Do You Believe Coffee Has Health Benefits?

Short answer: yes. Explanations and caveats follow.

Coffee cherries that I harvested in January on the onetime coffee farm that we are rehabilitating. I am biased enough to enjoy the process of picking coffee, washing it and preparing it for planting.

I believe coffee has health benefits. Do I have them memorized? No. Do I fully understand the ones I can recall? No. But even with changing scientific findings over the years (e.g. findings from decades ago about coffee’s negative health effects were confounded by the fact that smoking and drinking coffee were highly correlated in study participants) I am inclined to listen to and trust findings from credentialed scientists.

A friend sent me the above video a couple of days ago, asking if I believe the contents. I just watched it. In six minutes a medical expert delivers more scientific findings than I could possibly digest. Upon first listening I am inclined to believe that coffee is better for me, in ways I had not been aware of, than I had previously considered.

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During the early days of the pandemic, staying in isolation, I experimented with hot-brewed and cold-brewed coffee trying to come up with a new way to enjoy it that would also boost my immune system

That said, I am also willing to believe that for every finding of the health benefits, there could be findings of health penalties that I simply have not come across. Or maybe I have willfully avoided coming across them.

I am inclined to bias on this topic for at least two reasons. First, because I enjoy drinking coffee as much or more than the average person. Stated less politely, I might be a coffee junkie. And related to that, maybe because of that, my primary entrepreneurial activity now is selling coffee. I try to keep my enthusiasm in check, and rarely reference the health benefits of coffee unless I feel I truly understand the scientific findings.

Gracia Lam

Just after watching the video my friend sent, I came across this, so will make a rare exception and recommend both these summaries of information about coffee’s health benefits. Jane Brody, the Personal Health columnist for the New York Times since 1976, recently reviewed decades of scientific findings, including plenty of overlap with the medical expert in the video above, and with this quick read you can judge for yourself:

Americans sure love their coffee. Even last spring when the pandemic shut down New York, nearly every neighborhood shop that sold takeout coffee managed to stay open, and I was amazed at how many people ventured forth to start their stay-at-home days with a favorite store-made brew. Continue reading

Year 10, Day 1

As we start another decade of posting here I will share two photos. The one above shows the outer layer of sugar cane that sheds, on the ground to the left of the stalk of cane that was planted about 18 months ago. The photo below shows the height of the cane today.

I posted this view six months ago, where you can see how green the leaves were in the drier summer time versus the rainy season we are in now. I will harvest these stalks to plant more sugar cane, rather than to produce sugar, and once the ground is prepared for that planting I will illustrate here how it is done.

Year 9, Day 365

Seth’s photo of the view from the hill at Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua

Today marks ten years since the first post on this platform. Seth’s description of a crab-eating little possum wandering by as he was reading, and a sloth-sighting together with two people visiting Nicaragua from the USA, reads like an entry in a travelogue. A later post about boarding down a volcano was the most viewed post of the first year.

Seth sandboarding down Volcán Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

A man named Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru, was on a hunger strike to protest corruption when Michael, a senior at Amherst College, landed in India to begin an internship

Michael’s first post likewise starts as a travelogue, but veers into different territory as he reads the news about two men who are sacrificing comfort, and even life, for causes they believe in. The post goes on to identify drinking water as a cause worthy of the reader’s attention. Over the course of his time with us in India he wrote some of my personal favorites. He helped me better understand that the value of the internships we offered were as much about personal growth as about work experience.

Within a few years, permits could be issued for commercial miners hoping to harvest the submerged wealth of the sea. Illustration by Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants

A decade was set in motion. This is our 10,286th post. Whatever meaning might be drawn from statistics, such as 827,462 views of our posts as of this writing, I find reasons to continue what those two started. Every day a bird is featured, thanks to Amie’s network of bird photographers. And every day I scan the news to share something enlightening, or I jot a note about a new idea we are trying out, always related to causes we care about. Today, on this rounding out of a decade, I mark the occasion by sharing the latest publication of a writer whose work rarely makes me happy but who I nonetheless link to often as a head-out-of-the-sand gesture:

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.

June 14, 2021

The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, in a building that looks a bit like a prison and a bit like a Holiday Inn. The I.S.A., which has been described as “chronically overlooked” and is so obscure that even many Jamaicans don’t know it exists, has jurisdiction over roughly half the globe. Continue reading

In A Matchup Of Idolatry Versus Science, Science Must Win, But Idolatry Has Its Place

I posted about Peter Wohlleben twice before in these pages, both in 2016 when his previous (16th!) book was published. It would appear from both of my posts that year, and others, that I idolize trees in a way consistent with that author’s views; but plenty posts also demonstrate that for me, science is the master. Questionable science, and the very questioning of science as a worthy practice, have been divisive issues in some quarters recently, so the review below has my full attention.

That said, portions of the reviewer’s description of the author’s most recent book, and of the author himself, could easily apply to the best naturalist guides in Costa Rica, who bring the rainforest and other ecosystems alive for visitors. Interpretive guiding frequently changes perspectives, sometimes changes lives, and at best can lead to greater support for conservation. So, I am warily sympathetic to the concessions that Peter Wohlleben has made in talking about and writing about trees and forests:

The German Forester Who Wants the World to Idolize Trees

Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees” became an unlikely best-seller, and now has a sequel. Does it matter if the books are full of questionable science? Continue reading

Coffee Bags On Their Second Shift

Seedlings from arabica coffee beans collected from the remaining trees on a onetime coffee farm in Escazu, Costa Rica that Organikos is regenerating as bird habitat

After the 2020 coffee did not germinate, I did my homework to ensure we would have more success in 2021. A funny thing happened on the way to germination…

From the time we started packing coffee samples two years ago, well prior to the Authentica shops opening until now, I have been saving every Organikos coffee bag we use in our home, and collecting them from friends as well. I did not know what I would do with them, until it finally occurred to me to take a hole puncher and see if I could replicate the drainage of a typical agricultural planter bag (like the black ones in the photo below). With the bag folded and 7 well-placed punches, 26 holes result.  This year we have close to 300 coffee seedlings, which I am now transplanting into the larger bags for the next phase of their growth.

Kraft bags chosen to reduce plastic waste from more conventional coffee bags are convertible for re-use in planting trees–shown here as we move coffee seedlings to “second shift” planter bags

I will write more on how this will work, so stay tuned; Organikos bags will do double duty as tree planters. Households in the USA can use the bag this way for their own plantings, but we will offer an incentive for those who prefer to leave the planting to others. We have reached agreement with a forest regeneration organization in Costa Rica that every bag like this that we can provide them, they will use for seedlings. There is a low carbon footprint option for how to get these bags from USA households back to Costa Rica for this purpose, and when we have it in place you will hear it here first.

Planting Trees & Second Thoughts

Way back when, the idea of planting a million trees was set in motion. I missed this Economist film and article at that time, but while pursuing planting I have seen other related concerns, each of which is worthy of consideration (as we continue planting):

The Story Behind
Climate change: the trouble with trees

Why tree planting is not the panacea some had hoped

Here you will find some of the resources used in the production of The Economist’s film “Climate change: the trouble with trees” along with exclusive additional material. It is part of the “The Story Behind”, a film series that reveals the processes that shape our video journalism. Continue reading

Milkweed, Monarchs & Meaning

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant in Vista, Calif. Gregory Bull

We feature monarch butterflies in our pages to highlight conservation challenges, and milkweed is often part of the story. Claire Fahy’s story below reminds me that the link between the insect and the plant, and the effort in California to repair that link, is one example of why we created, and why I continue to post on, this platform. A short statement of purpose might be something like: in hope there is meaning. June 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of the first post, and I intend to start the next decade with a more regular series on our regeneration efforts on a few acres of land here in Costa Rica. Because it provides a sense of meaning, among other reasons. So we thank those in California who are doing the same on a 200x scale:

A coalition of conservation groups have partnered with the state to add 30,000 milkweed plants in an attempt to restore the species’ population.

A consortium hoping to rescue the Western monarch butterfly is planting three varieties of milkweed: showy milkweed, narrowleaf milkweed and a desert milkweed. Rob Cardillo for The New York Times

Known for their windowpane wing design and bright orange color, Western monarch butterflies add a dash of magic to the California coast, where they spend the winter. Now a coalition of conservation groups, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the environmentalist organization River Partners are working together to extend a lifeline to the monarchs, whose population has been dwindling drastically.

The groups have embarked on an effort to add 30,000 milkweed plants across the state to provide the butterflies with places to breed and acquire the sustenance for migration.

The Western monarchs’ California population has fallen 99 percent since the 1980s, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. A major factor in that drop has been a decline in milkweed caused by farming and pesticide use. Milkweed is vital to monarchs as a place to lay eggs and as a food source for their caterpillars. Continue reading

Ants, Food Raids & Evolution

Image #1 Army Ants reproduced with permission from “Army Ants: Nature’s Ultimate Social Hunters” by Daniel J.C. Kronauer; Image #5 painted clonal raider ants photograph by Daniel Kronauer. Credit: #1: Daniel J.C. Kronauer, #5: Daniel Kronauer

It is rainy season, therefore the season for starting the growth cycle of some plants, in Costa Rica. It is always ant season here. Some of the trees we planted last year, mostly citrus varieties but also pomegranate, have become feasting locations for ants who devour their leaves and haul them off.

My assumption, seeing this constantly during the 25 years since we moved to Costa Rica, has always been that ants are primarily vegetarians So, today a bit of ant-wonk from a team of scientists at Harvard University, summarized on Phys.org’s website, to correct my assumption (the video alone is worth visiting the source article):

How army ants’ iconic mass raids evolved

Army ants form some of the largest insect societies on the planet. They are quite famous in popular culture, most notably from a terrifying scene in Indiana Jones. But they are also ecologically important. They live in very large colonies and consume large amounts of arthropods. And because they eat so much of the other animals around them, they are nomadic and must keep moving in order to not run out of food. Due to their nomadic nature and mass consumption of food, they have a huge impact on arthropod populations throughout tropical rainforests floors. Continue reading

Blooming Where We Are Planted

Ietef “DJ Cavem Moetavation” Vita plants seeds with daughter Libya LeaDonvita in the garden at their home outside Denver. Vita is among a growing list of Black gardening enthusiasts-turned-entrepreneurs across the country who’ve launched seed businesses during the pandemic-inspired gardening boom. Rachel Woolf for KHN

Urban farming was an early and has been a frequent topic on this platform, and we have covered it from multiple angles and elevations. In the last year we have focused on a few acres of urbanized land to regenerate bird habitat. So when I scan daily for a story to share, this has been a top-of-mind topic for years. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for another:

Black Entrepreneurs Sow Seeds Of Healthier Eating During Pandemic Gardening Boom

Vita, a vegan rapper, wants to encourage people of color to eat healthier by growing their own vegetables. He sells his own line of kale, beet and arugula seeds. Rachel Woolf for KHN

Ietef Vita had planned to spend most of 2020 on the road, promoting Biomimicz, the album he had released on his #plantbasedrecords label in January. But the pandemic cut those plans short, says Vita, known to his fans as “DJ Cavem Moetavation” and “Chef Ietef.”

He was playing in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 29, and “literally got out of town right before they shut the whole country down,” recalls the 34-year-old vegan rapper, who has performed for the Obamas and is known as the father of eco-hip-hop. “It was scary.”

Suddenly sidelined at his metro Denver home with his wife, Alkemia Earth, a plant-based lifestyle coach, and three daughters, Vita struggled to pivot. Eventually, he accepted that he would need to stay put and, as the saying goes, bloom where he was planted.

Vita has mailed out more than 20,000 packets of his kale, beet and arugula seeds to urban farmers across the country. Rachel Woolf for KHN

He and his wife launched an impromptu campaign: mailing out thousands of the more than 42,000 packets of kale, beets and arugula seeds that he’d planned to sell at his shows, all emblazoned with his likeness and the QR code to hear his digital album. Continue reading

Northstar Unplugged Podcast

For all the reasons podcasting has proliferated as a medium, I am a podjunkie. And I am subject to algorithmic wonders, one of which was a recommendation of this episode of this podcast in my podcatcher. I listened from start to finish and then listened to more episodes. Anyone who regularly reads from our pages here would enjoy any of those episodes, so I am paying forward with this post.

As it happens, the host of the podcast was a student in a course I taught a dozen years ago, so the algorithm may be demystified slightly by that fact. What remains totally mysterious to me is this episode.

One Culture’s Delicacy Is Another’s Punchline

Having had more than my fair share of delicacies that I did not find appetizing, the concept of this museum is not lost on me. I can laugh, even when the humor is problematic. But of all the museums in all the towns in all the world,  I doubt I will visit this one. After yesterday’s post, this article by Jiayang Fan seems particularly well-timed:

The Gatekeepers Who Get to Decide What Food Is “Disgusting”

At the Disgusting Food Museum, in Sweden, where visitors are served dishes such as fermented shark and stinky tofu, I felt both like a tourist and like one of the exhibits.

In the spring of 2019, Arthur De Meyer, a twenty-nine-year-old Belgian journalist, toured the Disgusting Food Museum, in Malmö, Sweden. As with the Museum of Sex, in New York City, and the Museum of Ice Cream, in San Francisco, the Disgusting Food Museum is conceptually closer to an amusement park than to a museum. There are eighty-five culinary horrors on display—ordinary fare and delicacies from thirty countries—and each tour concludes with a taste test of a dozen items. De Meyer, the son of a cookbook author and a food photographer, told me that he’d always been an adventurous eater. As a reporter, he also prided himself on his ability to maintain his composure. “But the taste test was war,” he said. “The kind where you’re defenseless, because the bombs are going off invisibly, inside of you.” Continue reading

Respect For Insects In Human Food

The old joke that begins “waiter, there is a fly in my soup” was already stale. Now it is long past its sell-by date. We have been selling this protein bar, made in Costa Rica, for long enough now to say without reservation: insects are not repellant. These bars compete alongside dozens of other snack products we offer, and have become a surprise best-seller.

I had expected occasional curiosity-driven sales, but instead they have outsold more established protein bar brands and other snack options. Insects have already earned more respect as a food source than I had imagined. Thanks to the Guardian for this partial explanation of the phenomenon, and its potential:

A bug’s life: inspecting the produce at Ÿnsect’s lab. Photograph: Reuters

If we want to save the planet, the future of food is insects

Fried crickets on the school menu, milk made from fly larvae and mealworm bolognese for dinner? These are the environmentally friendly meals we can look forward to. Bon appetit!

My first attempts at feeding insects to friends and family did not go down well. “What the hell is wrong with you?” asked my wife when I revealed that the tomato and oregano-flavoured cracker bites we had been munching with our G&Ts were made from crickets. Continue reading

Celebrating Urban Birds, Uptown Story

A mama hawk in West Harlem. No big deal. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Yesterday was Global Big Day, an annual birding event that we have participated in each year since we became aware of it. We became aware when Seth began working with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative, which was also when I started paying more attention to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s important work in citizen science. We have been featuring that work in these pages ever since, including non-bird citizen science. This story from uptown New York City gives a fresh perspective on a citizen non-scientist celebrating urban birds:

He Wasn’t a Bird Person. Then a Hawk Built a Nest on His Fire Escape.

Life, death, renewal and social media ensued.

Alba, at 2 weeks old. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Michael Palma Mir’s first encounter with the hawk was not auspicious. Around the first of March, he noticed it outside his West Harlem apartment.

In his 57 years living there, Mr. Palma Mir had never seen anything like this beautiful bird, a killer. He grabbed his camera and stuck his head out the window for a better shot.

The next thing he knew, it was right there. “It was three feet away from me and coming in real fast,” he said. “All I saw were the talons coming right at my head.” He yanked his head back inside and slammed the window, never expecting to see the bird again.

He was wrong. Continue reading

Trees Are Social Creatures

When I first read about trees as social creatures five years ago it was thanks to a man in Germany. I am happy now to learn that a woman in Canada is at least as responsible for this concept as anyone else. She is promoting her book currently and there are at least three good ways to get a glimpse into it, and her, including this book review, this audio interview and IndieBound’s description:

Description

From the world’s leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest–a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. Continue reading

Fungi In Another Light

Starting with Milo’s 2011 and 2012 posts, our attention to the wide-ranging topics related to fungi have been in the spirit of public service announcement. Scientific sometimes overlaps with culinary interest, and that intersection has motivated more than one post. Today, having noticed that this coffee-brewer on my desk looks inspired by the Pleurotus that just appeared on my screen, the motivation is aesthetic. Thanks to Helen Rosner, whose sense of wonder has pointed me to a publication that is likely already known by our fungi-focused friends, and well suited to broaden the appeal:

The Mushroom as Muse

A zine by the photographer Phyllis Ma presents fungi in all their alien glory.

Hortiboletus rubellus.

John Cage, the avant-garde composer, was also a passionate mushroom forager. In his 1954 essay “Music Lovers’ Field Companion,” he wrote about his habit of going into the woods and “conducting performances of my silent piece”—his most famous work, “4’33”,” in which ambient sounds are the only music—while attempting to identify nearby fungi. “The more you know them, the less sure you feel about identifying them,” Cage said, almost three decades later, in a conversation with the French musician Daniel Charles.

Cordyceps militaris.

“Each one is itself. Each mushroom is what it is—its own center. It’s useless to pretend to know mushrooms. They escape your erudition.” I thought of Cage’s comments while paging through the third and most recent volume of “Mushrooms & Friends,” a photography zine by the artist Phyllis Ma. It is a mostly wordless publication, filled with Ma’s saturated, otherworldly images of mushrooms, many of which she gathers on foraging expeditions through the same upstate New York woods that enraptured Cage more than a half century ago.

Continue reading

Moonshot To Meatless

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Last month I learned enough from Ezra Klein’s food-related conversation with Mark Bittman to share the podcast episode. I listen to his podcast for the quality of his discussions with knowledgeable guests. But he is also a great essayist and yesterday he published an op-ed essay that is worth a read on a topic we have linked to many times:

Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat

It wouldn’t actually take that much of an investment for Biden to get us headed in the right direction.

I’m a vegan, but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon. That said, we can’t just wish away the risks of industrial animal agriculture. If we don’t end this system, soon, terrible things will happen to us and to the planet. Terrible things are already happening. Continue reading

Belize Maya Forest, Mission Accomplished

The Belize Maya Forest is home to five species of wild cat, including endangered ocelots. Photograph: Sergi Reboredo/Sipa USA/PA

The photo above, from the news story below, is similar not only to guest photos I saw but of sightings too quick to catch well on my on phone camera in 2016 and 2017. During that period, when we were under contract to oversee the management transition at Chan Chich Lodge, wilderness conservation was our primary motivation. In addition to the animal wildlife, the forest was habitat for other forms of life that have had a lasting impact on me. When we started offering ojoche in our shops in Costa Rica, I was able to check off one more item on a long to-do list that came from the time in Belize.

The last felled trees in Belize Maya Forest. Photograph: Handout

The idea for organizing a group of investors to accomplish this protection was more than well-formed. Names were attached to the idea already, and it was easy to imagine then that they were the right names; it just took more time than I expected for it to get accomplished. Now that it is, if anything this news understates the wow factor:

Conservation organisations purchase 950 sq km biodiversity hotspot, helping to secure a vital wildlife corridor

“These logs are historic,” says Elma Kay, standing in Belize Maya Forest, where she has been doing an inventory of felled trees. “These are the last logs that were cut here, for mahogany and other hardwoods, left behind by the previous logging company.” Continue reading

Cryptocurrency, Carbon & Culpability

According to one source, a single bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power that the average American household consumes in a month. Photograph by Akos Stiller / Bloomberg / Getty

In my attempt to reduce my own carbon footprint, diet has been the low-hanging fruit I reached for first. But other parts of daily routine have also allowed painless reductions. I remain culpable on too many fronts, and had hoped for an explanation of the environmental issues around cryptocurrency that I could understand; Elizabeth Kolbert is the perfect person to provide it:

Why Bitcoin Is Bad for the Environment

Cryptocurrency mining uses huge amounts of power—and can be as destructive as the real thing.

Money, it’s often said, is a shared fiction. I give you a slip of paper or, more likely these days, a piece of plastic. You hand me eggs or butter or a White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino, and we both walk away satisfied. With cryptocurrency, the arrangement is more like a shared metafiction, and the instability of the genre is, presumably, part of the thrill. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that was created as a spoof, has risen in value by eight thousand per cent since January, owing to a combination of GameStop-style pumping and boosterish tweets from Elon Musk. On Tuesday, which backers proclaimed DogeDay, the cryptocurrency was valued at more than fifty billion dollars, which is more than the market cap of Ford. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public last Wednesday; almost immediately, it became worth more than G.M. Continue reading

The Say-It-Out-Loud School Of Conservation

Frank Siebert wanted his Penobscot dictionary to capture how he believed the language was supposed to be spoken. Illustration by Laura Lannes

When we link to stories about efforts to conserve intangible heritage, especially those related to indigenous culture, we feel fortunate to have found them. Those that detail the complexities are rare. Today is my lucky day. Alice Gregory, who has appeared in our pages twice previously, is to thank. The time I first read anything by her I was in a bamboo and thatch structure in northwest Belize awaiting a major hurricane whose path I was in. I had nowhere to go. The distraction I found in her subject, combined with her wordcraft, kept the fear of total destruction at bay. If you are looking for something like that right now, try this:

How Did a Self-Taught Linguist Come to Own an Indigenous Language?

The Penobscot language was spoken by almost no one when Frank Siebert set about trying to preserve it. The people of Indian Island are still reckoning with his legacy.

When I first met Carol Dana, in the spring of 2018, she told me that she was thinking of getting a parrot. Dana, a member of the Penobscot Nation, one of five hundred and seventy-four Native American tribes recognized by the United States federal government, was attending a small ceremony at the University of Maine’s anthropology museum. She wore her silver hair pulled back from her face, and introduced herself to me as the tribe’s language master, a title, she added, that she wasn’t fully comfortable with. The idea of mastery seemed an imprecise way to describe the fraught relationship she had with the Penobscot words inside her head. Though not fluent, Dana has a better grasp of the language than anyone else on Indian Island, where six hundred of the world’s estimated twenty-four hundred members of the Penobscot tribe live. She admitted to being linguistically lonely. “I’ve been talking to myself in Penobscot for years,” she said. “You need to say it out loud, so your own ears can hear it.” Though she knew that a bird wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation, she thought that simply hearing Penobscot words spoken at home by another living creature would be better than nothing. Continue reading

Blue Bugs Signal Approval

We are having an early change of seasons in Costa Rica, where in the Central Valley the rains do not normally begin until May. In the last week we have had rain several times, which is unusual for April, but would be quite normal in the first half of May.

During the dry season I let patches of green grow without cutting, as a way to see where there may be subterranean water that will be useful in the future for irrigation.

In one such location some grasses grew that resembled bamboo, and once I started moving them recently dozens–maybe hundreds–of these blue bugs started fluttering about.

At the intersection of my sweatshirt and glove one settled long enough for me to get a good look, but I have no recollection of ever having seen this type before. Part of our purpose of the replanting we are doing has been increasing biodiversity on this little bit of mountain terrain, and today I got a buggy blue signal of approval.