Swiss government reconsiders, decides coffee is “essential to life” after all [Updated]

Photo: iWichy (iStock)

Update, November 14, 2019: In the wake of the news that their government had declared coffee not “essential to life” and therefore unworthy of a place in the nation’s emergency stockpile of groceries, the people of Switzerland did something remarkably un-Swiss: They revolted.

Well, okay, the people didn’t take to the streets or anything, only social media, but the Swiss coffee lobby took some sterner action. Representatives of IG Kaffee met with government officials in Bern, Reuters reports, and persuaded them to reconsider the importance of coffee to the nation’s survival. The government was supposed to make its final ruling about the fate of the 15,000-ton coffee reserve this month, but after hearing of the unanimous displeasure from the 15 firms that contribute to the stockpile—including Nestlé—it has decided to push back the decision until January.

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Why does Switzerland have a stockpile of essential groceries anyway? Well, as the BBC explains, since Switzerland is landlocked and since it produces only about half of the food it needs and since it suffered terribly from shortages during both world wars despite its neutrality, the government has decided that the best plan is to lay in a stock of sugar, flour, cooking oil, and rice, along with fuel, fresh water, and medicine, in case of disaster. It encourages the Swiss people to establish their own stockpiles, too, but the people mostly scoff. Why should they sacrifice valuable space in their homes for coffee when the government can do it?

Original story, April 11, 2019: We all have our necessities in life. Water, certainly. Chocolate, probably. In your own food survival pack, if you have one, you may have stashed favorites like chocolate-chip granola bars or possibly 27 pounds of mac-and-cheese.

When the shit hits the fan, we hope there is coffee. The apocalypse will be bad enough, but a caffeine-less existence will likely make those zombies even more cranky.

But perhaps the perpetually neutral Switzerland is more chill than we are in the U.S., as USA Today reports that the country’s Federal Council ruled this week coffee is “not vital for human survival and should be removed from the nation’s required emergency stockpile.” Which begs the question: Not vital for whom? USA Today cheekily notes, “Perhaps pressing its luck, the council continued… ‘coffee contains almost no calories and therefore does not make any contribution to food security from a nutritional point of view.’” This stern finding is even more surprising, as USA Today points out, when we consider that the Swiss drink coffee at a rate that’s even double the rate of American coffee drinkers: 18 pounds a year on average, compared to nine pounds a year by the average U.S. drinker. (This number sounds low, but okay, USA Today.)

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Maybe there’s a lack of storage space in this Swiss bunker? At any rate, this proposal still has to go through a period of public comment. If it passes, “importers will no longer have to stockpile coffee after 2022.” We have two action items after reading this: 1) find out if America is also stashing coffee and 2) start our own java stockpile. Maxwell House isn’t really that bad, and is available in large quantities.

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.