Why boycott Kopi Luwak?

Kopi Luwak is one of the world’s most expensive coffee; one cup can cost about 80USD (109SGD). But what is Kopi Luwak? Simply put, it is coffee made from coffee beans that have been through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (Luwak in Indonesian).

Brief process of making of Kopi Luwak

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Image from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/

Kopi Luwak was rumoured to originate in the 18th century in Indonesia, which was still under the Dutch colonial rule. At that time, the natives toiling in the coffee industry were not allowed to taste any of the coffee that they have been working to produce.  At the same time, they observed that the wild civets also ate coffee cherries, leaving undigested coffee beans in their excretions. Thus, the farmers collected these seeds, cleaned and roasted them to make their own brew of coffee.

Later, the Dutch discovered this special brew of coffee, and they found that it tasted better than what they had. It is said to be because civets only chose the ripest cherries, so coffee beans found in their faeces are uniformly of the best quality. In addition, the fermentation process and natural enzymes in the civet’s intestines break down some of the proteins in coffee beans. This results in coffee that is more aromatic, less bitter, and smoother (less acidic). Even so, the question of whether it indeed tastes better than other gourmet coffee yields varying opinions. While some say it tastes better, more feel no difference, or even say that it is worse, because it is bland (due to its lower acidity) and does not taste as complex.

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Image from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/

Nevertheless, the popularity of Kopi Luwak grew rapidly, with many wanting to have a taste of this exotic (and expensive) beverage. Yet, it is difficult to find the faeces of the civets in the wild; only about 250-500kg of wild Kopi Luwak beans are produced each year, nowhere near enough for this industry to be commercially viable. As a result, farmers started to cage the civets for their precious droppings, without considering their welfare.

In the worst cases, some farm owners crammed the civets in tiny cages and exclusively fed them coffee cherries. However, wild civets are solitary, territorial animals. When forced so close to each other, especially in such poor living conditions and only allowed a limited diet, gory outcomes result: they fight with each other, chew away their own limbs, start passing blood in their faeces, and eventually die. With only coffee cherries provided to them, eating them is no longer a choice, it is their only option. Essentially, the high quality associated with Kopi Luwak is eroded. To make things worse, these civet farms even became tourist attractions, where many would come to the coffee plantation to see the civets, then enjoy a cup of Kopi Luwak.

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Image by Ulet Ifansasti, Getty Images

After so many years, what propels this industry is the high demand for Kopi Luwak. From a commercial product, it had grown to become a tourist attraction, where tourists are invited to view the captured civets, processing of coffee beans, then have a cup of Kopi Luwak. Apart from the ethicality of this practice, the authenticity of the coffee sold is also questionable. Coffee labelled Kopi Luwak may not have been anywhere close to a civet, or only contains a small percentage of the real deal, but are sold at exorbitant prices (compared to normal coffee). While it may seem fine to drink authentic coffee beans obtained from wild civets, this perception is wrong. There are no certification schemes and it is simply impossible to determine the source of coffee. If the demand does not die down, the conditions of these civets will only get worse.

Now, there is only one effective way to protect these civets: stop drinking Kopi Luwat completely.

By Shenny Goh

References

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world! (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wisotzky, M. (2017, August 1). Kopi Luwak anyone? It’s just $80 a cup. Retrieved from https://coffeewithoutlimits.com/kopi-luwak-anyone-just-80-cup/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Animal Coffee (n.d.). The History of Kopi Luwak. Retrieved from http://coffeeroastersdirect.com/the-history-of-kopi-luwak/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Kolbu, C. (2015, April 22). What Kopi Luwak is and why you should avoid it. Retrieved from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wild, T. (2013, September 13). Civet coffee: Why it’s time to cut the crap. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/13/civet-coffee-cut-the-crap (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Bale, R. (2016, April 29). The Disturbing Secret Behind the World’s Most Expensive Coffee. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160429-kopi-luwak-captive-civet-coffee-Indonesia/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

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Reusable straws: It’s time to walk the walk

Do you see those colourful pieces “decorations” on the beach? Do you notice that smell wafting from the HDB garbage chute that doesn’t smell quite like dinner?

Almost 7 million tonnes of solid waste is produced is Singapore every year and only a meagre 6% is being recycled. While Singapore does have well-developed waste treatment, trash can still be found polluting our natural environment and residential areas.

That, is the result of improper waste disposal.

It is easy to say that we can solve this problem by urging waste disposal companies to be more mindful in transporting waste, or by punishing litterbugs to deter such behaviours. However, these strategies can never reduce the amount of waste we’re generating.

As consumers, we play a pivotal role in environmental protection.

It has always been a challenge to start a green movement in Singapore. While other Asian countries are actively advocating practices like phasing out Styrofoam containers, charging for disposable plastic bags and improving recycling efforts, Singapore’s progress in green consumerism remained stagnant.

The situation seems to have improved with the increasing hype over reusable straws.

 

Images from: https://www.lazada.sg/ and https://www.seastainable.co/

I bet many of you own one of these straws which can be made of metal, glass or bamboo. They come in different colours, textures and even sizes, catering to Singaporean’s demand of 2.2 million plastic straws a day. But are we really using them because we are aware of the positive impact this habit can bring, or did we just order a set of straws because it’s the newest trend?

Ask any sustainable living advocate and they will tell you that in order to make a difference, you need your reusable items in one hand and commitment in another.

Many critics question the true practicality of reusable items, and one common issue identified is the inevitable generation of carbon footprint in the production of reusable products. According to an article on Asia One, a reusable bag needs to be used for more than 100 times before it can offset whatever degradation the production of this bag done to the environment.

This shows that in order to truly make a difference, one must be persistent about this change instead of abandoning this habit once the trend dies down.

Lauren Singer, an environmental activist, mentioned in a video with Vox that consumers should not be the only ones responsible for reducing the piles of trash we have accumulated; the producers should be made accountable for the disposal of their products as well. She mentioned that once corporations start bearing the responsibilities of excessive waste generation, they would be compelled to adopt more eco-friendly business strategies.

Fortunately, many corporations are on board with the new plastic straw free movement. KFC, Starbucks and some food courts around Singapore have stopped providing plastic straws at the counter and this encourages patrons to purchase a reusable straw or simply stop using a straw. This joint effort between businesses and consumers have greatly reshaped Singapore’s image when it comes to environmental consciousness, and I believe the growing popularity of Seastainable metal straw plays a great part in this movement.

It is heartening to see that young people, often stereotyped as stubborn and indifferent, are the ones leading this straw-free movement, drawing from their social influence to make a difference for the environment.

Think of the view of Singapore’s polluted coastline, the stench coming from the ground floor of your HDB blocks and remember why you got on board with this straw-free movement. One day, we will all look back and be glad that we are free from these eyesores.

 

Written by: Andrea Law

 

References:

Ong, L. (2018). Metal straws and reusable bags may not be as eco-friendly as you think. Retrieved from http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/metal-straws-and-reusable-bags-may-not-be-eco-friendly-you-think

Koh, H. (2018). 80% of Singapore consumers ready to ditch plastic straws. Retrieved from https://www.eco-business.com/news/80-of-singapore-consumers-ready-to-ditch-plastic-straws/

Chan, M. (2018). This S’porean Wants To Save Our Oceans With Her Metal Straws – Sold 3,500 Sets In Just 6 Months. Retrieved from https://vulcanpost.com/642438/seastainable-metal-straws-singapore/

NG, C. (2018). All 84 KFC outlets to stop providing plastic straws and lids for drinks. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/all-84-kfc-outlets-to-stop-providing-plastic-straws-and-using-plastic-caps-for-drinks

Langone, A. (2018). http://time.com. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/5333715/starbucks-hyatt-ban-plastic-straws/

Going vegetarian for the environment

Personally, I’m an omnivore and my only concern for food is how good it tastes. Although I have always heard about how environmentally damaging eating meat is, I never put much thought into the situation. This led me to picking up this topic to learn more about the nitty gritty of meat production. It turns out the problem was worse than I expected. My steak probably didn’t come from a cow who frolicked in the clovers. It was probably confined in small cages and rested on a cold, hard cement floor. Similarly, my chicken was probably confined into small cages known as battery cages.

Such is the reality for the meat we eat. In fact, the majority of meat we eat comes from animals bred and confined in a place called an AFO (Animal Feeding Operation) (Worldwatch Institute, n.d.). According to American standards, AFOs are facilities where animals are confined and fed for at least 45 days in any 12-month period, and their feed is delivered from outside to the mouths of the animals (EPA, n.d.). AFO’s elder brother, Concentrated AFO (CAFO), has an additional criterion of having at least 450,000 kg worth of livestock in it (USDA, n.d.).

1.pngAs they say, a picture speaks a thousand words… or cows

(Picture taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sustainabletable/2950338558/in/photostream/)

Squeezing so many animals into tight conditions is not only unethical, but also poses serious environmental problems. At such high densities, the resulting quantities of manure (aka poop) can range from 3 to 20 times that of human waste produced in America (Hribar, 2010). In addition, CAFO owners typically add monstrous amounts of water to the manure before placing them in a pool. In this manure lagoon, bacteria guzzle on the nutritious meal and generate huge amounts of gas; greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxides as well as foul smelling ones like hydrogen sulfide (with a rotten egg smell) and other Volatile Fatty Acids (with a manure smell). 1 kg of methane and nitrous oxide can trap as much heat as 25kg and 298kg of carbon dioxide respectively – that’s how potent they are.

Given that there are so many AFOs nowadays, the combined greenhouse gas emissions are astronomical. In events of high rainfall or flooding, the contents of the lagoon can overflow and pollute the environment. The two main concerns are the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and eutrophication. I shall stop here before I turn this into an essay, but bear this in mind – what I’ve just said is the tip of the iceberg.

Energy wise, eating meat is not a very efficient method. According to the ecological pyramid, only 10% of the energy is transferred from one tropic level to the next. This means that a cow would only receive 10 units of energy from a plant with 100 units of energy; a human would then only receive 1 unit of energy from that plant, should they eat the cow. However, they would be able to receive 10 units of energy if they eat the plant directly. This makes eating meat more energetically inefficient than eating plants. Given that mechanization has replaced much manpower in the crop and meat production, we are also wasting the resources used to produce the meat itself.

As we can see, while delicious, meat may not be the greenest food. However, crops are not all that good either. There are flaws in the way farmers are farming, which causes problems like loss of topsoil and leaching of nutrients. However, we can’t live without food! If we want to both survive and stay green, eating vegetables seems like the lesser of two evils. If you are indeed concerned about the environment, I would recommend you going vegetarian. Start small! One meal a week, followed by 1 day a week, then 2 days a week and so on.

At this point, you may have given up the thought of eating meat. Sorry to disappoint you, but I foresee a future where eating meat may be more common than eating vegetables. This is due to the rise of insects and lab-grown meat as alternative sources of protein. Once they become commercially viable, we may be eating them in the future! Who knows? Perhaps 10 or 20 years down the road my juniors will be critiquing my post for advocating the consumption of vegetables (especially broccoli L).

2.pngWould you eat this? I would!
(Picture taken from: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/lab-grown-meat/565049/)

That’s all from me for now. Personally, reading up on this topic has made me more conscious of eating as much meat as I did.

Be green, eat green!

Written by: Lee Yang

References:

Worldwatch Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from Worldwatch: http://www.worldwatch.org/rising-number-farm-animals-poses-environmental-and-public-health-risks-0

EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/npdes/animal-feeding-operations-afos

USDA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/livestock/afo/

Hribar, C. (2010). https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf.

 

The Flora of Singapore: Woody Liana

Before we get into anything, what’s a woody liana? Liana (or Liane) is a woody plant that is rooted to the soil but which requires physical support from a neighbouring tree. Its weak stem and branches rely on other plants to reach the light. Since they are not self-supporting, their stems are narrow and flexible.

1.png(Credits: Rhett A. Butler)

Large lianas in a forest indicate that the forest consists of many matured trees and plants.

When a liana reaches the top of its host, it puts out searcher shoots to look for a taller support of suitable diameter. Searcher shoots can extend up to 2m from their last support; if they are not able to find another support, they fall over and will be replaced by another shoot. While most vines climb to the canopy with the help of taller supports, some vines climb up the stems of other vines attached in the canopy.

Once the liana reach the canopy, they begin to grow between the tree crowns. These bridges are very important to animals that cannot fly long distances. Without such bridges between crowns, these animals would have to descend to the ground where they are very vulnerable to predators. However, these connections also increase the possibility of trees pulling their neighbours along with them when they fall.

As liana grow over the trees that provide them physical support, they are the trees’ strong competitors for sunlight. In additional, since barely any resources are invested in making their stems and branches thicker, vines use a large amount of their resources to grow more leaves, and for reproduction. Since lianas grow very fast, it is to their disadvantage if they climb onto trees that are slow in growth.

Although lianas hinder forest regrowth in canopy gaps, many animals rely on them for the nutrition in their leaves, nectar, fruits, sap and pollen.

2.png(Credits: Dick Culbert)

Now, you might be wondering if there is any relationship between us and lianas. Indeed, we make use of lianas in a variety of ways; from providing fresh drinking water (vines are usually hollow, transport water through the liana) to producing poisons and drugs (curare, a chemical used for muscle relaxation and in arrow poisons by South American Indians is obtained from a type of liana). Indeed, vines are extremely useful to humans.

3.png(Credits: Wellcome Images )

I hope you have enjoyed reading about lianas as much as I enjoyed learning about them! Indeed, there is so much to learn about the flora around us!

Writer: Thang Hui Lin

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2000, December 14). Liana. Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/plant/liana#accordion-article-history

Maheshwari, R. (2009). Structural characteristics of a giant tropical liana and its mode of canopy spread in an alien environment. Current Science , 58.

Putz, F. E. (2012). Vine Ecology. Retrieved from Ecology: http://www.ecology.info/vines.htm