What to do about coffee?

Monday, August 9, 2010
At the cabin, there are a few things that cause us to drop everything and make the 60 mile trip into town, regardless of convenience. Number one is running out of gas. Number two is running out of toothpaste. And number three? Running out of coffee.

Every morning I wake up to the sound of Andy grinding coffee beans. Although our intake of coffee declines slightly in the warm summer months, it’s still part of the everyday routine. And that’s where the conundrum comes in.

If we’re to focus on living locally and feeding our bodies with foods naturally grown in our home range, turning a blind eye to our favorite breakfast beverage is a huge oversight. Feel good statements on the coffee bags like “organic” or “fair trade” don’t erase the fact that every ground coffee bean that ends up in our filters has traveled thousands of miles before reaching our breakfast table. Sure Kona coffee from Hawaii is “U.S. grown coffee” but Hawaii isn’t exactly in my northern Minnesota backyard, now is it?

Since our town is teeny, we’ve been spared the arrival of commercialized coffee. The coffeehouse in town is no Starbucks or Caribou Coffee, it’s a locally owned and operated business which hires local high school kids during summer months and supports a local family. When we grab a latte in town, we’re not supporting “the man,” we’re supporting neighbors.

Even I, who am more of a coffee sipper rather than a coffee drinker, foresee problems in swearing off coffee for good. Caffeine is such integral part of 21st century life that to do away with coffee would probably just mean the emergence of another environmentally and nutritionally worse alternative. If we do some research about where we invest our coffee dollar, we can insure that we support worthy coffee plantations and small business.

Is that good enough? How effective can local living be if we start down the slippery slope of making caveats?

It probably behooves us to remember that when coffee, tea, and spices emerged into Western society, they were considered luxuries. We often forget that stocking up on coffee wasn’t always as easy as hopping in an automobile, turning the key in the ignition and driving 60 miles. It used to be journey that used to involve gangplanks and white handkerchiefs being fluttered in farewell as a three-masted tea clipper pulled out of the harbor on the start of a multi-month trip. If we can remember that every time the coffee grinder roars we are beginning our mornings with the epitome of a “treat” we can succeed not in living locally, but living life a little more mindfully. Everything in moderation, right?

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