This week, we met with undergraduate students studying Animal Conservation, Behaviour, and Welfare degrees at Plumpton College in East Sussex, UK, to talk about the impacts of the global civet coffee industry.
Meri and Saija have, since 2017, been conducting an intensive artistic research project Collective Perversion: Proposal for Revaluation which explores societal attitudes to bodily functions through the perspective of the toilet bowl.
It was early in their project that the duo discovered civet coffee, widely reported to be the most expensive, unique, and rare coffee in the world. Produced from the digestive system of common palm civets (paradoxurus hermaphroditus), civet coffee is said to undergo an enzymatic process of alteration within the civet’s digestive tract before “exiting” the body in their faeces. Increased global consumer demand for civet coffee has now resulted in the mass caged-farming of wild-caught civets which has led to significant animal welfare, conservation, and environmental concerns.
The art duo sought to problematize the contradiction of faeces as a product of disgust and a product of luxury through what they know best- performative exploration. This resulted in the world first and only human-digested coffee- the most rare, expensive, and unique coffee in the world. In doing so, the pair ask fundamental questions on the ethics of civet coffee and faecal commodification. It was these questions that brought Harrie Liveart and The Civet Project into collaboration.
Yesterday's talk was a rare opportunity for students to learn of transdisciplinary and international collaborative research in person, as Meri and Saija were visiting the UK to begin to the next stage of their collective art-science research project with The Civet Project- an initiative funded by the Kone Foundation.
Students learned not only of the animal conservation, welfare, and zoonotic risks of civet coffee, but they also learned first hand about the bold art-science collaboration which has been challenging the false marketing claims of the civet coffee industry.
Firstly, by replacing the body of a civet with that of a human, the project asks why one animals faeces is desirable when another is met with disgust. Second, by testing human coffee with the same laboratory methods employed to authenticate civet coffee, the project problematises the civet coffee’s famous “unique” status.
The project has thus far culminated in a critically acclaimed art exhibition in Helsinki, and a peer reviewed publication within which laboratory results confirmed that civets are not unique in their ability to create structurally altered coffee beans- even humans can create coffee with the same structural composition as civet coffee!
Yesterday's talk therefore touched on topics of ethical consumerism, speciesism, animal ethics, and the advantages of multi-species, inter-disciplinary research for advancing conservation, animal welfare, and one health objectives. It was met with enthusiasm and intrigue from students, who responded to the seminar with an engaging discussion and a thirst to see what would come next.
On speaking of the seminar, Jes explained:
"Engaging students in our research is a key component to our practice, which blends pedagogical, theoretical, artistic and scientific methods.
Only by openly discussing the complex issues resulting from the civet coffee trade can we begin to disrupt the marketing narratives that enable the industry to grow to the detriment of animal, human, and planetary health.
Yesterday's seminar was a fantastic opportunity to inspire the next generation of conservationists and animal welfare experts to consider wildlife through the lens of consumerism. It was also a great way to promote the interests of civets, one of the least studied small carnivores alive today."
Read the project scope.
Read our latest scientific publication.
Learn more about Harrie Liveart.
You can follow the next stages of human coffee production by visiting www.coffeeliveart.com
To support The Civet Project's research and outreach, you can:
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If you have access to wet-lab facilities, and would like to contribute to the next stage of our human coffee analysis, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org