A Simple Feast, Columns

Coffee — A great Lutheran organizer for food justice

Coffee occupies a distinctive niche in our Lutheran culture. We regularly gather with the rich brew at Sunday morning coffee hours; Bible studies; potlucks; weddings and funerals; council, committee, and staff meetings.

I first learned to love coffee when I traveled to Denmark as a teenager to visit all the relatives my parents left when they immigrated to the United States in 1951. I enjoyed coffee with breakfast complemented by fine Danish cheeses, breads, and pastries.

Coffee was part of the ritual of hospitality extended with every meal. With coffee we paused for conversations and the pleasure of the relationships we shared. Around coffee tables I got to know my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles; I heard stories of our family history and Danish culture. Sipping coffee, I learned more about my mother and father and all that they left behind, as well as what shaped them.

The history of coffee production

Coffee is an agricultural product indigenous to Ethiopia that was first eaten as a food — when combined with animal fat — to create the first “energy bar” for long treks, hunting, and warfare. In Ethiopia, sometime after 1,000 C. E., it was consumed as a hot beverage energy drink that spread through Northeast Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and eventually to Europe and North America. Consumption of the drink also spread because of its presumed medicinal qualities. Coffee traditions adapted as the drink crossed continents and cultures.

Eva Jensen

Coffee is one “agricultural product” through which we can learn about the extended social and economic relationships that we share beyond Lutheran “coffee tables.”

Coffee is associated with socializing and relaxation for many today. It has been cultivated into our landscape through trade relationships and reinforced with the birth and expansion of coffee houses. The coffee we drink links us physically across national boundaries and cultures to sisters and brothers in the human community who grow and harvest the coffee beans we enjoy. Consumed largely by people living in rich countries today, coffee is grown primarily in the poorest parts of the world. It has not always been this way.

Coffee trade relationships are shaped by a complex web of economics, politics, governments, corporations, and policies. In The Coffee Book: Anatomy of an Industry, Nina Luttinger and Gregory Dicum provide an interesting and accessible overview of the social history of coffee and the development of the coffee industry — who benefits and who loses in its production and trade.

Coffee is one “agricultural product” through which we can learn about the extended social and economic relationships that we share beyond Lutheran “coffee tables.” As a Lenten study, The Coffee Book can lead us on a journey into the lives of coffee farmers, the lands where coffee is grown and harvested, trade relationships, and the roasting and marketing processes.

The Coffee Book provides an opportunity to bring the theological and biblical perspective of Walter Brueggemann’s “food fight” narrative (see “Advent, Abundance, and Generosity,” Metro Lutheran, December 2011, page 22) to one particular “food item.” It provides a lens into our power as consumers and can help us to evaluate our choices, which do make a difference in the lives of farmers, their families, communities, environments, and all global relationships. Fair Trade alternatives that provide options to support food justice are reviewed.

What if you want just coffee?

Lutheran World Relief (LWR) works with Equal Exchange, a worker-owned Fair Trade cooperative that helps coffee and tea grower associations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia bring their products to the U.S. market. LWR sells Equal Exchange Fair Trade products to individuals and congregations. For each pound of Fair Trade coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar and snacks ordered through the LWR Coffee Project, Equal Exchange donates $.20 to LWR’s Small Farmer Fund, which supports LWR’s agriculture programs. To learn more, see: http://lwr.org/site/c.dmJXKiOYJgI6G/b.7522015/k.8217/Coffee__Tea.htm.

Peace Coffee, started by the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), connects Twin Cities coffee drinkers in fair trade relationships to organic coffee farmers and co-ops in eight countries. IATP also provides educational resources on fair trade and advocates for fair trade policies. Go to http://iatp.org/about/peace-coffee and click on the April 2011 blog for more information.

Eva Jensen is an ELCA pastor who lives and works in the Twin Cities.

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