Here’s the thing. As American consumers, we are used to people catering to us. Sometimes we forget — or, in my case, don’t really know — how our products get to us. We don’t know, or maybe don’t care, that some of the workers on these farms are, literally, modern-day slaves. Or that the divers in Nicaragua dive without proper equipment and suffer horrible physical pain to track down the lobsters we crave in too large a number. Or that the concentrate in our apple juice may come from 7 or 8 countries, some of which have outdated controls or no bans on chemicals we know are harmful. Or that if somehow the farm workers could get an extra half-cent per bag of coffee*, they could afford to feed and educate their families. Or that the chocolate spa in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has mysterious “codes” that prohibit men from indulging in chocolate baths.
Admittedly, some of these injustices are more tragic than others.
If you’re familiar with my pseudo book reviews, you’ll know I write about one thing that really stuck with me rather than summarize the plot or writing style. I won’t disappoint you today. Kelsey Timmerman (who happens to be a friend of mine, I say with pride, like that will make me look more important) is a natural storyteller. He manages to interject statistics and facts — objective information — in between stories that are so funny I had to read them out loud to my family, and observations so poignant and compassionate and hopeful that I had to stay near a box of Kleenex.
Where Am I Eating? is so good. You need to read it, even if — at first glance — you’re not sure the topic is one that interests you. Because it will. Because we all eat. And because Kelsey has two beautiful children to support with his book sales and speaking engagements. But mainly because it’s just such a good book. It’s hard to pick just one thing to tell you. But I will, because that’s how I roll.
Near the end of chapter 2 (“The Grande Gringo Picks Coffee”), Kelsey is handed a coffee tree seedling to plant. And what he wrote about that moved me — maybe because I’d had the same thought, last year, as my sister and I visited the farmland we had recently inherited when my mom passed away. To me, it’s the perfect definition of hope. But since I didn’t actually put my experience into words, I’ll repeat his.
I stop at my plant on the way back and pull out my water bottle. I kneel down and pour half of it onto the waxy leaves that wave under the deluge. I take a moment to think about this plant and the people who will tend it. My thoughts turn into something more, something I don’t regularly do; I pray. Maybe it was the view, or the having survived this experience. There just seems to be something miraculous about putting a plant in the ground in a place like this and having faith that it will survive and thrive, and will, in turn, allow Felipe and his family to survive and thrive. Every farmer has to believe in a higher power.
It’s a novelty to think that someday you or I might drink coffee produced from my plant. It’s humbling to know that rain or shine, Felipe tends his plants on these slopes, just like his grandfather’s grandfather did, producing a product that we take for granted each morning. Coffee isn’t a right. It’s a livelihood and an Internet connection.
Their work is coffee — and their lives are each other.
Whether we know it or not, our lives are intertwined with theirs. We need to remember these people, understand their lives and sacrifices, and be intentional about choices and decisions we make that can affect them. Starting early in the morning, with your first cup of coffee.Read about Kelsey’s travels (and his other book, Where Am I Wearing?) here , or order your own copy today on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or others.
*I don’t always remember things accurately, and I’m too impatient to search for it in the book again, but it was an extra half-cent for something. Maybe not per bag. Maybe per bushel. Or maybe it was bananas instead of coffee. But you get the idea.