Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Politics of Tea - Intro

This is going to be a multi-part post, and I will work on it over the next few weeks. (Each post will take some research). I'd like to respond to a reader's question and talk about the politics of tea. I'm going to define "politics" to include social, ethical, environmental and economic considerations.

I'd like YOUR opinion! Below I'm outlining what I think are the major issues, but I am sure there are ones I've missed. If you can think of another topic related to the politics of tea, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to write about it (or admit I know nothing).

Thank you, in advance!

Welfare, housing and education of tea plantation workers
Marketing of tea

Use of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers (or not) and the corresponding impact
Planting practices
Manufacture and distribuion of tea

How tea is bought and sold in the world market
Who owns the tea plantations?
Does that teabag reflect the true price of the tea you drink?

What other topics would you add to this list?


Marmie said...

You might also consider the politics of the health benefits of tea

Angela McRae said...

On a tea chat group, I've heard some say it's unfair when we westerners try to impose our standards on lesser-developed countries. One poster was discouraging us from buying tea from place X, and someone else said well, then, you're just hurting the workers at X, because that is actually a decent wage there, and you will deprive him and his family of their livelihood. That SOUNDS persuasive, but it doesn't address the problem of raising the standard there. Can we really help? And how best to do so? Is it possible to measure the results of "Fair Trade" efforts here? Thanks!

crescent said...

Thanks for taking on this exploration.

I'd say it would be beneficial to add the carbon footprint of shipping teas from around the world.

i myself don't favor any political views that are dogmatic... but feel it is helpful to explore the underlying issues involved in any choices I make. looking forward to this unfolding.

in response to the issue angela raises... i never buy into the 'it's a decent wage there' theory. yeah. right. i've heard people say that in the US some people live in crappy neighborhoods because they LIKE that better than living in more opulent neighborhoods... they feel more at home. People'll say anything to make themselves feel better about their personal involvement in exploitation - of other people, of land, of nature.

Steph said...

Thank you for these suggestions! In addition, I think I'll begin with the history of tea, from a political perspective.

I can see that this blog series may go on for a long time. :-)

I won't write about it every day, but will try to stay on top of things.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous idea for a series of blog posts. I look forward to seeing what you find. Best wishes.

Smith Parker said...

Tea is SO underrated in comparison to coffee in the US. I wish more people took the time to explore and experience the beverage.

Smith Parker

Alex Zorach said...

I just discovered this old post. I'd like to add another point of consideration to your list: the health claims that tea companies make about tea when marketing their products.

Drugs and health products are regulated within the U.S. When companies market tea that is really a beverage, as a drug, I think it's overstepping a boundary. Recent FDA decisions seem to support this perspective.

I think it's best for tea companies to refrain from talking about the health properties of their products--they just have too much of an incentive to exaggerate. I even think that it can be bad when they cite studies--they're inherently biased because of their incentive to profit, and they simply cannot be impartial. They always can pick and choose studies to support their product. I'd rather they just stay out of the health arena.

If a company is specifically developing herbal products for use as herbal medicine, like some companies do, that's another issue. I'm fine with this, but again, I think those companies should be treated differently from a regulatory perspective: what they're doing is more like what a drug company does than what a tea company does.