It began what will in the end define our generation. Just as the second World War defined our grandparents. At 35 and female, it would not have been possible to be sent to the front line in 1939. But in 2001, a few years out of business school, spending the days in big glass office blocks in and around NY, I was on the corporate front line when 9/11 struck.
In the end 9/11 was many awful things, but mostly it was a horrific attack on Western culture and values. Since then the climate of fear that has ensued and the economic challenges that seem never ending have have raised some real question marks about the foundations upon which our modern post-war Western culture has been built. Its really about the fall of the West and the rise of the rest.
After the World Wars, Europe was never the same again. The old almost feudal ways of life disappeared, the middle class emerged. Values changed. I think something similar but very different is going on right now. Most of us are confused about what this means for us, what to do or do differently.
Well, I've been thinking about this up here on the coffee farm and although I realize most of you will think I am ranting or justifying my existence, and would be correct, .........here are some suggestions.
Lets see much lower emphasis on some of the less tried and true 'rules of the road' like shareholder value, market forces and globalization. Questioning these things does not make us communists in the 21st Century.
It seems now very obvious that some fairly ugly destructive activities have been hiding and justified by these more or less unchallenged principles. Housing bubbles, Asset bubbles, commodity bubbles. It is also distasteful to me that higher unemployment is quite simply not part of the equation. Neither is animal welfare or the environment considered on anything like a big enough scale.
Lets go back to basics. I mean really basic, like Love your neighbor, the 10 commandments and any other modus operandi that have the advantage of being based upon 1000s of years of applying in real life. Even worshiping Mother Earth seems like a relatively good idea right now.
The problem with the post war modern Western business philosophies, such as share holder value, market forces and globalization to name just three............is they have no direct accountability to human decency.
The spread of our cultur values gave Al Qaeda a platform. In the end though, more significant by far, it is not working for the very people it is supposed to embody. The consumer and tax payer upon which this entire stack of cards is built, has been screwed and they know it. The system is not working for them, in fact it is quite the opposite. The consumer is being milked for taxes and being sold products and services that are not all they are cracked up to be. The poor consumer/tax payer has very little idea what is going on behind the scenes in the manufacturing plant, on the farm, or in the back office where complex financial products are invented. It seems they no longer even have much influence over their own government and how to change things.
How does all this relate to coffee. Well quite simply really. Coffee is one of thousands of possible examples of how things have gone wrong. Growers are getting less than the % age of your sales tax and the profit incentive does not seem to jive well with helping consumers to really understand the quality of what they are drinking.
I made a trip recently to Princeton and Wholefoods Market, one of my favorite shops where you can usually be guaranteed the best quality 'whole foods'. I blogged about my time looking at the coffee aisle a couple of weeks ago..
Even in this veritable institution, it was virtually impossible to trace any of the lovely tasting (and not so good tasting) coffees back to origin as in farm or even country in most cases. There was precisely no information about what type of beans/varietal, exactly how they were grown and processed. Only one packet talked about altitude. Transparency of what you are buying is really not there.
To be fair, sustainable labeling of various different kinds was fairly visible, so I know the average consumer does care that farmers, workers and wildlife are not being shafted to produce their morning cuppa.
.........But from a farmers point of view, someone on the ground here seeing what actually goes on, there is pitifully little transparency. I do not think you would like it if you were able see all that goes into your coffee. All the buyers who supply your roasters in the USA really care about is the tasting profile of the cup. Brightness, sweetness etc. They are not nearly as interested in seeing workers housing or welfare programs or making sure they are not exposed to dangerous chemicals.
Buyers can say they pay fair trade prices, or even top dollar, for green beans and I can pay my pickers excellent money, the very best price in the valley, and still they show up to work with no shoes. Why because the very best is really not enough. Yesterday, I gave one poor lady a pair of my flip flops rather than see her with bare feet (we have coral snakes here).
How we get real transparency and good values practiced across the supply chain is the gazillion dollar question. Obviously, our politicians are not doing the job and look for all the world like puppets of global corporations.
Until someone gives me another avenue through which to change things, I'll be voting with my feet, my talents and my dollars, pounds and euros. I'll be sitting up here in the mountains, paying very little tax, drinking my own coffee and ranting.