There is reason to celebrate people!! Not only because it’s Friday but because NEW YORK STATE BANNED PLASTIC BAGS! I am positively THRILLED! Sure, there are some faults with the legislation - like making newspaper plastic bags and food takeout bags an exception, and making a 5-cent fee for paper bags optional for counties - but this is huge. It will go into effect next March, so gird your loins!
First things first is that Bon Appétit is doing a plastic-free challenge this weekend and I’m encouraging you all to do it, too! The premise is to not use any plastic at all. I’ve done this before, and I’m going to do it again, and I feel like you’ll be pretty surprised how hard it is. Please share thoughts if you do participate! *note - this challenge is over but you can read about it on their website and there’s never NOT a time to focus on reducing plastic usage :)
Today’s topic is coffee, beer, and wine!
I’m headed to Maine this weekend, which is my favorite place to be but also my favorite place to consume all of these delectable drinks. I want to point out a couple of sustainability issues at hand so that if you’re planning on having lots of these beverages this weekend, which I deeply hope you are, then you’ll have something to chew on (or sip on… too punny?).
Nothing is better than coffee, and in my mind there is no rival to Tandem Coffee. I 1000% am going to eat my weight in scones and drink too much coffee (and force Fred to do the same). They just changed their pricing structure to promote sustainability - they’re charging $.25 less for all drinks, whether for here or to go, but tacking on a cost if you need a paper cup. I think this is pretty cool, and I plan on bringing my Keep Cup with me so I can have as much as I want and feel good about it.
Tandem is one of many coffee shops that is mindful about the way in which they’re partnering with farmers to get the beans, too. Coffee is a commodity, and as such has a standard price at which it is traded (which went under $1 per pound for the first time in 2018). A place like Tandem (or the specialty coffee roaster near you) is not buying commodity coffee, which is usually the lowest quality coffee out there, but they’re often buying beans directly from farmers (or from a cooperative of farmers in a given community that partner together to get better prices). The lower price that farmers are getting discourages them from engaging in sustainability in any meaningful way because they can’t afford to think beyond the short-term and invest in such measures. Small roasters, who have consumers who are more willing to pay more for a pound of coffee, often put in a lot more work engaging with farms to increase their profitability and make these investments in sustainability that they otherwise couldn’t. Massive coffee companies, like Kraft, P&G, Sara Lee, and Nestlé (who together buy 50% of the world’s coffee every year), are starting to engage in this kind of work, but simply because of the size of their companies, it’s hard. Nestlé is probably doing the best of all of them, but they’re still falling short of their goals because of climate-related issues causing the land available for coffee production to shrink every year. By 2020, they hope to have 70% of all of their coffee to be responsibly sourced, but they’re only at 55% now. That’s just one example of their goals, and if you’re interested in learning more, read this.
Here are some tips so you can fill up guilt-free this weekend:
BYO-cup if you’re taking it away. If not, it’s the weekend! Sit and enjoy in a mug
Pay attention to how your bag of coffee beans should be disposed (labels are on the bottom usually)- some are biodegradable, some are compostable, some recyclable if you remove the lining… but most just belong in the trash. If you can, be mindful before you purchase and pick one that will biodegrade.
Buy unbleached coffee filters or, even better, use a reusable filter
If you can, compost both your filter and your coffee grounds
If you really want to go deep, do some research about your favorite cafe/roaster and see what their practices are - are they supporting the livelihood of their farmers and the farming communities? are they farming in responsible and climate change appropriate ways? are they doing anything to prevent waste? we vote with our dollars so guide them the right way
This weekend we’ll also be going to Drifter’s Wife this weekend in Portland and the little wine store owned by the same couple, Maine & Loire. In case you aren’t an avid reader of Bon Appétit, Drifter’s Wife was voted one of the hot ten new restaurants in America last year! It’s beautifully designed, plus they are all about natural and biodynamic wine.
This probably deserves its own huge newsletter and even a whole book about this, but I’ll try to distill it for you here. The wine industry is pretty messed up. Most “wine” that you buy from the supermarket or even an expensive wine shop isn’t actually fermented grape juice - it’s only a portion of grapes and a HUGE and extremely shocking amount of chemicals. It kind of makes sense why - fermented things are unstable and it’s difficult from harvest to harvest to provide consistency in flavor and palate that consumers expect. On the more “natural” side (though none of this should be in a beverage in my opinion), there’s gelatin, isinglass (dried fish bladder), clay, and special yeast strains. Even more bizarre are things like food coloring, dimethyl dicarbonate (to sterilize), oak chips, soy flour, etc. Forget sulfur or sulfites because those are pretty much the least harmful thing that’s in a bottle. It’s not only cheap wine like Barefoot, but even really expensive conventional bottles have these chemicals put in them. If you’re interested you should read Bianca Bosker’s book Cork Dork because she talks all about this.
If wine makers are adding this many additives, this tells me (and lots of people who know a lot more about wine than myself) that the growers are going for mass production and consistency at the expense of their land. That’s also not to say that all “natural” (additive-free) wine is necessarily good for the environment. It really depends on what the wine maker is doing to the land, whether they’re avoiding pesticides/herbicides, conserving water, leaving some parts of the vineyard fallow, growing a wide variety of grapes besides the popular ones, monitoring their energy use, and protecting wildlife in their vicinity.
Look for the Demeter certification (which marks a farm as biodynamic, or intervention-free and pro-biodiversity) or find a natural wine shop near you and talk to the owners or shopworkers! They can tell you more about why natural wine is the way to go. I love:
Same goes for beer in terms of additives - there’s some nasty stuff in there! But on the plus side, there are some huge beer conglomerates that are doing really interesting stuff to promote sustainability. AB InBev for example has put together an amazing resource for barley farmers so that they can anonymously compare their sustainability to other farmers and share ways they’re improving their farming practices. They’ve gotten around 5,000 farmers to sign up. They also have a goal to have 100% of their packaging be made entirely of recycled material or to be returnable/reusable. AND they’ve reduced their carbon footprint by almost 30% in the past five years. Plus basically all beer comes in aluminum, 2/3 of which is successfully recycled every year in the US. AB InBev has achieved a recycling rate of 98%.
As an aside, I had a tough time finding impartial information about AB InBev’s sustainability initiatives that didn’t come directly from them and, while I’m super impressed by everything they’re saying they’re doing, it’s hard to find people who have taken a really critical look at it.
Maine Beer (where I’ll be spending some time this weekend) gets more than half their energy from a vast array of solar panels on their roof. They also sell their beer in bottles, not cans, so there are no plastic six-pack rings. They are sticking to their motto - do what’s right.
Have a good weekend, and be and do good xx