A tale of two cafes


We live in the best of times, we live in the worst of times. Everyday a new creative, sustainable, community led initiative seems to be popping up, and everyday a new hectare of rainforest is destroyed, more food is sprayed with pesticides and another animal makes the endangered list. Sometimes its hard to work out if, as a society, we are taking a step forwards or a step backwards. The solutions are there if only we would vote with our money. Just down the road from where I live in Vancouver there are two cafes. They would be right next door to each other except for a small sushi store in-between. Two small cafe's on the same side of the road, both sell coffee, tea and the odd treat.....and that is where the similarities end.

Vote with your money and buy local

Cafe on the left

Starbucks vote with your money

The cafe on the left is a Starbucks. It is the largest coffeehouse company in the world and is based in Seattle, USA. There exists in the world an additional 21,365 Starbucks stores to this one. Not only is the money made from this cafe not kept in the local economy but Starbucks has repeatedly received negative press about its unfair labour policies, bullying fair-trade tactics with farmers in developing countries, tax avoidance, GMO lobbying and many other questionable practises. It serves very little organic coffee, uses non organic milk, a large number of the drinks have very high calorie and sugar levels and for a company that sells over 4 billion disposable cups a year it has a very poor recycling record.

Cafe on the right

The Heartwood Community Cafe is an excellent example of why we need to vote with our money

The cafe on the right is the Heartwood Community Cafe. As the name suggests there is more than just coffee brewing going on inside. Their values for a start include phrases such as building solidarity, holding space for marginalised voices to be heard, using arts as a vehicle for change, and creating a queer inclusive space (although to be fair to Starbucks this is one thing they seem quite supportive of). On top of this they serve organic, local, vegan and ethically sourced produce. The money is kept in the local economy and they run lots of events in the evenings for the local community. Just when you think it can't get better, everyday they offer their 'Soup for the People' program which allows people to pay what they can for delicious and healthy soup, with an emphasis on no donation being too small!

Why am I telling you this? Because everyday I walk past these two cafes and everyday I am so saddened to see that the Starbucks is always busier. I do not understand why we continue to support large corporations that abuse their power over small local businesses that genuinely care about the local community they live in. I really struggle to comprehend it. I thought perhaps it was the price, but no, while the prices vary depending on what you drink a 12oz latte in Starbucks will costs you $4.15 while the same at Heartwood will cost you $3.75 (plus it's organic!). So it must come down to comfort in knowing what you are getting and fear of the unknown. I do understand this to an extent but it comes back to what I have written about before, Convenience v Conservation. If we are to see any changes in this world we have to stop choosing the convenient option all the time. Live a little, take a chance, sure you might get a crap coffee from time to time (the Heartwood coffee is actually considerably better than the black water two doors down) but what you are supporting is much bigger than always getting a good coffee.

The Heartwood Community Cafe might not be in your area, but I bet there will be something very similar and I bet there will also be a Starbucks. The thing is this doesn't just relate to coffee shops it relates to all types of businesses from bars and restaurants to mechanics, gyms and clothes stores.  We need to vote with our money and think about what we want to see more of. Do we want to see more local, independent organisations that could be run by you or I or do we want our communities to be clones of each other, selling imported products, run by faceless multinational organisations that leave little money in our local economies? If we all choose to vote with our money we can make a real difference to the world we live in.

Disclaimer: I currently have no affiliation with Heartwood Community Cafe other than occasionally buying my lunch or a coffee there. They had no influence over this blog post other than inspiring me to write about them because of the good work they are doing.