I bought the civet coffee off ThinkGeek for a coffee snob friend of mine years ago. She said it tasted watery and bland, but thanked me for the thoughtful novelty anyway. Now I realize I not only gave her crappy coffee, it was crappy coffee created through abusing animals for a stupid gimmick. I feel like an asshole.
Consider this: if civet coffee had not ever become popular, then your purchase would have been fine - if anything, you could feel good about yourself since you just injected a tiny bit of cash into a poor area of the world.
Not to get all philosophical over a story on poo coffee, but this is one of the downsides to free markets. They hide information on the conditions of production unless compelled to by regulation or consumer demand, neither of which typically happen without an awareness campaign (such as this exposé). All you see is marketing and a price.
When a free market realizes consumers demand transparency, transparency becomes an option in the market. Not the only option, but one of the many.
How would that transparency work in a market that is absolutely controlled by regulation and government? Fine, until that government itself ceased to be transparent.
ASIDE: There are no absolutely controlled markets or absolutely free markets and never will be. Capitalism will always seep out around the edges and regulation will always be necessary.
That's wishful thinking contradicted by oodles of historical experience. Random example: the unregulated market for medicine in the U.S. prior to the 20th century.
The problem is consumers are not organized by default. Markets typically reflect individual preferences just fine, but individuals don't have the resources to fact-check propaganda, research and verify conditions of production, etc. This aspect of "consumer demand" requires collective organization to express effectively.
A buying group is one example. But these things take investments of their own to start up, which is why you mostly find them among business customers. One of the reasons the corporate group health insurance market is so much better than the individual one.
For the everyman, the government is a mechanism by which they can express collective demand. And it's why food and medicine safety, to pick one fundamental, has never been effectively secured for the general public absent government regulation.
The free market is quite good at providing consumers information, but often only if the consumers demand it. For a few decades now, consumers have gradually become more ethical in their consumption choices, and the markets are reflecting that. It's a long road and there are certainly many, many places where things can be improved. By contrast, consider that there is a lot of demand for certain values, like transparency, honesty, not sexually harassing your underlings, in government, and exactly how responsive do you suppose it's been?
The faulty assumption is that government will somehow be 'the betters' of the general public. But every indication of the narcissistic type that gets elected, and the petty bureaucratic authoritarian that is unelected, suggests that those advancement in government may not necessarily select for those traits you want. Neither does capitalism (as it's structured today), but at least consumers have a direct option to opt-out of unethical things done with their money, which they do not for government.
To pick another "fundamental", why do you suppose lightbulbs don't explode, and various and sundry electrical equipment doesn't electrocute you in the US? It's because regulation is being done by a private, nonprofit entity (the underwriter's laboratories) which goes through and certifies equipment for consumption. A good example of the free market working quite well to ensure safety, beyond even what the consumer might expect, with far less government interference.
Look at the history behind that. It came out of the 60s. Massive popular organization against the system. A gigantic non-market force that effected greater awareness of environmental destruction, the conditions of production and so forth.
Consumers didn't just wake up one day with new preferences. They rioted against the market system.
P.S. You forgot about OSHA federal electrical safety regulations.
Even the trade organization of electrical manufacturers disagrees with you. Quoting the National Electric Code, "the NEC takes on real significance when it is adopted into law by states and local jurisdictions."
I mean actual the implication that you get a transparent market from a free market because of "consumer demands" is sort of laughable when you consider that the free market on planet Earth does not contain perfect agents.
But the same imperfect agents, human beings, also constitute governments and bureaucracies. Markets are not a perfect institution, and it is very easy to point out flaws, but they have an observed tendency towards improvement, self ordering, and discovery of better resources that is lacking from government. Flaws in the market tend towards being corrected while flaws in government tend to become entrenched, obfuscated, and aggressively defended against any attempt to reveal and correct them.
One that rarely, if ever, happens. Because, for one customers are powerless against a whole industry, second the industry can lobby to buy regulations and fix the conditions so it won't have to be transparent and third the people are told and manipulated by the very corporations (and the media they control either directly or through advertising money) to not ask for transparency. Plus, the industry can sell "fake transparency" and none will be the wiser.
That kind of reaction for transparency can only work for a small time, against some niche or singled-out company -- and that's only until the media moves on, the public forgets, and the company makes some vague promises and alters arragements enough to confuse people that it made "changes". Like Nike sweatshops, Foxconn, etc.
The markets most likely to be transparent are those that are heavily regulated, with a vigilant population and where profit is not respected as the number one motivation behind business.
And those are not those commonly touted as "free markets", but markets in places like New Zealand, Sweden, etc.
> second the industry can lobby to buy regulations and fix the conditions so it won't have to be transparent
This seems to be most of a problem in the US, where money has such a direct influence on government. This doesn't mean that all govt is bad; it means that corrupt govt is bad.
To use your New Zealand example, they have arguably the most advanced and representative democratic system in existence. I think this helps limit antisocial corporate pressure (aka corruption) on their government regulations.
I would avoid the term "imperfection" for something that is fundamental to markets. The information on conditions of production usually has to come from the seller and there is usually little incentive for them to provide it unless compelled to.
Unregulated? Do regulated markets have perfect information?
Regulations and activism (such as this type of journalism) are some of the non-market forces that can compensate.
Activism may be biased. It may also lead to long-winded debates, and ultimately, to polluted information. (Eg, global warming, GM crops, etc).
Ultimately, it doesn't matter if there is regulation or not, activism or not; there is no perfect information.
We actually had a lengthy experiment with that earlier in America, pre-regulation. It's where the term "snake oil salesman" originated. The establishment of medical licensing led to a dramatic improvement in public health.
If there's one characteristic of deregulation advocates that you can count on, it's that they have a complete disregard for history.
As for democracy, many attempts have been utterly subverted by voter fraud -- e.g. myriad dictators that win >90% of the "vote" in their countries. It is only through strict regulation that we've come to trust the accuracy of our polls to the degree that we have in the U.S. Having said that, what passes for democracy here is still utterly dominated by money, in that the best-funded candidate usually wins. Again, regulation of money in politics would be one way to improve on that defect.
You can also see this with some of the smaller-scale Ponzis and investment scams - so long as the amount of money each investor has invested is much smaller than the amount it'd cost to investigate the investment, it's not rational for them to do so. One of the recent US Ponzis, Perma-Pave, actually failed because they got greedy and took on a large investor with reason to investigate what had happened to their money.
Can you help me understand why free markets "by definition" require that which cannot exist?
Because, like "perfect information", "free markets" are an abstract conceptual ideal.
... and medical licensing ... really?
'Perfect information' is an unrealistic assumption used in neoclassical models which treat knowledge as just another input, on a par with raw ore, pork bellies or gasoline. In the real world it just doesn't work like that.
The defining characteristic of the free market is that it is a creative process of discovery. It creates knowledge where none existed before. There can be no such thing in principle as 'perfect information'. Information tends to exist in the state of being inherently dispersed among the actors, often tacit to the point of being inexpressible. The market facilitates the use of such knowledge, and the the discovery of new knowledge.
This is such a meaningless mantra. The election process--which is supposed to "fix" the free market--also hides information, except there are many fewer opportunities for correction. A vote happens once every N years, whereas market corrections are (relatively) continuous.
Also, in what context are we dealing with a free market here and how is it relevant?
My point was that all 'systems' are corrupted by humans, not just a free market. I was criticizing an absolutist, irrelevant statement about the nature of the "free market" on the story, and mostly, asking the person how it was relevant at all, since nothing we have today remotely resembles a free market.
Information availability is a key part of the definition of a free market.
One would usually argue that the ability to keep trade secrets is the more "free" market, yet we have decided that there are long-term societal benefits to dissemination so we provide government protection of ideas. Since Libertarians would say that this protection represents some form of government intervention, I would say that the idea of secrets is fairly fundamental to the idealists' free market.
Of course, whether or not patents are a good idea is debatable, but that's another question. My point is that I don't agree that transparency is a fundamental aspect of the free market, I haven't heard that argument before and don't see how the free market even encourages it. Sure, people might request a certain amount of transparency, but no more transparency will be provided than that which is demanded by consumers -- and we have seen quite frequently that consumers are quite willing to be kept in the dark to a certain extent.
The term "Free Market" has a very specific definition. Information accessibility is a very important part of that definition.
It is very difficult for all the criteria to be met, so you will never find a perfectly free market outside textbooks.
People talk about "free markets" all the time, especially business lobbyists/PR. Usually they use the term "free market" to mean the government should get the hell out of their way, but they often don't really want a free market (especially if they are the incumbents).
They have effectively co-opted the term to help their narratives, confusing people in the process.
It's safe to assume all animal products are unethical.
We are invasive species. What we should aim is low impact farming. To extract the most food with the least possible amount of suffering caused and resources expended.
Humans do the same thing and it's "invasive".
I take the view that humans are as natural as any other animal on the planet. We obviously have a goal to sustain the ecosystems we value, but we're just as much a part of the ecosystem as any other animal.
For what it's worth, the beaver that forces out native species by flooding a habitat is both natural and invasive. Beavers are considered, by humans, to be a fairly invasive species, especially when introduced to areas they are not native to.
It isn't a double-standard that we're applying, it's just a little uncomfortable when the same standard is applied to us.
We fit our definition for the term. Like I said before though, I don't see anything unnatural about it myself.
The short story is that it takes up more land to feed and house livestock than it does to farm plants. "More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption."
Not to mention the amount of water livestock and its feed consumes.
This is one of those questions that drink a lot of beer and lead to violence among friends late in the evenings. With no good answer.
It seems like your friends are conflating genetics and utilitarian ethics. There's a way of explaining genetics in terms of preferences, but genes don't really have preferences. Species, by extension, don't have preferences. Cows as a species want nothing. Individual cows do.
So personally, as a vegan, I wouldn't see the death of the last cow on earth as a huge loss, as long as the cow was safe, happy, and comfortable.
I think this is roughly what you meant, right? There are lots of exceptions to the totally blanket assertion, although I think the underlying sentiment (as carefully caveatted above) is basically correct.
According to that statement, the ethical value of any animal product is a function of some huge number of variables, and the upper bound on that value is the minimum of that set.
So, it's safe to assume that all animal products you encounter as a human are unethical. Regardless of where you buy them, or what their advertising is, you should assume they are unethical and be very, very difficult to persuade. Anything else is just unsafe.
This is why animal welfare-ists exist, and why people think that there is such a thing as "happy meat."
edit: The point I am trying to make is that not all of our food comes from unethical industrial factory farms. There are a lot of farmers who use ethical and sustainable methods. It is not too difficult to do research and find out how your food is produced.
Yes, what is happening to the civets is appalling. But it's really no worse than what is standard CAFO treatment. It's not entirely your fault that you don't know this because the food industry tries very hard to keep this from you, including pushing for laws that make exposing these facts acts of terrorism.
What I was trying to get at in my question is that there is nothing "safe" about the assumption that ALL animal products are unethical. It's just a blanket generalization that discourages learning more about the subject.
Furthermore, because the agricultural system and all of the regulations support large-scale farming, small-scale family farms have to work within the system. (eg, http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2009-02-05/more-on-the-s...).
The trend is toward more factory farming, not less, since small scale farms are less profitable, often not covering costs. The difficulty of making small farms sustainable is generally attributed to the regulations, infrastructure, and economic realities increasingly favoring large scale factory farming.
If you doubt any of what I've said here, the USDA and others have plenty of reports available: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-r...
I don't know if you can empathize with an animals plight at the discomfort of repeated pregnancies, births, and forced separations from their offspring - or the even grimmer likely outcome of the calf itself, but for me this is not justified by own fleeting enjoyment of a slice of cheese that is completely not necessary for my physical well being.
These anthropomorphic arguments tend to be the result of emotional immaturity, something you find in small children.
Oh, the irony in this sentence!
It's anthropomorphic to think that dairy cows would choose to bear their immense suffering for the sake of the perpetuation of their species (EDIT: because they're not aware of such a concept; survival instinct is all about the individual being pain-averse in an immediate sense), and it's immature to resort to name-calling in an argument.
One hectare of outdoor range for every 2500 hens (equivalent to 4m^2 per hen; at least 2.5 m^2 per hen must be available at any one time if rotation of the outdoor range is practiced)
From the wikipedia page you linked. That's not too bad, is it?
But guess what. Well into the 90s percent of people don't do that. Probably high 90s percent. And they never could either, because as soon as they tried, you'd see it can't scale up. The only thing that can scale up is the rotten situation we currently have--the one that produces that 90s percentage of the eggs and milk (and meat, which you didn't mention, but it's likewise a parallel here for people who believe in "humane" meat).
He did mention that people who take good care of their chickens and cows during their whole life are a different story.
Some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_pr...
Another thing people find unethical about it are adding literally tons of needless antibiotics to the environment which can have human medical impact.
Depends on how you define "a lot". The vast majority of eggs and milk produced in the United States are not in any way ethically produced.
Obviously you appreciate the value of research. It's amazing that people will research the purchase of a new phone more than what they eat?
I truly loved the stuff, but I can't imagine getting it again. Due to the insane prices, it's likely to be heavily cut with regular beans. Worse, the limited number of beans that are real are likely to come from abused animals, which, no way. Locking them in cages and force feeding them beans not of their own choosing has clearly ruined both the creatures and the product.
One large cup of that and I needed an even bigger spatula, just to scrape myself off the ceiling.
I've heard this anecdotally, went ahead and searched , but I haven't found conclusive proof that cold brewing extracts more caffeine than normal brewing. I'd love to see someone measure the levels and write about it somewhere.
I suppose if you must try it, Animal Coffee claims that they do not farm civets. They also offer a stick of the "raw" coffee encased in Lucite, which I find a better novelty than mediocre coffee.
Don't be so hard on yourself.
Given that many animals have a superior sense of smell to humans, this hypothesis seems reasonable - civets could smell out the best coffee, and given the choice, who wouldn't want to eat the best?
If this is the case, then the whole mass-production/feeding-civits-in-cages is absolutely pointless, because it does away with the civets' selection process. Which might explain why some people describe their purchase as watery and bland.
This is true.
The other part of the explanation is that many people just don't appreciate the coffee that is anything different than what they are used too. Just watch someone from the US in Europe drinking an espresso, or the other way around. People have different opinions based on their personal habits, and saying it is "watered down" should mean nothing without context and references.
There was a marketing campaign earlier this year in Taiwan around the animal-cruelty-free process.
Kopi Luwak is - outside of novelty purposes - a ridiculous status symbol for rich idiots, like using ground-up, ineffective rhino horn to treat erectile disfunction.
That aside, modern experimental coffee processing techniques, varietal classifications, and terroir's effect on taste and quality is far more interesting and productive with regards to pushing the envelope for specialty coffee.
-Kurt Vonnegut to his brother Bernie, excerpted from Timequake
(Which is to say, I agree with your point, and just wanted an excuse to quote the most entertaining paraphrasing ever of 'to each his own')
I think it's cool to try to roast your own once or twice, but roasters cost a ton and cowboy coffee (roasting in an open pot over heat) produces a ton of smoke & chaff. Mostly it made me appreciate the skill involved in roasting :)
The big thing is to mind the temperature of the water (and use good water), making sure you're using freshly ground whole bean coffee, the amount of grinds vs water, and the quality/freshness of the coffee beans. There's a ton of good advice online, I hope you find something that works well for you (and that my humble advice is useful)!
Basically, it doesn't seem like this is a technical challenge. It's a social challenge.
The rest is just a branding a pricing exercise (along with roasting, which is also a well understood process). The whole trading process is not unlike trading Brent barrels and selling them through different oil companies and stations. Ask Nestlé.
Anyway, the coffee isn't anything great. Yet invariably many of the tourists around me were raving about it, I'm sure not in small part due to the focus on it and the high price it demands. It reminds me a lot of the phenomenon of shark fin soup in Asia -- the soup is mediocre at best, but because of its high price people (in my view) pretend to think it tastes incredible.
Markets that suddenly emerge often have strange consequences. The demand for quinoa and acai berries, for example, have had serious economic and environment effects in South America.
There's not too much that's unique about this case, other than product. Poor conditions for animals and exploitation appear to be the norm.
Like many other food-as-status-symbols. It's not about how good it is, but how rare and difficult to procure.
See for example red spinels vs rubies. These aren't food but they show the same dynamic at work. The most famous "rubies" in the world are actually red spinels, but because they aren't marketed heavily they are seen as second class gems.
A lot of people who probably are happily eating chicken getting incensed by another culture doing something the same to a slightly different creature.
his general page:
I don't think it's changed much in about 15 years
It's the coffee equivalent of Kobe Beef (which, if you've purchased in the United States, probably wasn't actually from the Tajima breed of Hyogo wagyu cattle in the Hyogo Prefecture)
I've bought one cup of it for U$5,00 and it's stupid. The coffee tastes wierd and seeing that animal in that cage was enought to make me leave the place with a felling that I was doing something really wrong paying for that coffee.
I try hard to never buy this or any other kind of super cool variants of cheap things. Especially if they are from a 3rd world country because ( I am from one ) I know that there is nothing in those countries with power enought to stop any wrong doing. In those places governement and agencies just don't care about animal safety, public health and so on.
I don't know which I find more disgustingly appalling -- that people are choosing to, paying very much to drink "pooped-bean coffee" -- or that the animals which play a crucial part of this process are so cruelly treated. But at least the latter can be compartmentalized with the inhumane conditions of our other food animals.
" I was the one who started it all ... I first read a description of kopi luwak buried in a short paragraph in a 1981 copy of National Geographic Magazine."
So... he didn't exactly start it. He just popularized it to the affluent western audience.
Certified civete coffee anyone?
"LoJack for luxury handbags" that would adapt radio tags for monitoring wild animals to the task. (Sans Civets.)
Buy good coffee (stumptown, PT's, tonx, among others) whole bean. Try to finish the beans within ~3-4 weeks of the roast date.
Grind it with a cheap $12-$15 whirly grinder from target. Make sure to use the ground coffee within ~15 minutes.
Put it in an aeropress or a french press, follow brewing directions. Usually 2-4 minutes for a french press, less for an aeropress.
If using an aeropress, add hot water to your coffee.
Huzzah! You are on your way to delicious coffee.
Adjust amount of coffee, brew time, and water temperature until you get it just right. Each bean & roast is different, and they will often adjust slightly seasonally. If the coffee is sour or weak, grind finer, use more coffee, or a longer brew time. If it is bitter or acidic, grind courser, use less coffee, or a shorter brew time.
Same as above, but use an aeropress & don't add water. It can be a challenge to get an amazing shot out of an aeropress, I will admit.
When you are hooked:
Spend money on a good espresso machine & grinder, go nuts.
I have not prepared Civet coffee, it may very well be /easier/ to attain that slightly sweet brew with Civet coffee. But given the downsides it is certainly not worth doing so. Buy two bags of coffee, plan on practicing on the first bag, you'll have a system down pat in no time.
The result will be somewhat bitter and acidic, varying according to the beans you use (assuming the brewing procedure is fixed). It's not like bitterness and acidity are generally considered bad attributes for coffee anyway. It's just that people like different degrees of it.
It sounds like you've gone down that same path, and if so, then I just have to assume we experience or describe flavors differently.
> I just have to assume we experience or describe flavors differently.
Yes, probably the latter.