Posts Tagged ‘fair trade’

coffee beans

So far, I’ve not written about coffee. Coffee is fairly symbolic of ethical consumerism. I suppose it seemed, well, a bit of an obvious place to start. But as a passionate coffee drinker, who consumes at least one, fairly strong cup of black coffee every morning, I realised I didn’t know that much about it. I thought it was about time I looked a little deeper than the Fair Trade label.

So what should I know about my morning cuppa?

Well, those coffee lovers amongst you will be glad to hear that, ecologically speaking at least, drinking coffee is a fairly good thing to do.

Here’s why.

Coffee is an evergreen crop. It will keep giving fruit for as long as fifty years. That means that it doesn’t have to be constantly dug up and replanted like many crops which is bad for the soil. Instead, coffee plants help stablise and build soil and prevent erosion.

Coffee prefers shade, so it can grow in the shade of a larger forest which means that, unlike many forms of agriculture, coffee farmers protect rainforest and don’t clear it. Shady coffee plantations also encourage a large range of biodiversity including birds. Birds love eating bugs and so this removes much of the need to use chemical pesticides. So growing organic coffee is relatively easy.

The majority of the world’s coffee – around 70% – is grown on small farms by independent farmers. Tea, in contrast, tends to be grown in large plantations owned by big multinationals. So by buying coffee you are usually helping to support small independent farmers who are farming in ecologically sound and sustainable ways. If they couldn’t make a living from growing coffee, they might consider farming something much more environmentally damaging or illegal crops like coca or marijuana.

Until the end of the 1980s, the coffee industry was regulated by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO). The ICO was made up of producer and consumer countries and aimed to keep supply matching demand and therefore prices at a realistic level. However, disagreements between the partners and the general trend of trade deregulation led to dismantling this quota system.

Suddenly, there were more and more people growing coffee. Countries such as Vietnam invested heavily in coffee and became a new major supplier.

Many of the new players, in order to compete, began growing “sun coffee” rather than cultivating it in the shade. Growing coffee in direct sunlight means that it produces coffee quicker but the plants only last 10-15 years and generally require more chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It also often means that land is cleared to grow it. Some campaign groups have suggested that this is helping destroy a large number of the world’s natural ecosystems.

The increase in supply wasn’t good for the farmers either. The large amounts of coffee on the market led to coffee prices crashing, hitting rock bottom in 2001. Despite having recovered a little over recent years, the plentiful supply means that the poor old farmers get paid a pittance for their beans.

And to make matters worse, the coffee-buying market is dominated by multinationals who by their very nature, chase bigger profits and make the most of this over supply. The big UK coffee manufactures Nestle, Kraft (Maxwell House and Kenco) and Sara Lee (Douwe Egberts) have all been accused of maintaining the status quo.

And this is, of course, where Fair Trade comes in.

The Fair Trade mark can be applied to products that have been sourced following ethical trading principals. These principals include paying a minimum price.

The mark was originally developed by the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone with the idea to link co-operative stores in London with producers in the developing world and cut out the middle men. The scheme was set up with more in mind than just ensuring a fair price. It was about helping fund community projects.

Since then, companies such as Café Direct have built on this ethos and today, as well as paying their farms a higher price for their goods, the company have also invested £20,000 in project such as tree nurseries, school scholarships and local roads.

In the shops, fair trade coffee only costs fractionally more. But the farmers who grow it can receive up to three times the amount they would from non-Fair Trade coffee. It’s still not much, or perhaps what many would consider ‘fair’, but it’s a lot better than coffee without the mark. Personally, I’d even pay more if I thought it was going to the folk who grew it.

Then there’s the issue of instant coffee. In most of the world, instant coffee only makes up 20% of the coffee drunk. In the UK, 80% of the coffee we drink is instant.

To produce instant coffee, you take a great quality product, that has a long shelf life and put it through a series of energy-intensive industrial processes to make a far inferior product. If you’re making decaf, you’re also chemically removing the only worthwhile ingredient. What are we thinking?

So next time you’re out buying coffee, buy the real thing. Buy Fair Trade. Ideally, buy organic too. It’s quite hard to find coffee that is both, but Percol and Café Direct both do it. They also have the advantage that they relatively small companies and are not owned by multinationals and they invest in coffee growing communities. And if you can, buy shade-grown coffee. Most organic coffee is.

Tomorrow morning, as I’m sipping my coffee, I’m going to take a moment and ponder who might have grown it. I think you should too.


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It’s January. Traditionally it’s a time to think about New Year’s resolutions and dieting. So I am. I’m going on a diet. But not a normal diet.

My New Year’s resolution is to employ all of the things I have learnt since I started this blog about eating in good, sustainable and fair way. I’m going on an eco diet.

In a moment I will tell you the principals of this diet.

But first I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to join me in this slimming of carbon pounds and piling on of social-conscience vitamins. If you’re going to do it, leave a comment. And then tell anyone else you think will also do it. Let’s create a weird, online, eco version of Weight Watchers. I’m serious. I’ve even created a Facebook group if you’re that way inclined.

OK, here’s the diet.


  • Eat less of it.
  • Restrict beef to a couple of times a month.
  • Always try and buy organic, free-range rare breeds.
  • Buy British, particularly pork (unless it’s lamb out of season).
  • Go to a proper butcher when possible.

Fish and seafood

  • Buy Marine Steward Council-certified wild fish if possible.
  • Eat more fish that’s on the MSC’s fish to eat list and experiment with unusual varieties.
  • Don’t eat any fish on the MSC’s fish to avoid list.
  • Don’t eat tiger prawns.
  • Eat more mussels, cockles, clams and other sustainably sourced seafood.
  • Eat less farmed salmon and trout and buy organic.
  • Don’t buy small undersized fish.
  • Go to a proper fishmonger when possible.
  • Go fishing.

Fruit and veg

  • Buy organic.
  • Buy local.
  • Buy seasonal.
  • Get a vegetable box delivered (Abel & Cole, Riverford).
  • If it’s not in season or local, treat it as a luxury item.
  • Try and grow some.


  • Buy organic, free-range eggs.
  • Buy British cheeses, organic if possible.
  • Buy organic milk, in a bag to save on packaging.
  • Buy organic butter (don’t buy margarine) and use a butter dish (less packaging).

Pasta, rice and so on

  • Eat less rice (it comes a long way) and buy organic.
  • Experiment with more local grains and pulses.
  • Buy organic dried pasta.
  • Make bread or buy organic.


  • Buy organic, fair-trade chocolate (Divine, Green & Blacks) and don’t buy crap chocolate.
  • Buy organic, fair-trade coffee (Percol, Café Direct) and don’t drink instant.
  • Buy fair-trade tea.
  • Treat goods from far away like luxuries.


  • Drink local beer and cider.
  • Check the label and don’t drink lager brewed in distant countries.
  • Preference European wines – French, Italian, Spanish – and organic or biodynamic.
  • Drink organic fruit juice (and go for apple when they’re in season).
  • Cut out fizzy pop.
  • Don’t buy bottled water.
  • Drink in a pub.

Other principals

  • Cook from scratch (no ready meals).
  • Make use of leftovers and make stock from bones.
  • Always take a bag out shopping and refuse carrier bags.
  • Avoid items with loads of packaging.
  • Shop less in supermarkets and more in proper shops.

There’s more info in previous posts on fish, meat, apples, milk, butter and alcohol.

Now like all good diets, I realise we all may lapse from time to time but that’s fine. We’re only human after all. But I think its good to have something to aim at and some principals to try and stick to.

Now all this might cost a little bit more but I reckon if you’re eating a bit less meat and cutting out some of the expensive crap like ready meals, you can balance it out.

I also think that good food, particularly meat, should be a bit more expensive. If it’s a real bargain, the alarm bells should start ringing about what corners they cut to make it so cheap. And this is something you eat. I’d rather scrimp on something else.

I think that we should all think about our food, where comes from, who farmed it and how, how it got transported to us and how sustainable it is.

If you want to be a bit greener this year, thinking about the food you buy is a really good place to start. We buy loads of it. It’s easy to make significant changes. And when you do, what you eat generally taste a hell of a lot better. And more healthy. And having started to do a lot of this over the last year, it’s making me enjoy food a lot more. And that’s as it should be.

So then. Who’s with me? Who’s going to join me on my diet?

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