I Have Big Doubts About Coffee

(and the Corporations that Profit so Enormously From It)

Coffee was once upon a time denounced and derided as the most unhealthy thing you could drink.  Going back as far as the 1950s, study after study came out from all over the world announcing that caffeine was very detrimental to human health – but these studies were not well known, nor were they heeded.  

Then these same public health warnings were renewed in the 1970’s and this set off a wave of decaffeinated coffee, teas, and even soft drinks being sold to the public.  Because of this, the flagging non-cola soft drink markets sprang back to life (anyone alive during that era will remember the famous 7-up commercial: “No caffeine. Never had it, never will.”) 

Almost anything being sold in the grocery stores that did NOT have caffeine in it would prominently announce that fact on the packaging, the way “Non-GMO” and “No Transfat” is shown today.  Also, until almost the millennium, grocery stores only sold about 3 brands of coffee: Folgers, Maxwell House, and the store brand.  They all came out with decaf versions as quick as they could.

But coffee sales, both decaf and regular, proceeded to grow mightily even though sleeplessness, nervousness, and mood disorders were linked by scientific studies to caffeine and coffee in particular. It was also becoming increasingly well known that coffee had very high levels of acidity which is hard on stomach lining, tooth enamel and other aspects of human health.

But none the less, coffee drinking persisted, about the same way cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption has carried on with the general public despite any campaigns to stamp them out.

And then something happened.  The reputation of coffee and caffiene began to make a magnificent turn around about 5-7 years ago.  The research showing that coffee was unhealthy slowed down and all but disappeared and has now actually been replaced by bold new studies that assert that “coffee is Good For You.”  The claims are now that caffiene is needed in certain amounts and coffee has micronutrients of great benefit that weren’t known about before (the acid content in coffee has been conveniently left out of most of these studies).

So what happened?  How did these big new break throughs announcing the wonders of coffee consumption come about?  That can be answered in one word:

Starbucks.

Almost every report and data collection being published that purports to “prove” the healthful aspects of coffee has either been openly sponsored by Starbucks or can be traced to them when other contributors provide full disclosure.

Other coffee producing companies (particularly General Mills) have tried to counter the research and the data that has spanned 60 years and emerged from numerous sources that proved coffee and caffeine were unhealthy.  But it took a behemoth like Starbucks to really take on the scientific community and bring them around to producing studies and literature that were more favorable to coffee consumption. 

The billions of dollars in revenue generated by Starbucks, in this particular case, is not only the elephant in the room, it is also the 400 pound mermaid that dictates which universities and other scientific and food research organizations (researching products like coffee) will receive funding, keep salaries paid and doors open.  If these entities want to stay healthy themselves they are usually careful not to offend huge donors like Starbucks by publishing inconvenient research outcomes.

Truthfully, all scientific research that is broadcast to the public should be taken with some skepticism due to that fact that most of these researchers rely on large amounts of funding from corporate donors.  Many times these corporations are not disinterested in the results or they would not be forking over millions to the research providers in the first place.  These corporations understandably want to be able to proclaim that the conclusions of the studies they have generously paid for prove the worthiness and healthfulness of their products.

Also predictably enough, scientists, researchers, hospitals, universities – they all want a steady, dependable paycheck and an amicable relationship with big donors that make their expensive projects and experiments possible.  If they randomly decide to study, say, the effects of coffee consumption, or if indeed they have been commissioned to do so by a donor like Starbucks, they will know without extensive explanation just what kind of results the donor would like to see.  Depending on how independent they are in terms of financing, researchers could be very disinclined to produce or publish results that they know will be unpleasing to their financiers.

And so that leaves us with an lot of Answered questions about coffee that current researchers, largely sponsored by Starbucks, are trying to Unanswer and alter into more palatable forms and flavors that will continue support the exponential growth of … Starbucks.  Sounds like an echo chamber doesn’t it?

Now the unanswered question is how is the public going to gain truthful information about products and food choices that hasn’t been altered in the corporate echo chamber?  My answer to that is to keep skepticism alive, keep asking questions, and if something sounds too good to be true (if it wasn’t true before, why is it true now?)—maybe it isn’t.

In fact, let’s boil it down to three words: Think. For. Yourself.

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