Monday, June 23, 2008

Tea With a Heart, Part 1

Once upon a time, I thought the kosher laws represented the pinnacle of all things edible. As a young adult, "organic" became my new guiding light as it did for others who had previously thought "gourmet" was tops. In the new post-organic era, producers and consumers alike continue the struggle for that golden fleece, the latest and most potent food related buzz word catch phrase.

When I got hip to the shortcomings of Big Organic (see The Omnivore's Dilemma, especially the part about weeding with blowtorches), I was once again left searching. Fortunately, "local" then made it's debut, or rather the term was newly popularized for what is actually the oldest form of procuring food besides hunter-gathering. To this day it quite literally remains my bread and butter.

But sometimes I want a banana, and that's when I look to "fair trade," having finally realized that the lives of the people who grow my food are at least as important as that of the fruit. Now there's a sign up at the Diesel Cafe that says in big letters (and I paraphrase) "The Coffee You're Drinking Is Not Fair Trade... ...It's Direct Trade!"

As labor practices now enter our criteria for selecting food, the art of labeling marches forward, lead by people with good hearts and even better marketing directors. I'm normally deeply suspicious of marketing, but here I see its power to do good, as it takes a lot to make people forget all the other marketing that they've been pumped with over the past half century. Fortunately, many of us are now swayed by images of genuinely ethnic, smiling women over their cartoon predecessor, Miss Chiquita Banana.

Enter Tetulia, a Bengladeshi tea garden on the very cutting edge of how righteous something edible can be.

(photo courtesy of

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