotic laden food without a qualm, and while I do buy free-range eggs whenever possible, I really don’t care that much about the plight of the chicken. A chicken is like fruit with legs. I have gazed deep into a chicken’s eyes, and seen a sign that read “Space for Rent, Inquire Within.” I try not to eat veal, I buy buffalo whenever I can, but the only domestic animal I feel any real guilt about is the pig. Pigs are smart, and deserve better than what they get. Unfortunately, they taste…so!…damn!…good! I don’t even know what bacon is good and which supports giant hog farms. I suck.

When I have money, which isn’t often, I’ll donate to the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy, which I think has the most practical approach to conservation, and the least immediately undermineable–just buy the damn land and refuse to log it, already–and I run the occasional charity auction for a worthy wildlife cause. I support my local zoo. But my recycling is only of the easy stuff, and I don’t drive a solar/ethanol/electic/in any way efficient car, I use paper towels, I flush the contents of the toilet into the sewer system rather than an earth friendly whatever, I drink Coke, which is terribly bad, and Satan will replace the seventh circle of hell with a tasteful Japanese tea house before I will use washable menstrual rags. That one is non-negotiable. Deeply, profoundly, non-negotiable. I love the earth, but we got limits.

What I do have is coffee guilt.

The one place where I active, consciously, and religously try to do the right thing every time is buying coffee. James, too. I can trace this back to a drive down to Chicago from St. Paul, where, as we crossed Wisconsin (Motto: It’s interesting once!) the only thing on the radio was an NPR report on coffee, what kind of coffee is ethical to buy, deforestation for coffee, fair trade coffee, and so on, and so forth. By the time we hit Chicago, we were thoroughly indoctrinated. I have had coffee guilt ever since.

This means that I can’t buy my coffee at Safeway. I tried, but about about ten minutes spent reading each package, while the ice cream melted and I sought in vain for words like “shade-grown” and “fair-trade” I gave it up. You can’t buy Folgers. Buying Folgers, or any of the large non-gourmet brands, you might as well beat a third-world coffee farmer to death with a baby harp seal in a burning teak forest full of sea turtles. Gourmet coffees are okay if you can’t get anything else, ‘cos they’re primarily estate grown, shade-grown arabica beans. Fair-trade is good, but not neccessarily a deal breaker, because fair-trade beans have to be grown by a co-op, and plenty of perfectly respectable small farmers want nothing to do with co-oppery (and who can blame them?) It absolutely, positively, must be shade-grown, and it must say it on the package. If it wasn’t 100$ a pound, I’d buy civet cat coffee, simply because I’m guaranteed that it has to be grown in an area wild enough to support the habitat of a number of well-fed civet cats. I can’t say the notion of drinking coffee ground from beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a small mammal really appeals to me, but on the other hand, after the washing and roasting it’s a pretty sterile little bean, and I eat honey, which, after no washing and no roasting, would still be bee vomit (or whatever orifice it comes out of.) And let’s not get me started on milk, or sausage casing. Anyway, the quest for a guilt-free coffee.

Back in St. Paul, I’d get this brand called “Peace Coffee” which was marketed primarily on the being-good-to-small-farmers-and-eco-friendly-to-boot bit, and which was surprisingly good. They don’t have that here. I finally went to Whole Foods and found something that was fair-trade, shade-grown, and offered to donate 5% of the proceeds to build schools in the communities that grew the coffee. Which was great. It was also $13 a pound, which is…oh…a helluva lot more than I want to spend on coffee, damnit. I am informed that there’s a nifty place in the area called “Trader Joe’s” that may have coffee that fits my ethical standards, and will have to visit there shortly.

Anyone who knows of a good, eco-friendly, socially-conscious brand of coffee or anything else, feel free to pipe up. Consumer-based environmentalism is probably the kind most likely to get anything done.

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