I'm looking forward to another wedding anniversary, and proud
that my mixed marriage has survived many years.
Mixed? Oh, I'm not talking about religion. Jim and I are both
cradle Catholics. I'm talking about coffee.
For decades, I've been living with a man who gets up in the
morning and brews coffee from a blue or red can. Lately, it's
even been a brown one since he purchased (gasp) the warehouse
store brand. As long as it's pre-ground and canned, he drinks
And he drinks it weak. I hesitate to use the word "coffee" to
describe this brown water.
My full-bodied coffee, on the other hand, comes in whole
beans, French roasted, the fresher the better. I grind it
each morning. The aroma fills the air even before the hot
water hits it. It's as dark brown and rich as the Ethiopian
or Nicaraguan soil in which it's grown.
The morning coffee ritual is about as close as Americans get
to a secular sacrament. Americans drink one-fifth of the
coffee brewed in the world. Jim and I have negotiated our
mixed-coffee marriage by trying the two-pot solution, the
take-turns solution, the half-can/half-bean solution.
There's one thing that's causing our mixed-coffee marriage to
unite, however. That is our growing realization that
fair-trade coffee is a solution we should all embrace.
What most of us don't realize as we savor our java is that
it's provided by laborers and growers who constitute the
sweatshop workers of the fields.
According to Global Exchange, many small coffee farmers
receive less for their coffee than the costs of production,
leading to ever greater cycles of debt. Farm workers who toil
in coffee fields often receive poverty-level wages.
Fair trade is a solution to this injustice.
You cannot use the authorized "fair-trade certified" label
without going through strict international criteria. An
importer must pay a minimum price per pound, provide
much-needed credit to farmers and give technical assistance
in developing techniques like organic farming.
I am launching fair-trade coffee at our parish, and our first
foray into selling it after Masses was very successful.
If Seattle is the coffee capital of the world because of
Starbucks, you have to understand that my city of Anchorage,
Alaska, is Seattle's little sister, and in many ways picked
up the coffee habit to a greater extent than Big Sis.
There's a coffee stand on every block, and even on our way to
the rivers and fishing holes of the Kenai Peninsula, you can
find a latte to accompany your fly fishing. Want cappuccino
with that fresh salmon? No problem.
So the coffee we offered at our parish, some ground, mostly
whole bean, and vibrantly fresh from a local roaster who is
certified organic and fair trade, was snapped up. People
loved the idea of drinking justly.
By demanding fair-trade coffee, Americans were able to
convince Proctor and Gamble to offer it in their specialty
line, Millstone. At many big name coffee shops, if you
specifically ask for fair trade, they will brew it for you.
The key is we all need to start asking for fair trade. Many
coffee shops offer bagged coffee, with a few bags of fairly
traded. We need to let them know that's what we want.
Catholic Relief Services is very involved with fair-trade
products, including coffee. At www.crsfairtrade.org, you can
read about their efforts. They even provide a coffee map to
tell you where you can buy fair trade in your area.
So make your coffee preference fair trade. It's a justice