Rise and Shine, Healing Ones!
“No such thing as shining before I’ve had my coffee,” you say. I understand. And if you are anything like me, that first cup of coffee is heaven on the lips. Coffee is the stuff legends are made of. One such legend speaks of a time in Ethiopia many moons ago, when a goat herder named Kaldi discovered his flock frolicking from tree to tree, euphorically nibbling on bright red berries. They seemed to be peculiarly energized, and when Kaldi tried the berries himself, he immediately understood the stimulating effects of this powerful seed. Sufi monks are most notably associated with consuming this sacred beverage, as coffee was used to energize their nocturnal devotions as well as to inspire spiritual awakening. Coffee became a highly prized trade commodity in Europe and eventually a global economy and culture of coffee was born. Seedlings from the Near East found their way into European landscapes, and eventually into the Caribbean and Brazil, where slave labor was used to cultivate and harvest the “black gold.”
Today, the business of coffee looks much different. Coffee is one of the world’s most traded commodities – second only to oil. There are four major multinational corporations that dominate this global market: Nestle, Proctor & Gamble, Sara Lee, and Kraft Foods. This industrialization of coffee has led to ecological devastation and inequity amongst coffee farmers around the world. Ethiopia’s small coffee producers are no longer revered for their precious export, but exploited through the invisible hand of the World Trade Organization and free trade agreements that disregard true sustainability. Seven million Ethiopians are now dependent on emergency food aid every year, and we as participants in this global economy are partly to blame. Because of the immediacy of our consumer impact as a direct result of globalization, we must examine our consumption and strive to choose products in line with our personal ethos.
When it comes to whether or not coffee is “good for you,” that is a highly individualized determination. Many research studies have been published demonstrating both positive and negative health effects. We do know that coffee contains caffeine – which is an addictive stimulant that utilizes the same neural pathways as amphetamines (think heroin and cocaine). And if we are not one of them, we know many people whose very identity is entangled in coffee consumption. On the flip side, coffee consumption has also been determined to reduce the risk of suicide in both men and women in a recent Harvard School of Public Health study. But coffee can interfere with the body’s ability to use vitamins B12, B6 and folate – necessary nutrients to maintain healthy homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that when elevated, can lead to heart attack and stroke. This is why people who have high blood pressure should reconsider the amount of their coffee consumption. And coffee is a crop heavily sprayed with pesticides. Up to 250 pounds of chemical fertilizer is applied to just one acre of a conventionally farmed coffee plantation. That’s a whole lot of toxicity in one cup of joe!
We exclude coffee for the majority of our 40 days together mainly because of the health-negating chemical and ecological processes involved in coffee production and because those of us who may be addicted to coffee need to analyze this addiction. Our goal during this journey is to practice gentleness in all its forms. Many people experience sleep disturbances, heart palpitations and jitters with coffee consumption. I love coffee so very much and am grateful that I finally have reached a place of mindfulness over habit when I consume my one precious cup almost every morning. But I do have to say that when I remove it for an extended period of time, I realize how sensitive I am to caffeine and have to reintroduce one-third of a cup at a time - until I reach my one cup threshold. This journey is about self-discovery. You may find that you really don’t need four cups to have a happy, productive day. Abstaining for a while helps us to determine the healthiest arrangement with our beloved brew.
I won’t attempt to proselytize one way or the other. There is too much evidence on both sides of the coffee consumption debate in regards to health benefits. What I will do is make recommendations inclusive of farm workers and other environmental factors, as well as specific health concerns:
1) If you suffer from insomnia, reduce or eliminate coffee consumption completely. If you do opt to drink coffee, make sure you drink it in the morning and never in the afternoon or evening. Caffeine has a very long half life in the body (typically 5 – 6 hours).
2) If you experience jitters, heart palpitations, or have high blood pressure or adrenal fatigue, reduce or completely eliminate coffee.
3) If you take thyroid medication, do not drink coffee within 60 minutes of taking it, as it reduces absorption.
4) Choose shade grown coffee. This is the traditional way of growing coffee that provides a natural habitat for many insects and animals. Banana and other fruit trees often provide this shade, allowing small farmers to diversify their streams of income as well as providing food security.
5) Choose organic or Rainforest Alliance certified coffee only. Conventionally grown coffee is extremely toxic and unsustainable. Sun cultivation versus shade growing destroys habitats, creates pesticide pollution, and promotes deforestation. Pay the extra few cents or dollars and help protect biodiversity. And although the Rainforest Alliance seal doesn't require the exact same protocol organic certification does, it does require stringent sustainability practices, in some ways exceeding organic certification standards by protecting wildlife and workers rights.
6) If you love the taste of coffee but prefer decaf, make sure to ONLY consume coffee decaffeinated using the patented, natural “Swiss Water Process” method. Otherwise, you can almost guarantee that synthetic chemicals were used to extract the caffeine.
7) If you drink drip coffee, reduce your synthetic chemical intake by using unbleached coffee filters.
8) Choose certified FAIR TRADE coffee when available. The “Fair Trade” label (different from free trade) implies that the farmer was paid a fair price and was treated well.
9) Drink your coffee AFTER a meal. Caffeine is an appetite suppressant and diuretic. So if you have it first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach, you may be tricked out of a nourishing meal and consequently experience digestive distress. Drink lots of water to address potential loss of fluids.
10) Be fully present to your coffee experience. Create a ritual around your consumption. Here is a link to a blog I wrote about this distinction if you are interested in further exploring the difference between a habit and a ritual.
Let's participate in new paradigms of consumption that honor the land and the people that produce our food! Your body will receive these commodities as medicine, and you will experience harmony in its truest sense. Mindfulness is key!
Sending you all love and power!!
©Erika Elizondo, H.H.C