Strong Coffee: Fair Trade and
Feminism in the World of Coffee
Film Review By Roger Landes
As with millions of Americans, my day begins with a large, piping
hot cup of coffee. No cream, no sugar. Or, on days when I wake up
late, I’ll throw in a couple of ice cubes so that I might slide it
down my gullet while running out the door. I tend to buy the
second-least-expensive bulk coffee I can find at the grocery store
and only in the most basic flavor available. Even in coffee shops I
usually just go with the most basic flavor, mainly for fear of
lacking some sort of lingo necessary to order without the baristas
rolling their eyes at me. In short, my coffee purchases have been
based upon the ease of the transaction and not having to think
about my choice whatsoever.
And that, I have learned, has been a mistake.
It’s not that I didn’t understand what organic food was. It implies
that the food was held to a higher standard of production and
quality. It also means it is more expensive. So my confusion was
not in what was organic, but why choose organic.
And here we find the most important message of Strong Coffee.
Coffee is second only to oil as a traded commodity, and is
primarily produced in Africa and South and Central America. The
average coffee farmer makes about $2 a day, while big business
brings in billions of dollars through imports and exports. The
documentary chronicles the creation and management of Café
Femenino, a coffee co-op that aims to redirect the balance of money
towards the farmers of the actual coffee.
For over 40 years, Isabel Latorre and her husband Victor Rojas have
been working to aid female coffee farmers in Peru who were being
abused by a chauvinistic society and economy. Abuse of women was
climbing to the rate of 70%, and a machismo attitude kept women
from having an education or being able to make any real money.
Latorre began educating the female farmers to improve their
production to organic standards. She got into contact with Garth
Smith, an organic coffee importer from Washington. With the help of
his wife Gaylene, they started Café Femenino, made up of
exclusively female farmers and administrators. At the heart of the
group were two ideals: fair trade and feminism.
Café Femenino demonstrates all of the best aspects of both of these
concepts. The farmers must meet strict criteria to be classified as
organic, which sells at a much higher price on the international
market. In order to make sure that these proceeds are indeed coming
from the women farmers, the farm land that the farming is occurring
must be owned by a woman. This helps restructure the family
economic model; by bringing in more capital, the women have more
pull within the family structure. Also, the roasters must to sell
the beans with 2% of profits must be donated to women’s crisis
centers. The film shows several different locations in Washington
where women’s shelters have been sustained solely because of the
sale of Café Femenino coffee in their area.
The film displays the painstaking process that these women go
through in order to provide for their families, as well as showing
the incredible benefits of their hard work. The film also shows the
dedication of the administrators and the roasters have for
supplying great coffee to the public, while still holding the
integrity of the company. And this is where the message truly
resonated for me. I find the commitment to making a better life for
people, and the sacrifices made to be very moving.
Why organic? I don’t know. Maybe because going to Stauf’s and
buying Café Femenino instead of Folgers isn’t really that much of a
sacrifice for me to make. And neither is paying the extra coin. But
the result can be tremendous.