Ethical Coffee – Does it matter how you satisfy your caffeine needs?

Cup of cappuccino

Let’s make this disclaimer right away – I am not pro any particular race, religion, nation, or political party*. Haven’t we learned from The Hunger Games, Divergent or even The Selection** that districts, factions and castes just lead to restlessness, rebellion and revolution? I am pro-humanity, pro-ethics, pro-simply-doing-the-right-thing, whatever that may be.

Recent or shall I say very-old-but-perhaps-waiting-for-the-social-media-movement-to-bring-it-to-light news has got me thinking about my everyday influence. I am not privileged to be a hunter or a gatherer, leaving me no option but to be a consumer. As a consumer, what power do I have? What do I base my purchases on? I started questioning the simplest and most frequent of my daily purchases – my much-needed afternoon coffee run. Are they based on price, quality, popularity, or hmm is ethics even a criteria when satisfying my daily caffeine needs? What am I actually supporting when I buy a cup of coffee?

This is my personal struggle and journey on the hunt for ethical coffee. In a simple field study of Toronto’s Financial District where I undoubtedly spend at least 40 hours per week, I am faced with nasty truths, uninvited disappointments and revelations that make me question whether I actually put my money where my mouth is.

Every morning I pass by the glazed-eyed victims being lured into the green siren, and I battle against my will like Odysseus to look away and tread forward. Once the hypnosis wears off, I can’t help but shudder at the ridiculous social movement (herd mentality alert). These victims are willingly giving their money to a company whose owner is proudly awarded for supporting the destruction of a race.

If you are one of those people who think, the company is a separate entity from the owner, so the company should not be paying the price for an individual’s ignorance, then think again consumer – Who do you think is filling up the owner’s pocket?

At lunch time, I pass by the trendy red espresso bar which offers busy suits a chance to comfortably sit down for a quick lunch meeting. The rich aroma of coffee roasted in the promise land is deceptively innocent. With the daily coffee order, the barista provides a peace-offering of excessively sweet milk chocolate in exchange for the continued support of a business that profits on stolen land and a controversial racist co-owner.

During my afternoon stretch away from my painfully ergonomical desk, I wander by the nondescript direct-trade indie coffee bar tucked away in a low-medium traffic corridor. I can’t help but get giddy and think I’m getting Hot. So the owner is charged with one count of assault and two counts of mischief for confronting anti-abortion protesters. Is it better that I support a local quazi-“criminal” than an international corp(se)oration? I mean it is in line with Toronto’s quirky character, so why not make this barista a hero?***

It is the end of the day, on my way home in the Quiet Zone, still relapsing from the lack of conscious coffee. I slump down in my seat trying not to play footsies with the stranger across from me. I sigh. I reflect on all the conflict and controversy locally and globally surrounding the coffee craze. Why am I so unwilling to spend a few loonies and toonies on a non-organic, non-fair trade, non-environmentally-friendly, and downright non-humane caffeine fix? When it boils down to it, my typical coffee purchase is based on short-term self-satisfying incentives. If I let my conscience get the better of me, my spending is haunted by the long-term moral incentive of standing up for higher principles.

This is not a call to boycott your favourite controversial company. It is a plea to start questioning your actions and reflect on their repercussions, as I decide to forgo a cup of coffee for the symbolic support of humanity.

*Ha…in fact, the thought of political parties (pl.) makes me laugh.

**There goes my dignity…

***Thank you very much Mayor Ford for setting the precedent in Toronto.