California Brews Up a New Front in the Coffee War

Updated on May 17, 2018
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Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer

Los Angeles Times headline of March 29, 2018: “Judge rules coffee sold in California requires cancer labels.”

On the same day the American Council on Science and Health posted their own more nuanced headline: “In California, Coffee Causes Cancer And Lawyers Collect The Fee.”

Then there’s the February 2018 Forbes headline, “Coffee Causes Cancer. Coffee Prevents Cancer. Wait, What?” which points to a 2017 review that found coffee slightly reduced the risk of liver and endometrial cancers while another study found that coffee slightly increased the risk of bladder cancer.

Into this bitter brewing battle comes a new Time-Life book, TIME Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health.

Book Break with a Coffee Break: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick

TIME Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health.
TIME Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health.
This right-up-to-date 2018 coffee book’s subtitle covers everything this Libertarian Opinionizer article takes a sip of: “The Culture. The Business. Your Health.” Today’s Coffee Culture includes concerns for the rights of poor workers and farmers everywhere and the effects on our environment; today’s Coffee Business probes the prices, profits and polices of the global trade in this product; and today’s Coffee Health continually contradicts itself with both good and bad diagnoses for our wellbeing. Once you’re through reading you can decide for yourself—are you cultured, is coffee anyone’s business but your own, and does it hinder or help your health? Put that in your pot and perk it.

TIMELESS Coffee: The History. The Craziness. Your Sanity

Not only is the book a good introduction to one of the world’s most human-consumed liquids but it’s also more than merely an instant decaf look into the subject.

Today’s Coffee War not only embodies a Culture War, a Business War and a Health War, but our present-day latte fray goes way beyond “one lump or two?” It stirs up clashes over political, social, economic, emotional, psychological and moral/ethical issues as well.

To understand the full depth of the ongoing brouhaha over this brew one need look no further than the recent past, at a Coffee War already in full fury.

The Hot Stuff Hinders/Helps our Health

YOUR HEALTH: “Meanwhile, the centuries old debate about coffee’s health benefits continues; some studies find that it has beneficial effects, while others suggest the opposite.”— TIME Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health.

Coffee must be the most studied subject on the planet, funded almost certainly by our taxbucks. A Google search on the keywords "coffee" and "study" produced "about 4,340,000" hits around the turn of this century and “About 286,000,000” today.

A sampling proves how coffee is bad for us …

USA Today, 2003: High coffee consumption would increase risk of stillbirth.

LONDON (AP), 2000: Study Hints Coffee May Be Linked To Rheumatoid Arthritis.

BBC News, 2000: Filtering coffee does not remove a chemical linked to heart disease and stroke.

… and good for us …, 2001: There are studies suggesting that coffee may help fend off Parkinson's disease.

CBC News, 2001: Coffee may help your memory.

Boston Herald, 1999: Coffee may help battle colon cancer.

… and simultaneously bad and good for us …

OTTAWA (CP), 2004: coffee consumption increases the risk of bladder cancer in men., 2001: Drinking coffee regularly might protect smokers from bladder cancer.

… and so on and on and on …

Mocha-Made Mental Madness

But just as the Google search shows that coffee is/isn't good/bad for us, coffee addiction is equally a problem/non-problem:

Headline from the Arizona Daily Star, 2004: "1 coffee a day is enough to cause addiction."

Daily Star quote from Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience: "When people don't get their usual dose they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms."

UF News, University of Florida, 2003: Dr. Mark S. Gold, a distinguished professor at UF's McKnight Brain Institute and chief of addiction medicine in the psychiatry department says, "Caffeine dependence is a non-issue for me because people won't leave their home for it, won't mortgage their house for it, won't choose caffeine over their wife."

In a libertarian world this wouldn't be a big deal. We would hear about the privately funded studies and adjust our lives, or not, as each of us sees fit. But this is not a libertarian world. This is a world of coercion.

Can't you just hear the former class action tobacco-litigating liability lawyers slobbering at their jowls? Which CEOs knew coffee was addictive and when did they know it? Where's the smoking memo that proves it? How much moolah can we legally loot from these mocha merchants?

The article that tells us that coffee is addictive also told us this in 2004:

"Griffiths and colleagues are pressing for caffeine addiction to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, considered the bible of mental disorders."

So who are these javaphobes that want to transform our pot of perk into a mental power play? Perhaps they're the same people that Ron Paul warned us about in 2004:

"A presidential initiative called The 'New Freedom Commission on Mental Health' has issued a report recommending forced mental health screening for every child in America, including preschool children. The goal is to promote the patently false idea that we have a nation of children with undiagnosed mental disorders crying out for treatment."

Funny, isn't it, how people who want everything to be classified as a mental disorder never seem to get around to classifying themselves.

So, using terms these people can comprehend, those who love power are powerphiliacs. Those who become addicted to power are addicto-powerphiliacs.

Here's how their game works: whoever makes the first accusation is automatically the winner.

If I accuse you of being an addict and you deny it, you're "in denial," which proves my case.

If you defend yourself, you're "being defensive," which proves my case.

If you call me an idiot for calling you an addict, you're engaging in an "ad hominem attack," which proves my case.

If you demand proof of my accusation, you are revealing an "abnormal and persistent preoccupation with rationality" and are therefore "lacking in compassion, sympathy, or consideration for others," which proves my case.

If you just don't give a crap that you're an addict or what harm your addiction might cause you, that means you "lack self-esteem" and "show signs of severe suicidal tendencies," which proves my case.

And, if you simply ignore me, that means you suffer "attention deficit disorder" which means you get forcibly medicated, which proves my case.

One definition for addiction from the online dictionary (that I use obsessively) is: "persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful."

Therefore, I proclaim that the persistent compulsive use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is addictive, and it is known by the users of said manual to be harmful. I said it first. All responses from addicto-powerphiliacs and javaphobes simply prove my case.

I win. Pour me another cup o' joe.

Culturally Correct Coffee Crusade

Then there was, then as now, the issues of social justice, political correctness, cultural Marxism and identity politics. SJWs and libertarian eye-rollers will all recognize their earlier selves.

Soon after the early turn of the millennium, while everyone’s attention was turning toward Imperial America’s impending war in Iraq, a War Against Coffee was brewing smack dab in the heartland of the nation.

THE BUSINESS: “The fact that we only sell specialty coffee makes us third wave,” says Berman. “Our commitment to farmers and sustainability begins to make us fourth wave.”—TIME Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health.

On Friday, October 25, 2002 we are told by the Iowa City Press-Citizen that two juniors at the University of Iowa have woken up and smelled the coffee, and they think it stinks. Now they want to protect their fellow townsfolk from consuming politically incorrect java, noting that “some” coffee beans are grown using synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

At first sip, even libertarians might find the concern and care of students Oliver Belcher and David Burnett to be laudatory. But, alas, their compassion just naturally takes the form of coercion.

The pair wants a city ordinance stating “that all brewed coffee sold in town must be brewed from coffee beans that are organic, fair-trade, shade-grown or a combination.” Grounds for punishment are as strong as the coffee. If the owner of the Koffee Kup Kafe fails to pour you a mug of biodiversity-friendly Colombian he could be fined up to $1,000. Wilma the Waitress could get a three-day coffee break in the Iowa City hoosegow.

No mention is made in the Press-Citizen article concerning enforcement. Will the local police force be required to form a special Keystone Koffee Kops unit? Will eateries be subject to no-knock raids in search of contraband Arabicas? And what about those unintended consequences that inevitably percolate whenever coercion is the first choice of social engineers? Could this create a black market in Folgers, run by vicious mocha mobsters?

Makes you wonder just what those professor types have been teaching their young wards out there in Hawkeye land. Their education is woefully incomplete. True, they are only juniors, so perhaps they’ll still learn about Advanced Domestic Coffee Warfare in their senior year. As many of us older, world-weary donut dunkers are well aware, countless coffee consumers prefer their mud with cream and/or sugar. And that means an expansion of the Coffee War.

Current Court-Ordered Coffee Country

As this war inexorably spreads to engulf coffee’s two closest allies we can expect a steady stream of dispatches from the Iowa City front lines:

THE CULTURE: The fourth wave of coffee is “a designation that emphasizes the quality of the product as well as the culture and lifestyle surrounding the industry, right down to who farms the beans.”—TIME Coffee: The Culture. The Business. Your Health.

Cream used in coffee must be all-natural, unprocessed, non-pasteurized and non-homogenized, produced only on people’s cooperative dairy communes. All Jerseys, Holsteins and other members of the udder sisterhood must be free-range grazers. While their milk may taste nasty from eating stinkweed and thornapples everyone knows that natural is better.

And of course the bovines may be milked only by human virgins with soft, tender fingers while crooning soothing lullabies into the ears of the noble beasts. The Animal Liberation Front shall have the authority to firebomb any corporate dairying operation that uses inhumane mechanical milking devices.

Sugar is another matter. All sources of the white sweet stuff must be one hundred percent organic, fair-trade, grown without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and hand harvested by highly paid union “human resources” during a thirty-two hour workweek who meet all minority and gender diversity requirements.

Ideally, Iowa City restaurateurs offering coffee to their customers will replace their sugar shakers with raw chunks of sugar cane and zero tolerance non-threatening serrated plastic knives for shaving off the desired amount. Patrons can decide if they want one scrape or two in their cup of joe.

Aberrant sugar substitutes such as Equal or Sweet’N Low will, of course, be banned. Any coffee shop discovered offering sugar grown from genetically modified beets or cane shall be subject to firebombing by Earth Liberation Front.

And let’s not forget the containers. Most coffee is sold in cans, made of low-carbon steel coated with a thin layer of tin. This requires open pit mines and manufacturing operations destructive to the environment.

Milk cartons and sugar bags are the spawn of chemical processes. While the Iowa U students may be utterly ignorant as to how these products are created, just the word “chemical” smacks of icky stuff injurious to our biosphere. So they all should be outlawed.

The best containers, of course, are earthenware. Coffee, cream and sugar should never be sold in town unless they’ve been shipped in individually handcrafted natural clay pottery produced by authenticated Native Americans. Any Starbucks wannabe in Iowa City caught smuggling coffee or its common condiments in non-crockery containers will be open to firebombing by the American Indian Movement.

That may be a lot of crock, but we have to start somewhere if we want to save the Earth from civilization.

Back here in the present the Coffee War wages on with little to no change in it or the health hopes versus hazards of Hills Brothers and all the others.

The Coffee War, like the Hundred Years’ War, will continue as long as someone profits from it in some way. For good or ill California’s compulsory cancer categorizing will guarantee that.

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