Switzerland, Coffee, and Crisis
By Shiva Goel
AVP, Risk Division, Northern Trust
As a child I grew up listening to the principle of ‘One good deed per day’. And as an adult, I imbibed it. Helping out at old age homes, organizing blood donation camps, providing free food to COVID affected families are some of the things that give me immense satisfaction.
Professionally, I have been part of the financial industry for more than a decade working with MNCs like JP Morgan, Citibank and Fidelity Investments working in their risk and marketing divisions.
Yoga is my new found interest and I believe it is essential for physical and mental well being. I love meeting people from different walks of life and hearing their stories and connecting to these to invaluable life lessons.
Introduction by Venkat
Stockpiling 15000 tonnes of coffee as an emergency measure sounds hilarious at the outset, but it brings the stark realities of human attachment to habits, practices on stress-relief and debate on personal priorities when a country’s economy itself is at stake. Our first reaction to any restriction on personal freedom is usually of retaliation or to take measures that sustain the freedom. These measures always come at a cost, just like trying to shut a crying child by buying something for him or her. The truth of the matter is that the best stimulation for growth, thought and creativity is in the presence of restriction or crisis. All inventions originate by a vision to overcome some problem or the other. Circumventing problems to avoid pain, and struggle can be materially prohibitive over time – a ‘self-pampering’ to remain in comfort. The various stories of transformation and inner growth coming from the pandemic lockdown are testimony to the deeper truth behind the virtues of restriction.
Shiva, in this article, gives an account of the debate on coffee as an essential commodity, for a country where most products are imported, in the face of political crisis. The turn of events give much food for thought. The narration is crisp and the questions Shiva leads us to are worthy of deep reflection on how we respond to a crisis.
Switzerland, Coffee, and Crisis
“A bad day with coffee is better than a good day without it!”
How many of you have at least two cups of coffee or tea in a day? That amounts to ~5kg of consumption of coffee/tea annually. Would you know how much an average Swiss has? 9kgs of coffee annually, that is almost twice as much! Like most of us, Switzerland is my dream destination and I imagined visiting it during my honeymoon, but that dream never came true. Someone great has said “Start small and dream big!” So we ended up in Andaman for our honeymoon! While I am still recovering from that shock! I decided to take matters in my hand, so for our 10th wedding anniversary next year, I started planning our trip to Switzerland. Only roadblock was finance and convincing my better half.
Moving on, I started reading about things to do, places to stay and like always a little bit about Switzerland’s history. A recent article in Economist caught my attention. Swiss government was in news in the early part of the year because it said coffee is “not essential for life”. Let us understand why? It is a land-locked country surrounded by beautiful Alps. And since it produces only about half of the food it needs, it suffered terribly from shortages during both world wars despite its neutrality, the government has decided that the best plan is to stockpile essential commodities including coffee. It currently stores 15,000 tonnes of coffee reserves – that’s enough to last for 3 months.
According to the government, “Coffee contains almost no calories and therefore does not make any contribution to food security from a nutritional point of view.” the Federal Office for National Economic Supply said. The announcement sparked a viral reaction in a nation where a cup of strong, black coffee is considered by many as an essential start to the day. “Blasphemy,” steamed one Twitter user. A provocation of war, said another! But it was probably less the social media storm and more the result of resistance from IG Kaffee, the group representing the Swiss coffee industry, that made officials in the Bern push its decision – originally planned for November – back to at least January. All 15 firms that operate the stockpiles, including Nestlé favour keeping the coffee reserve. Understandably so, Swiss government pays $14 per person per year as the storage costs to these companies. It is interesting to hear some of the arguments of these firms. In times of stress, read food shortage, coffee has de-nerving effect! Also, in case of national emergency don’t you want the soldiers to remain alert, how can they do that without their cup of morning coffee? So, does that mean they should stock chocolates too? That there are many studies and many people like me who can vouch for release of ‘happiness’ hormones after consuming a bar of chocolate!
To summarize, Switzerland is grappling with the question “If disaster strikes, would you want to be caffeinated?” Let’s bring the point closer to home. If we were to make similar contingency plans, what would we stockpile – Food, daily necessities, goodwill or prayers?
By Shiva Goel
AVP, Risk Division, Northern Trust,