RSS

Tag Archives: ethics

Keurig? I’ll just have a nice hot shot of printer ink instead…!

I don’t think I’ve ever actually written about Keurig on here.

I kinda didn’t want to acknowledge their existence in the hope that they just died a death quietly in the corner. However, despite my abhorrence, they are incredibly popular still, and I really cannot fathom why.

At my current office job, we have fairly dreadful, stale old drip coffee, but it is cheap and hot and readily available. On the floor above us, the other department has a Keurig machine, which is considered LUXURY in this company. Our supervisor’s desk is full of little pods that he sneaks upstairs to brew on their machine when they aren’t looking. He lent me one once during an Out of Coffee Crisis on our floor. I actually prefer the stale drip…

I honestly cannot understand the fascination with Keurig – or any of the other pod-brands, Tassimo, Starbuck’s Verisimo, Nespresso etc. Their fans cry “but.. convenience! speed!” – really? how? By the time you’ve waited for it to heat up, clipped in your k-cup and waited for it to ooze into your cup, you might as well have boiled the kettle and made a pour over or a French Press. “But it makes just one cup at a time!” – again, why is that a good thing? In the other department, there must be at least 30 people sharing one Keurig machine. Making a big potful is not only easier, it’s also more sociable. If you want to make coffee for just one person with a French Press, just put less coffee and less water in, simples!

This office is not the only place I’ve encountered Keurigs, I worked somewhere with one over the summer and had no choice but to drink it. I tried everything in it – every brand, every different variety/flavour I could lay my hands on (yes, flavour, even “cinnabun” or Irish Cream flavoured k-cups – both were undrinkable!). I never found a single one that didn’t taste stale. I know the pods are sealed and air tight, but you’ve no way of knowing how old the pre-ground coffee was when it was put in the pod!! Fresh is most definitely best.

Then of course, there’s this:

K-cup-binHOW MUCH PLASTIC WASTE??

ICK.

Keurig is made by a company called Green Mountain Coffee, but the only ‘Green’ I can see is that bin, above. I mentioned that K-cups are airtight and plastic – this unfortunately means non-recyclable plastic and lined foil lids glued on, so the different materials can’t be sorted in order to be recycled. So, even if everyone in the upstairs department has just one k-cup a day, that is 30 plastic pots going into landfill every day, plus all the creamer pots for their beloved double-doubles (cos woe betide anyone who ever has actual fresh milk in our fridge!!). It is disgustingly, needlessly wasteful.

But! I hear ye cry, You can get reusable, refillable k-cups!

Yes, you can:

SOLOFILL_REFILL-300x254

But, why would you want to? Why spent $100+ on a Keurig machine and buy refillable pods, and not just put your coffee in a French Press which costs a tenth of the price? I don’t get it.

However, it gets worse:

http://www.canadianbusiness.com/companies-and-industries/keurig-2-single-serve-coffee-pod-drm/

It is worth reading that article if you are offended by this rant – they are far more balanced than I am. In brief though, Keurig are launching a new version of their machine, only this time, the pods are going to be DRM-protected. This means, only official Keurig-branded k-cups will fit in the machine. Pirated copies (?) won’t work. So no more buying the cheaper varieties from Costco. No more Timmies or Dunkin Donuts versions. And no more refillable ones. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure someone will “hack” the DRM soon enough, my point is just that instead of doing something about their packaging waste, Keurig have decided patenting is more important than the environment, and have now made it impossible to use their machine in a more eco-friendly, sustainable manner.

It is the same technology that allows various inkjet printer companies to stop you using unbranded printer cartridges, or stops you refilling them – so you end up with a situation where it is cheaper to throw out the whole printer and buy a new one, than it is to buy replacement cartridges for the original. Printer ink is the most expensive liquid in the world, followed by Chanel No.5, then champagne, bottled water, then maple syrup which is still more expensive than crude oil! I am fairly sure k-cups follow along not far behind, particularly when you factor in the environmental cost of the plastic pods.

When “researching” this post, I came across someone else’s hashtag: #killthekcup ! I won’t got that far, but I remain convinced that k-cups are giant bras, and pods are for whales and alien hatchlings only, and neither should be confused with coffee makers. Don’t do it, folks!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Building the bumpy road towards sustainability

Image

Look! I dressed up and everything!

I was recently invited to speak at the Engineers Without Borders fundraising Gala at the Royal Saskatchewan Hotel. This was a little intimidating: very posh hotel, 150 people all in formal dress, paying a lot of money to hear me waffle on…. and me knowing very little about engineering! They knew I was the Official Local Coffee Geek though, so somehow I had to link coffee knowledge to engineers, along the general theme of “Building the Future”. This is what I came up with!

(Be warned, I had to speak for 20 minutes. Long Post Klaxon!)

What has coffee got to do with Engineering?

Well, the coffee was the first commodity and food industry to become Fairtrade certified. The Fairtrade Foundation was set up to help farmers who were living in poverty as a result of the crash in the global prices of coffee. The Fairtrade movement guarantees a minimum price for farmers to help stabilize the industry and to guarantee at least a minimum income from the crop of coffee. Furthermore, when international coffee buyers negotiate a contract under the Fairtrade scheme, they agree to pay not only a fair price for the coffee, but also an additional ‘social premium’ – around 10cents per pound of coffee. This social premium goes to the coffee cooperatives, and is used to fund projects that benefit the coffee farming community a whole. These projects can be anything from building schools for the local children, or irrigation and clean water projects to investing in new coffee processing technology at the cooperative’s coffee mill. This is where engineers and development workers are crucial to the coffee communities. Fairtrade schemes just provide the money, they don’t often get involved in the actual building!

I am going to talk about coffee farming in Nicaragua because this is where I did a lot of my own fieldwork. Nicaragua is a developing country, and nearly a third of its GDP comes from its coffee industry. The vast amajority of Nicaraguan coffee farms are less than 3 hectares in size, and are also located in remote, hard to reach areas. High quality coffee needs high altitude – over 800metres above sea level, and a very humid, warm climate and very fertile soil. Some regions of Nicaragua in the Northern highlands, in the cloudforests and on the side of volcanoes provide near-perfect coffee-growing conditions. A great deal of Nicaraguan coffee is grown organically too, in an effort to preserve the cloudforest biodiversity, so the coffee plants are grown in amongst other plants and trees, with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides used. This technique means the coffee tastes great and fetches higher prices for the farmers, but it also creates a great many infrastructure problems.

Small coffee farms are generally grouped together into cooperatives, in fact, the Fairtrade Foundation insists on them, and only gives Fairtrade Certification status to recognised, democratically based cooperatives. The cooperatives process the coffee from hundreds, sometimes thousands of farms. The coffee production process is very complex – it’s not just a case of picking it off the tree and roasting it. The farmers pick the coffee by hand, then depulp it, (meaning, take the fruit off it) on their own farm, meaning that each farmer has to have their own depulper machine (either handcranked or diesel powered). The coffee beans are then washed to remove the sticky fruit muscelage. The coffee beans then have to be dried out so that they lose at least 10% of their moisture, before they are transported to the central processing mills operated by the cooperative. At the processing mill, the coffee is “trilled” in a huge machine which essentially removes the now-brittle parchment like layer covering the beans. Then they are dried out further, spread out on huge concrete patios in the sun and turned regularly, and finally they are meticulously sorted to remove low quality, defective beans, first by hand, then by a very clever complicated machine, which detects the beans’ weigh, size, shape, density, and colour, and grades the crop accordingly. Only then can it be sold to international buyers.

In recent years, the coffee commodity price has recovered well, and the price of it on the global markets has far exceeded the Fairtrade guaranteed minimum. But to get the very best prices, farmers have to produce the very best quality coffee – and customers are getting more and more discerning. The quality can be affected by any number of climatic and environmental factors, and much like wine, there are good and bad years for coffee, and variations between coffee grown in Nicaragua and coffee grown in Ethiopia, for instance. Some variation in quality can be controlled by the farmers, and their skills and most significantly, the access they have to some resources has a huge bearing on the coffee’s quality.  This is where the Fairtrade social premium comes in.

In order to preserve the coffee’s quality, certain parts of the production process have to be performed within certain time frames. On the farm, the fruit has to be removed from the beans within 24 hours, otherwise it can start to ferment, which damages the flavour of the coffee. Similarly, the beans must be transported to the cooperative’s processing mill as soon as possible, so that the beans can be dried out quickly and farmers can minimize the risk of damage from unexpected rain or from pests whilst the coffee is on the farm.

Transporting coffee to the cooperative processing mill is not as simple as it sounds. As mentioned previously, the farms are usually halfway up mountains and in tropical cloudforests. In many parts of Nicaragua, irrigations is a huge problem too: in winter, it is too dry and the ground cracks or turns to sand, and landslides are common. In summer, areas can flood and roads can be cut off entirely by mudslides. If there are actual roads, they are usually unpaved, steep and tightly curled around the mountains, and can be virtually impassable without a large and powerful 4×4 vehicle – which are well beyond the budgets of the farmers. With hundreds of farms spread out over large areas, the cooperative cannot practically manage coffee collections themselves, so the farmers have to transport their coffee by their own means. I did see one farmer negotiating a steep mountain track with a 100lb sack of coffee beans strapped to the back of his little 125cc motorbike, but otherwise, they are forced to use the rural bus service, that is, very old yellow school buses donated from the United States, which serve as the only form of public transport. As you can imagine, neither is a particularly ideal option, but the risk of damaging the coffee crop – that often represents the entire annual income for the farming families – is too great, and so they always find a way!

Another big issue in Nicaraguan coffee regions is that of water pollution. Washing the sticky fruit mucilage off coffee beans on the farms requires a source of clean running water, and quite a lot of it too. Whereas most farmers do have access to this at least, supplies are still limited and washing the coffee has its own set of problems.

In neighbouring Costa Rica, farmers are required by law to purify and reuse water on coffee farms, which is far easier to achieve when Costa Rican farmers have the resources to purify water already installed on the farms. In Nicaragua however, farmers cannot afford this sort of technology, and the cooperatives are not in a position to implement it either. Water containing coffee mucilage is extremely acidic, and if it is left to just run off the farms and soak into the earth, it can strip important nutrients from the soil, which potentially damages the following year’s crop, as well as any other plants in the vicinity. In the worst case scenario, run-off water can enter the water table and exacerbate existing flooding, and also enter the water supply intended for human consumption.

Maintaining and enhancing coffee’s quality is paramount to the farmers’ livelihoods, as the best, most sustainable prices are paid for the highest quality coffee. However, the quality of the crop depends a great deal on the farmer’s ability to manage the logistics of processing coffee beans, and on his access to resources and technology.

The Fairtrade social premium paid to the cooperatives provides the financial resources to aid the farmers’ often precarious situation, but in practical terms, a lot of the work needs to be developed by skilled, knowledgeable engineers. If farmers cannot afford 4×4 trucks, then mountain roads must be improved and maintained so that transporting coffee is made easier and more efficient. To avoid pollution, irrigation needs to be properly managed and developed, and the farmers must be provided with the technology (and technical know-how) to purify and reuse their water supplies. None of these problems are insurmountable but they do require the help of skilled infrastructure experts, and most importantly, engineers who actually understand the coffee industry, and who can see what needs to be done to help the farmers and to improve the quality of the coffee we all take for granted.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Buying a better world?

Due to a random series of events involving storytelling and poetry last September (long story!) I was invited to do a talk at a “Gathering of Global Minds” event organised by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation. This happened on 23rd January at a very nice cafe bar here in Regina. I was honestly not expecting there to be as many people in the audience as there were, so it was quite scary – especially given the subject matter. “Buying a better world?” Or, more simply, Fairtrade! Again! And they wanted me to critique it! Again! And I was told in advance: “The people coming to the event will range from moderate to radical supporters [of Fairtrade]”. Woopedoo! I was more than a little worried about getting harrassed by the Traidcraft mafia again like last time…..

Anyway, I was sharing the panel with Alicia from a shop called 10,000 Villages that sells artisan, Fairtrade crafts, and Nathan, who’d been working with Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana. It proved to be a really interesting night; our separate talks actually had a lot in common and the audience engaged really well, asked a lot of questions and didn’t take any offence at Nathan and I pointing out some of the problems with the fairtrade system!

My critique was, as normal, mainly based on economics. Alicia’s emotive talk about how Fairtrade helps impoverish communities and empowers women and preserves traditional crafts etc was spot on – the system does do a lot of good and I am not denying that for a minute. Neither can I fault the original intention of the Fairtrade movement. My issues are just with the execution of that idea.

I’ve already posted on this blog about how the Fairtrade minimum price for coffee ($1.36 per pound) was just half the price of coffee on the New York Commodity Exchange in the last few years (which reached a 35 year high of over $3 per pound in 2010) – and whatever the bigger coffee companies claim, it is very naive to think any large importing company would volunteer to pay more than they actually had to for the commodity. Case to point, in 2010 when the commodity exchange price for coffee was at its highest and the fairtrade minimum was less that half that price, Starbucks and McDonalds both suddenly switched their entire coffee range to Fairtrade in the UK. Now call me cynical, but I’m fairly confident that this wasn’t because they’d magically become ethically aware over night. Nevertheless, (also as pointed out on this blog) the Fairtrade Foundation did react eventually, and by August 2011, had altered the rule and now said that buyers should pay the fairtrade price or the normal market price, whichever was higher. . This meant that farmers would get the same higher prices and benefit from the global market, but those in Fairtrade-certified cooperatives would also get the social premium and the benefits of all the Fairtrade community development projects as well. All very well and good, but it was a very long time coming – and I’d argue, too little, too late.

My main concern though, is still with Quality. Regardless of the new rules regarding the Fairtrade price, the demands of capitalism mean that the highest prices will still be paid for the highest quality coffee, regardless of its fairtrade status or lack of. I had workers at the cooperatives in Nicaragua telling me as a statement of fact that coffee which achieves 85 or more points on the cupping scale is sold off as ‘specialty’ coffee for the highest prices, then the crops that fall into the 65-85 points range are sold to Fairtrade buyers for a lower price. This means not only that the fairtrade price is still lower, it also means that stuff sold with the Fairtrade logo could actually be much lower quality than the stuff sold outside of the Fairtrade system. But when we buy it, we can’t tell! The Fairtrade logo tells the consumer nothing about what the coffee tastes like, but too often those who try to shop ethically automatically make the link between “ethically good” and “tastes good” – which may not be the case at all.

I also tried to explain the cupping process and issues with knowledge inequality. In very simplistic terms, cupping coffee is a very skilled job and one that takes years to perfect. The vast majority of these skilled cuppers (who have a huge influence over the price the farmer receives for his crop) are employed by the large roasting and importing companies. They visit the cooperatives, sample the coffee and grade it, (the points system described previously) and then “negotiate” a price for the coffee based on their assessment of its quality. The problem is that it is rare to find the equivalent cupper employed by the cooperative. A cupper from a multinational importing company can go to the cooperative, pronouce the coffee to be only of average quality, and then refuse to pay a high price for it, yet the farmers or the cooperative workers have very little means to argue against that decision. It proves to be a very unequal negotiation, just because the farmers in the producing countries often cannot share in the same understanding of coffee quality and knowledge of cupping that the rich, educated and trained cuppers possess. This situation isn’t likely to change without some serious investment in training at the cooperatives – maybe this is what those coveted Fairtrade social premiums could be used for?

At the end of this talk (all 7 minutes of it) I had to sum up and give my “recommendations”. I know it is a very lame admission but despite all my criticisms, I don’t have many plausible recommendations as alternatives to Fairtrade, and I do still see the need for the concept’s existence. I advocate direct trade – small coffee companies going directly to the point of origin and buying directly from the farmers, and therefore cutting out the middle men. However, this is just not practical on a large scale. So few business can afford those trips on a regular basis and those that can are the multinationals I’d like to get rid of. From an economic viewpoint, I think the Fairtrade minimum price should track just above the global market price, but doing this for every single commodity they certify, in every country they operate I imagine would just be impossible. Of course, it would be far nicer for everyone if Fairtrade didn’t have to exist at all – if ALL trade was fair all of the time. But then, we live in a capitalist world and therefore that isn’t going to happen.

I’ve said it before repeatedly on this blog… as a consumer, be aware of not just what you are buying, but what you are buying in to. And then buy what you like the taste of, and (in as far as possible) what you are comfortable with investing in. Easier said than done, I know!

The audience, all ready and enthused to fire questions at me. (Photo stolen from Jenn Bergen's twitter - thank you!)

The audience, all ready and enthused to fire questions at me.
(Photo stolen from Jenn Bergen’s twitter – thank you!)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

You know I said I disliked Starbucks….?

 

So Starbucks are accused of tax avoidance in the UK – avoidance, not evasion as such. Unfortunately, avoidance is technically legal, just highly unethical. The HMRC are investigating, but a simplified version of events as far as I’ve read, is that they are recording losses every year with the UK (and Irish) Companies House, but then rerouting the profits back to its parent company in the US, and so avoid paying UK business taxes – and then the company officials have the audacity to boast about their profitability.

This is what happens when you spend money with multinational chains – the money does not stay in the local (or even the national) economy.

And the UK economy is suffering, the idiots in government are inflicting “austerity measures” to try and raise funds, schools and libraries are closing, welfare is being cut, and Starbucks hasn’t paid a penny in tax for three years, and STILL charges the taxpayer £3 for a burnt coffee-themed milkshake.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

A positive little Meme

I survived the Viva.

So, I can more-or-less claim DOCTOR-hood!
Not quite the bestest bestest result I could have hoped for but it’ll do for now. They did like the thesis, and the viva exam went a lot better than I’d expected. It was lovely to meet Eric Laurie finally, whose stuff I’ve been quoting on and off for the past few years! And it wasn’t actually an interrogation, just quite an intense chat. Can’t say I enjoyed the experience but it certainly wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

But, inevitably, I have a few corrections to do, and because I’m emigrating and everything, they decided to be helpful and give me a year to do all these minor revisions. Which means I am not completely shot of it yet! gah!

More disappointingly, it means I was not technically awarded the doctorate on the day. Close but no cappuccino. They were very complimentry about it, saying it was an enjoyable read, and interestingly, that I could get my Ethics chapter published as a standalone paper, without too much editing. This surprised me because I wasn’t actually that pleased with that chapter, but I am sorely tempted to do it just because it is such a controversial topic. The comments I received on this blog alone are testament to that!

My revisions are not too bad either – setting out my arguments more clearly at the beginning of each chapter, yet more bloody references about ‘gender divisions of labour’ in the Skills section, even down to putting subheadings in my literature review.  Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t take too long at all, and if I can find a babysitter occasionally, I would probably manage it in 3 months anyway! But given that Miri is trying to climb on the keyboard and watch Cookie Monster sing Lady Gaga on Youtube as I type this blog, trying to concentrate on these sorts of edits is virtually impossible!!

But, it’s so bloody close.  I shall stay positive.

 

And now I need to change her nappy. Gotta go, dear reader(s)! I shall leave you with this:

My favourite little meme of the week

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Nescafe’s “Green Blend”

I regularly scream at the TV every time the Nescafe advert comes on anyway – the campaign about “capturing coffee at it’s brightest” offends the very core of my being, having seen the mouldy, rotten, stinking beans that make their way into instant coffee… However, recently it has got worse. Recently, Nescafe have launched their “Green Blend”
The health benefits of coffee – NESCAFE

My first reaction was of course What the….??? (less politely, obviously)
But you better believe it baby… Nescafe are in fact trying to sell you coffee that is 35% RAW, on health grounds.
This is utter rubbish.
1. It is a fair assessment that the process used to create instant/soluable coffee would remove any nutritional value anyway.
2. I am fairly certain it isn’t possible to make instant coffee with raw coffee beans:
 -> Green coffee beans are inert – the human body cannot digest them. It’s a little like eating raw corn, it just goes straight through you.
Instant coffee is made by grinding roasted coffee, making huge batches of filter coffee from it, the boiling and boiling the filtered coffee until only a dry residue is left, which is then put in to jars. This is the only way you can make coffee completely soluable -and also why instant coffee tastes nothing like the real thing. Some companies (and I don;t know about Nestle, so I can’t prove this) – actually have to recreate the smell and taste of real coffee by adding artificial flavourings back in to it afterwards, since the process of making it soluable removes so much of the flavour. This is perfectly legal, and they can still claim it’s ‘made using 100% arabica coffee beans.”… But anyway – roasting is vital to this process, because without roasting, the coffee cannot release any of its oils, flavours, acids or nutrients into the water when making the filter coffee. If you mix water with ground up green coffee beans, you just get water with green beans in it. Therefore, if Nescafe are actually adding 35% raw beans to their blend, it means they’d just end up with instant coffee with a third less flavour than normal. OR, they could be adding the green beans after they’ve made the roasted ones soluable – in which case when you make a cup of this stuff, you should end up with green grit in the bottom of your cup. I shall have to dare to buy some and test this theory.

3. The health claims are also a)entirely unnecessary, and b) entirely meaningless. More on this later on. Nescafe seem to have borrowed a cupper to test their latest product – which is akin to getting a professional sommelier to taste Lambrini. But point being, you can’t taste green coffee for the reasons given above, and you certainly can’t taste anti-oxidants….
Here are some reactions to Nescafe’s promotional video from other people which I rather liked:

 “I love the expert view at the bottom. A nutritionist?!? The word is dietitian.”

“To claim oneself to be a dietitian, is to say that you have a degree in dietetics and are a registered health care professional with all the responsibility that goes with it. – ANYONE can claim themselves to be a nutritionist or nutritional therapist – the terms are not protected – it’s a bit like claiming yourself to be a spirit medium.”

“It’d be interesting to know how they claim to add the green beens… You could always call them up and ask them to send you information in connection with your doctorate… see if the bumph they sent you held up to scrutiny. Doesn’t half indigestable coffee count as speciality?”

“The whole idea of adding anti-oxidants to food is erroneous. The body produces its own antioxidants and releases them as required at any one time. Eating more doesn’t mean they even go into the blood stream -they are much more likely to be excreted. Ina large scale trial of giving antioxidants to a group of people who were smokers was abandoned after 6 years as unethical because those in the group that got the antioxidants were 46% more likely to die of lung cancer than those who were given placebos! And yet we’re still getting adverts for foods with added antioxidants.Blah!”

Herein lies the rub.
Even if anti-oxidants are good for you – there are more anti-oxidants in roasted coffee than green coffee anyway. AND you can actually digest them!
Here’s the proof:
Coffee Science Information Centre’s study of antioxidant levels in coffee
It’s a long and pretty complex study, and backed up by a lot of different tests. However, this is the crucial bit:

“The roasting of coffee beans dramatically increases their total
antioxidant activity. A roasting time of 10 minutes (medium-dark roast)
was found to produce coffee with optimal oxygen scavenging and chain
breaking activities in vitro (6). A study of robusta and
arabica coffees from six different countries showed that robusta
samples contained significantly more reducing substances than arabica
samples and that protective activity measured ex vivo was
significantly greater in roasted samples than in green coffee (7).
Using the ABTS•+ method (the gold standard), it was confirmed that
light roast or medium roast coffee has a significantly higher
antioxidant activity in vitro than green coffee (8). This
difference was observed despite a 19% and 45% decrease in the
chlorogenic acid content of light and medium roast coffee respectively
implying that other compounds make significant contributions to the
total antioxidant activity of roasted coffee. Melanoidins are brown
polymers formed by the Maillard reaction during the roasting of coffee
beans and account for up to 25% of the dry matter. It has recently been
shown by the ABTS•+ method that coffee melanoidins have significant
antioxidant activity in vitro (9).”

So, where did Nescafe’s idea come from??? GREEN blend sounds eco-friendly. I bet they couldn’t market it as “Nescafe RAW blend”. It also sounds healthy. People think they need anti-oxidants. The most well-known source of anti-oxidants is green tea. Coffee, on the other hand, has always been accused of being unhealthy because of the caffeine content… so, why not make the coffee green too??
And, I suppose, what really swung it for Nestle was that green coffee is cheaper than roasted coffee, and this way, they can sell a new exciting blend for more money, when it may actually be a third cheaper to produce….

God I’m a cynic….

 
44 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

“November -January Progress Report”

I have just had to write my latest little summary of what I’ve been up to for the past three months; this little task has to be completed for the sake of the ESRC and the rest of the Waste of the World program to keep up to date with our work, and also for me to occasionally justify my existence at the university!
I found it quite hard to write this time, mainly because all I’ve done for the past few months in relation to work is write – writewritewritewrite. I’ve not done much in the way of active research, I’ve not been anywhere, not attended any more conferences, nothing…. The summary was pretty short. This is Year Three after all: serious thesis writing time. So far I’ve done about 20000 words, and two and half chapters. Typically I opted to do the ‘easy’ chapters first – that is, the more empirical ones on ‘quality’ ‘ethics’ and currently working on ‘skill’. They are all rather lacking in references at the moment though, and read far too much like “this is what I did on my holidays”…. However, I know that this is only going to get harder as soon as I am stuck writing the dreaded literature review or worse – the actual conclusions….

I haven’t really been writing solidly for three months though, but everything else I’ve been up to is hardly academic.
Although, there is this:
from the PHD comics
(with thank yous to the PHD comics)
Not quite at the dirty nappies stage yet! But certainly a great deal of time has been spent recently preparing for the arrival of the occupant of those nappies. When I say “preparing” I mean, throwing up, lying on the sofa with no energy being kicked from the inside, rushing to the loo every five minutes and shopping for increasingly gigantic bras. Unsurprisingly, this does not a productive Bel make,

Fortunately for me, my taste for coffee has finally started to come back, Not to the obsessive, addicted extent that it was, but enough for me to enjoy the occasional cup again. And of course, I still have my regular supply! Doctor Coffee’s Cafe was extremely hectic before Christmas (not helped by aforementioned lack of energy) but has been severely hampered by the snow in the New Year, as I really didn’t think me standing out in blizzards with very little shelter was the best thing I could be doing with myself at the moment. Still, we are back on track: the snow has gone, cakes are being made every week, my source on the ground in Nicaragua (gracias Andie!) is shipping me huge slabs of 100% cacao for hot chocolate, and I got my final delivery of coffee from Cafe Cristina in Costa Rica. This is a sad landmark: the Costa Rican postal service decided to increase their overseas shipping rates by 107% as of December 09 – yes you did read that right, *one hundred and seven percent!!*, meaning that it is simply not worth Cafe Cristina sending the coffee to Europe any more. Craziness. I am savouring my last batch, but I’ve got to find a new supplier now!

This progress report also had to include, for the first time, what we are planning to do in the future. I resisted the urge to say “reproduce”; instead I have another cunning plan, brimful of academic worth. It is:
The International Coffee Organisation’s World Coffee Conference
Conveniently, at the end of February. And better still, IN GUATEMALA.
The conference is all about the future of coffee – in terms of the global market for the stuff, the economic and environmental sustainability of the industry (useful for my waste project), improvements in working conditions, and interestingly, about ‘differentiation’ – specificially, the speciality industry, certification and quality – all exactly what I am interested in! It’s a very full program, over three days, and also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the founding of ANACAFE, the Guatemalan coffee organisation. Lots and lots of industry big-wigs, as well as academics, and it is even being opened by the President of Guatemala! This is a biiiiiig deal. Eep.
My supervisors were not so keen on the idea, but I think, mainly because they are determined that I get my thesis done in draft form the time I go on maternity leave in June, and this is, and I quote, “a week out of writing.” I assured them that I’d have plenty of time on the 22hour-in-each-direction flights. It is also a blooming long way to go for a conference. However, by pure serendipity, I had exactly enough money left in my university pot of ‘conference money’ to afford a flight and the extortionate registration fee, (I have since learned that there are 13.61 Guatemalan quetzals to the pound. Knowing this didn’t make it seem any cheaper!). By the end of February, I will be 23 weeks pregnant, and still apparently safe to fly. I am not about to pop on the plane, anyway. I managed to get travel insurance with the optional extra of “uncomplicated pregnancy as pre-existing medical condition”. All is set!! I am determined to go – I honestly do think it will be really interesting and pretty useful for the project, I can see what the Guatemalan industry is like in comparison with neighbouring Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but it could also be good in terms of networking. I can’t shake the idea of imminent unemployment after this PhD, and with small sprog, this is equivalent to Impending Doom. Scary.
This is obviously going to be my last trip anywhere exotic for quite some time as well. I don’t like that idea much, but I assured for all sides that baby will be worth it! Maybe this opportunity has come along to pacify me? For the first time ever, I am getting a little paranoid about travelling. I will, at the request of darling husband, drink bottled water out there, No volcano climbing. No street food (waa!) I may even spend over ten dollars a night on accomodation (a mortal sin, in my book) and stay in a guesthouse not a hostel… gah. Responsibility does not come easily to me!
But, nevertheless… adventures in many forms no doubt await me and I am excited about love, life and coffee! Hasta la victoria siempre!
Guatemala map and coffee

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,