I have a fan! This is a nice feeling. I don’t have many fans. I always remember a mate’s classic comment when we were doing our show at Durham theatre: How’s the audience? I asked. “Oh, she’s fine, thanks.” was the response….
We were talking Demotivation Posters last night too.
A woman approached me at lunch time today, and asked if I had a blog about coffee. She’d seen my name badge and recognised it from this site. I am flattered! Her name is Kate, and she’s an Anthropology PhD student at Colorado university, studying coffee in Costa Rica! I am not the only academic at this conference, this is a huge relief. (I am still feeling out of place but have since decided to ignore these insecurities…). Of course she knew a few of the farms that I’d been to, had similar views on the touristyness of some of the larger ones (Cafe Britt, for example) and had even been to Cafe Cristina. And, she’s pretty cynical about Fairtrade too. AND, she reads this blog. Woopedoo! I’ve found a friend! 🙂
I was sitting with Andy and Mark from yesterday, and of course, they are from the same area as Kate… I say again, the world is too small. I was impressed Andy made it at all today actually. He said he’d stayed at the Gala til 1am and was pretty wrecked. He did bow out after lunch for a nap, however. Wimp. I wasn’t particularly awake either this morning, despite leaving so early last night, and the morning presentations just seemed to pass me by uneventfully. That was until the session on Women in Coffee. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this bit – and the first presentation was exactly what I had feared: a video with lots of MEN in suits from important, large coffee companies explaining why it was such a good idea to employ women in their businesses. The statistic that 51% of the world population are women and that “we [who exactly?] should utilise this valuable resource” made me want to do rude things to the big screens. Patronising caca del toro, if you ask me. Which nobody did, fortunately. The session was saved by a woman from Costa Rica representing a very successful and inspiring women’s cooperative, dealing not only in coffee but in ecotourism in one of the poorest areas of the country. Then, there was an Indian woman who started out as one of the country’s first female cuppers. She was a truly excellent speaker and got a standing ovation after her talk.
Then came the session that really incensed our little group. Certification, and lots of talks about ‘sustainability’. Environmental sustainability, sustainable development, social sustainability – in particular, getting young people interested in farming coffee, economic sustainability – through certification and differentiation. But not one single person ever attempted to explain what they actually meant by “sustainable.” The academic within me (maybe the Cheese is an academic already?) was screaming “define your terms!!!” Had this been a university conference, these presentations would have got ripped to shreds. I am so jaded nowadays, it seems. The question remains, however; what exactly are they trying to sustain? We were also repetitively told that of world coffee production, only 5% was “certified” coffee, yet the demand for the stuff was growing every year, and certification was a means of differentition, and differentiation could lead to further economic sustainability. But what does “certified” mean? Certified for what? We concluded that it really just meant anything with a label on it; no-one ‘differentiated’ between Fairtrade (of differing forms) ‘organic’ (again with different definitions), bird-friendly, shade grown, altitude-grown…. etc etc. The problem with this, is that if demand for certification really is growing – due to equally vague notions of “ethical consumption” and “consumer awareness” – then it is in the interests of the retailer to stick as many labels on the coffee as possible. The presentations implied that it didn’t seem to matter what the certifications are actually for, especially since they tell you nothing about what the coffee really tastes like. I’ve already shown how Nestle are pushing their raw coffee via a “Green” label – and of course, it’s all 100% arabica (guaranteed). It may well have been, in a former life, but you might as well say the jar it comes in is made with 100% genuine sand.
To this end, we started dreaming up our own certification labels. Mark came up with “Dolphin friendly” coffee (of course – I challenge you to prove otherwise!) and for the health conscious – 100% Gluten Free coffee. We could also have “lo-sodium arabica” for the American market. I suggested “Cynic Friendly” coffee (no cynics were harmed in the making of this product), and for Kate and I, “Academically Sustainable” (well, it’s keeping us gainfully employed for the time being!). The all-round favourite though was “Guaranteed 100% Certification Free”. I even started doodling little rosettes to demonstrate this unique coffee characteristic. I may try and put them on cups for Doctor Coffee’s Cafe, just to see if anyone notices.
Another fantastic lunch, with the pool looking even more tempting, and soon it was time for the end of conference summaries and the official closing speeches. By this time, Andy had reappeared from his siesta, just in time to help me search out the spare chocolate cake in the coffee break. I tried the same “estoy comiendo para dos!” trick as yesterday, and managed to snaffle three (small) pieces of the stuff and a cappuccino. Suddenly, as I was stuffing my face, a large crowd of black-suited men came marching past, chased by several dozen people with huge video cameras. El Presidente was in the middle of them! Doh, doh doh and double DOH. If anyone sees any footage of his excellence Señor Colom and this conference, look out for me with a large mouthful of chocolate in the background!!! Andy nearly pissed himself laughing at me, which didn’t help matters at all. This particular president was this time joined by the President of El Salvador, Señor Mauricio Funes, who unlike his “good friend” Colom, actually had some interesting things to say.
President Mauricio Funes
El Salvador’s coffee industry is slowly recovering, after the previous conservative ‘government’ suggested that, as a country, they ought to turn towards manufacturing to improve their economy. Lots of people gave up farming, but the plan didn’t work, and El Salvador ended up even more impoverished. Lorena later described Funes as a gorilla (methinks, ‘guerrilla’ but I appreciated the sentiment). He was a former left-leaning journalist and had his own TV show; CNN describe him as Marxist, (but then, that means very very little) but otherwise I don’t really know enough about El Salvadorean politics to pass judgement!
It has been such an intense few days that somehow that finale seemed a bit underwhelming, so after an argument with the ATM machine (“WHY won’t you give me money, you stoooooooooopid object???”) I went for some really classy, greasy tacos with Kate (we accidently lost Mark and Andy, sadly). Tacontento – love it. Completely artificial but lovely, smokey chilli sauce smothering Unidentifiable Meat, wrapped in the ubiquitous tortillas, and about $3. A fitting antidote to 5* luxury. I rang Carl when I got back (Lovely Man sat up til nearly 1am waiting for me to call!). I was after an early night since I’ve got another horrendous flight to negotiate tomorrow. However, packing all my new Guatemalan treasures proved difficult. Yes, I did buy some stuff in Antigua, but I deliberately left room for that. But I seem to have generated an entire backpack’s worth of Stuff from this conference – samples of Mexican coffee, at least half a dozen pens, a thermos mug, and folder after folder of glossy brochures, booklets, information sheets alongside the aforementioned Mahoosive Ringbinder. Carl also demanded I brought him back on of the litre bottles of beer – which I object to since I can’t help him drink it. I got it all packed eventually, but with rather creative interpretation of the term “hand luggage” – ie: hands, both arms and occasionally teeth…
I really don’t want to go home. 😦