I applied for a college scholarship and wrote this essay.
The prompt was “For two dollars a day you can either buy a cup of coffee or help 100 people get clean water or aid in another humanitarian crisis. Is it morally acceptable to buy the coffee or not?”
I didn’t get the award, but I liked my essay.
If a bean could talk, it would tell me to buy it.
If a bean could talk, it would tell me a story. It would take me back to Ethiopia in 1429, when coffee was first used by apothecaries to heal the weak and injured. Then together we would fly to Yemen and meet the people who first began farming the beans. Zipping through time we would find ourselves trekking all throughout Europe and Asia where churches were banning this miracle drug that was said to have satanic tendencies.
Finally, the bean would lead me to a man named Howard Schultz, who aside from a laughable presidential bid is a picture of the American dream. Schultz – the first person in his family to go to college – taught the world that by working hard, any American can go from Xerox salesman to billionaire in a few decades time.
And in the back of one of his stores, I would find the bean, waiting.
That’s when the bean would ask me for my money. I would reach for my wallet. Right when I pull out a five dollar bill to buy the bean with whom I’ve spent the day, his arch enemy would ask me ponder the cost. Tea would scream from the kettle, begging me to put my money away, and save it for a better cause. Even though Tea is just jealous of coffee, he makes a captivating point. I remind myself that with the 2.50 it costs to buy a cup of brown bean water I could save a life!
The problem with the argument is the way it leads us down a slippery slope. If you are telling me not to buy a two dollar cup of coffee, I would examine your life. I would sure hope that when you invite me over for dinner that you live in a one bedroom apartment, bike to work, own no more than two different outfits, and carry a flip phone. I don’t want to see anything in your house that you can’t live without: cars, laundry detergent, wifi, sixteen pairs of pants, trash cans – need I continue? My two dollars a day pales in comparison to the amount of waste every person in this great nation keeps in their home.
But then you come right back at me. You say “Hank, that is the point of this analogy. The point isn’t to actually stop you from buying coffee, the point is for you to acknowledge the amount of waste in your life and get you to help people in need.”
And that’s fair. I’m not doing all I can do to help others. But I don’t think we should draw the line at the barista. If coffee helps you have a better, more energized day, buy a cup. But also, as you go through the day, ask yourself if there is more that you can do to help people. Maybe donate, volunteer, or start a nonprofit called CardsCook. Over the past three years, I have tried to help homeless youth in Portland, but I’m not going to act like I don’t spend needlessly. Instead, I try to compensate my bad behavior with helpful behavior. Drink your coffee in the morning, then donate a few bucks to the the Red Cross in the evening.
In the end, I leave the line and walk away. I lower my head and put my five dollar bill back in my wallet.
Then I pull out my phone and order a venti caramel macchiato on the Starbucks app. $6.50?? Who cares, it’s linked up to my mom’s credit card. Just 50 stars from Gold Status, let’s party!