Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
But despite its pervasiveness, we still understand little about the stuff. It doesn't help that the beverage industry hopes to keep it that way; for instance, though energy drink sales have skyrocketed in recent years, their manufacturers aren't required to label how much caffeine their products contain. Meanwhile, emergency room visits related to energy drink use increased more than tenfold between 2005 to 2009.
In his new book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps Us, Hurts, and Hooks Us, out March 13, journalist Murray Carpenter takes on this mysterious substance. He toured Colombian coffee fields, Chinese tea lounges, and factories pumping out synthetic caffeine for soft drinks, interviewing FDA regulators, industry spokesmen, neuroscientists, and cacao cultivators. I chatted with Carpenter about how much caffeine is healthy, where the industry stands on labeling, and the most pretentious coffee preparation he's observed. Here were some of the biggest takeaways.
Murray Carpenter Photo by Margot Carpenter
1. A healthy daily dose of caffeine can be very different depending on who you are.
"When doctors talk about moderate caffeine use, they talk about somewhere in the range of 300 to 400 milligrams. Most coffee drinkers tend to be in that range. Beyond that: 300 milligrams to one person might be perfect, but it might send another one through the roof. It varies so much, depending on your size, if you're a smoker, if you have a genetic predisposition to metabolize caffeine slowly. It would be foolish to say X is the perfect amount or X is too much.
"Women on birth control metabolize caffeine twice as slowly—which means they get double the jolt from the same cup of coffee. And smokers metabolize it twice as fast. There are some people with a genetic predisposition to metabolize caffeine slowly. Those are the people who are going to be super sensitive to caffeine."
2. There's no standard amount of caffeine in each cup of coffee—even within the same brand.
"Starbucks gives an approximation of 20 milligrams per ounce. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks puts you at about 320 milligrams of caffeine. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks is for many Americans a good daily dose of caffeine.
As the world gears up for the Sochi Games, we reached out to these three amazing women to talk about everything from their first runs to high-speed crashes to race and gender politics. The opening ceremonies take place on Friday, February 7. Here's the complete schedule of events.
Jazmine Fenlator, 28, bobsled
A lot of people think I'm on the Jamaican bobsled team. It's a question every black bobsledder gets, even if you're wearing a USA shirt. My dad used to love watching Cool Runnings with me. When I told him I got an invite to try out for the US bobsled team, his first words were: "Sanka! You dead, mon? Let me kiss your lucky egg!" Growing up biracial, I never really thought about things: I mean, you have some acceptance issues, but I grew up in a predominately white town. The side of my family I'm closest with is all white, so it's not necessarily a topic of conversation. You get a lot of naive questions, but I welcome those. The more people I can teach and tell about bobsled, the more cheers we'll have in Sochi. Not many people can relate to bobsled, and it's hard to spectate. It's a grueling, blue-collar sport. To support my bobsled habit, I've sometimes worked three jobs in the offseason. We do all the work on our sleds. We carry our sleds. There's no caddy, there's no pit crew. We handle all those things on top of trying to be the best athletes within our sport in the world.
Click here to read our extended interview with Fenlator. Women's "bobsleigh" heats begin on February 18.
Katie Uhlaender, 29, skeleton
I always challenged men in foot races or whatever as a kid growing up, because it was a way of challenging myself—but you have to accept that men are born with testosterone. You can beat them for so long, but eventually they're gonna catch up. There is a double standard: My father was a major league baseball player, and I grew up thinking I could have the same attitude on the field that he did. When I did that in real life, people thought I was a total bi-atch. [Laughs.] Women are held to a different standard, but there's a reason. Because we are mothers, we have a different role in society. There are certain benefits we get being women—and we deserve them! But don't take advantage of them. You have to walk the line and show that you have self-worth. If you lose yourself, then no one's going to respect you. Miley Cyrus, the girl crossed the line! You can be sexy without licking a hammer.
Click here to read our extended interview with Uhlaender. Women's skeleton commences on February 13.
Maddie Bowman, 20, halfpipe freeskiing
Some people don't understand that you can ski in the halfpipe. They think it's cool and kinda crazy. It's like a polar bear-grizzly bear mix—a pizzly. It's a new species and it's super badass! I was a racer before, but it felt a little too serious. My parents were a little resistant, but then they skied with us and realized we think about things before we jump off of stuff. They definitely get nervous. You can't have my mom video a run at all because it's so shaky—she always misses it! The first time I ever did a "left nine"—it's two and a half spins, and I'm spinning down the wall, rotating to the left—I was so excited I completely forgot the rest of my run; I just sort of made it up. Most skiers, we can think pretty quickly on our feet—or off our feet if we're falling. We like to push the limits, but when the limits push back, it's always a rude awakening. Concussions and injuries are something everyone worries about. But you can't be out there worrying about getting hurt, or else you're more likely to get hurt. If I got hurt, knock on wood, I don't know what I would do. Maybe I'd actually be a real college student.
Click here to read more about Bowman. The women's halfpipe competition is on February 20.
And in a Facebook post, the organization linked to a Washington Post list of "Seven American Women Who Made a Difference in 2013," including US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. These links were enough to spur John Pisciotta, who runs Pro-Life Waco, to launch a national boycott. "The Girl Scouts were once a truly amazing organization, but it has been taken over by idealogues of the left, and regular folk just won't stand for it," Pisciotta told Breitbart News. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also took up the cause with a full-on panel on the offending tweet.
Ultimately, though, the campaign is about more than a couple of social-media postings: On its website, the "CookieCott 2014" campaign argues that the boycott is a protest of the Girl Scouts' "deep and lasting entanglement with abortion providers and abortion rights organizations." This includes, it claims, promoting role models like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Hillary Clinton, Amnesty International, ACLU, and the National Organization for Women, and supporting "youth reproductive/abortion and sexual rights" via its membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
The bullying seems to have worked: In a blog post Wednesday, Girl Scouts offered "our sincerest apologies," noting, "To be clear, Girl Scouts has not endorsed any person or organization." Is that sort of meekness consistent with the organization's quest to "build girls of courage, confidence, and character"? Ponder that while you try to resist those Samoas.
Jehane Noujaim's The Square, which won an audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and is on the shortlist for an Oscar this year, delivers a fierce and frenetic portrait of life on the Cairo streets during two years of Egypt's ongoing political unrest. Based on more than 1,600 hours of footage, the film tags along with several revolutionaries—among them Ahmed, a fiery grassroots activist, Magdy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Khalid, a foreign-born actor—as they struggle against a suffocating regime and attempt to breathe new life into Egypt's governance.
The Square made headlines when it became Netflix's first major film acquisition—it will stream exclusively through the service starting January 17—and also because its only scheduled public screening in Egypt was canceled at the last minute. The country's censorship board still hasn't give Noujaim, whose past work includes Control Room and Rafea: Solar Mama, permission to screen the film in public.
The doc's narrative arc initially hinged on the deposition of Hosni Mubarak and subsequent election of Mohamed Morsi as president. But history is often messier than we would wish to tell it. In January 2013, as Noujaim scrambled to meet her Sundance deadlines, she learned that her main characters "were back in the streets again saying, 'Morsi is using the tools of democracy to create another dictatorship.'" The story wasn't over.
In the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, ski jumping has taken center stage—it's the first year women will be allowed to compete, a milestone the New York Times Magazine recently explored at length. But let's not forget another extreme sport premiering in Sochi this year. That would be women's (and men's) free skiing, which encompasses halfpipe (hair-raising tricks done off the edge of an icy, steep-walled half cylinder), slopestyle (jumping off rails and obstacles), and ski cross (in which four skiers barrel simultaneously through a downhill obstacle course).
Maddie Bowman, 19, is a rising star in this new Olympic realm, one that seems to scream skate park more than professional arena. A favorite in the halfpipe, Bowman cut her teeth on the steep terrain of North Lake Tahoe. Even though thousands of viewers will be watching the sport for the first time in February, Bowman doesn't really care if they see her kind as a bunch of park rats: "I think we want people to see that side of us—just being kids goofing off. That's what we do. That's why we love what we do. That's how we've gotten so far in skiing."
Okay, but what does it take to rule the halfpipe? Here's Bowman in her own words.
On her sport's spirit animal: It's like a polar bear-grizzly bear mix—a pizzly! As the ice is melting, the polar bears are migrating south into grizzly territory and they're mating, and they have this baby that's a hybrid. So two hybrid pizzlies could make a baby pizzly. It's a new species, and it's super badass.
On whether freeskiing is male-dominated: I don't think we think about it that way. We love skiing with the guys; they're our friends. I grew up always skiing with boys. We're out there trying to do the same things and push ourselves. We're definitely all in this together.
On breaking with traditions: I was a racer before, but it felt a little too serious—a little too strict. I just kind of fell in love with the whole idea of skiing around with your friends and having fun, trying new things, and being creative. It allowed for a lot more freedom.
On mastering a trick: The first time I ever did a "left nine,"—it's two and a half spins, and I'm spinning down the wall, rotating to the left—I was so excited I completely forgot the rest of my run; I just sort of made it up.
On anxious parents: My parents are both ski race people, so when I first started switching over, they were a little resistant, but then they came and skied with us and realized we think about things before we jump off of stuff. They definitely get nervous. You can't have my mom video a run at all because it's so shaky—she always misses it!
On falling smart: Most skiers can think pretty quickly on our feet—or off our feet if we're falling, and hopefully fall the right way. We like to push the limits and that's what makes our sport fun—pushing those limits and getting that adrenaline going. Sometimes the limits push back. It's always a rude awakening when that happens.
On those rude awakenings: Concussions are something everyone worries about. If I hit my head, I always make sure to get a new helmet and stuff like that. But you can't be out there worrying about getting hurt, or else you're more likely to get hurt.
Alternative paths: If I got hurt, knock on wood, I don't know what I would do. Maybe I'd actually be a real college student.