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  • Marianna Beltrami

Ecological caffeination: a reflection

Let’s kick off with an icebreaker: tell a fun fact about yourself. While this used to be a question I dreaded, I quickly figured out what my own fun fact is - and it usually has the desired effect of gathering some “ooh”s and “aah”s and “ha!”s. Besides the random time George Clooney waved at me, I go for: my first ever word was “-affé”. Without a c- (that would be a bit too much to expect from a one-year old), but as I pointed at my mother’s espresso cup, the meaning was definitely caffé, coffee. Coffee-drinking is a personality trait I attribute to myself from the very first introduction. It is a great excuse when I am not particularly responsive during a conversation, a great small talk filler, and an overall great connector with other people.

And that is the thing that made me think, connection. Today, I was sipping my morning cappuccino in a café in Florence. I like solo coffees, because I can look around with my fake mysterious allure, observe the city moving, and think. So, connection. There is a quote by Tim Ingold in a 2010 paper, where he talks about ecologies (i.e. creative connections) of things, arguing that “[to] inhabit the world is to join the process of formation.” And while I usually tend to drink coffee without a particular awareness of life (it is more like a zombie mode), I thought about what kinds of processes I am part of through my coffee consumption. As an avid consumer, what does coffee manifest in my daily experiences? How is my consumption connected to other experiences - in other words, how does it act ecologically?

Imagination. I think it is important, every once in a while, to recognise the multiple and enacted connection of the entanglements we are part of in specific acts of consumption. Imagining what and who I am connected to, and the multiple trajectories that led to me sipping my cappuccino, is a small way to defy a universalizing political economy, and political ecology, of linear trade markets and supply chains. A globalised food system has perpetuated a placeless-ness, and faceless-ness, of production and consumption. But let us imagine the ecologies behind it - where are the places? What are the faces? What are the human and nonhuman bodies involved?

Connection - imagination. And I am suddenly back to a lecture theatre, learning the principles of Economics, and how we are taught to think systemically through a particular set of designs that does not really embrace the kind of connection I’ve been thinking about through my Florentine cappuccino. To design, redesign, regenerate, we first have to imagine. Why don’t we have the courage to imagine something different to make our connections fairer? A different design, architecture, infrastructure? Why should I accept that my coffee consumption has to be based on simplified and two-dimensional drawings that reflected perceived realities in the 1950s? To insert this within the broader context of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit, and the wider Agenda 2030, it is important that each one of us activates their imagination, to raise awareness on connections and recognise the variety of actors that form these networks.

To wrap up: great policies do not start as big-scale actions. They may well start with the simple process of imagining what the things that are close to us connect us to. That is the power of activism: we are free to be inspired by the imagination and connections that start from the simple act of sipping our cappuccino. *insert sipping sound* How wonderful.

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