Ricardo Cortes explores the forbidden virtues of the coca leaf

Cortes says there’s a reason Coke is it.

Ricardo Cortes has made a name for himself with controversial books. In 2005, he published a children’s book called “It’s Just a Plant,” which set out to be the “Heather has Two Mommies” for pot-smoking parents. Last year, he helped make Adam Mansbach’s children’s book parody “Go the F– to Sleep” a best-seller with his tenderly subversive illustrations of children sweetly (and maddeningly) refusing to go to sleep.

Cortes’ latest, “A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola,” uses a combination of gritty, mural-like illustrations and painstaking investigative research to explore the relationship between three of the most famous stimulants of all time: coffee, coca leaves (from which cocaine is an alkaloid derivative) and Coca-Cola.

In setting out to make the argument that drug laws should relax around coca leaves (chewed worldwide as a mild stimulant), Cortes begins with the history of coffee. He says the drink many of us enjoy daily was widely prohibited for centuries. Conversely, Cortes argues that coca plants were harmlessly enjoyed until becoming a casualty of the war on drugs — specifically cocaine — that began with the 1930 appointment of U.S. drug czar, Harry J. Anslinger.

According to Cortes, Anslinger spent most of his 40-year career leading the prohibition of coca while simultaneously helping the Coca-Cola Company secure exclusive access to it. In exchange, Anslinger received political gain from the powerful support of the company. “He was giving a back-door to Coca-Cola for their product,” says Cortes.

Rather than try to depict handshake deals and shadowy alliances, the most fascinating illustrations in “Secret History” are of letters between Ans-linger and Coca-Cola — meticulously rendered by Cortes from public documents. They chronicle how Coca-Cola has maintained access to coca for use in its secret formula (called “Merchandise No. 5″) even as the U.S. wages war against the very same plants in South America.

“It’s an investigation of rumors,” says Cortes of his use of letters as art. “You can find information of Coca-Cola and coca leaf on Wikipedia. But I wanted to have all the primary sources that you could look back at.”

Rather than condemn Coca-Cola for using coca, Cortes says he believes that drug laws should relax around the leaf, citing thousands of years of “social, spiritual, medicinal and nutritional” purposes.

While you’re at it, sip on some New Coke

Remember in 1985 when Coca-Cola shocked drinkers by changing the formula and rebranding it “New Coke”?

Fans railed in mob-like numbers to bring back the classic formula. This resulted in the drink-maker keeping New Coke but additionally adding back the original “Coca-Cola Classic” just months later.

Cortes is one of many who believe that the change was an effort by Coca-Cola to extract themselves from the political problems caused by using the coca leaf. But Coke won’t talk. “They say the secret formula is their most valuable asset,” says Cortes. “Therefore, they say that’s why they can’t talk about it.”

If you go

   

‘A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola’
reading

Tuesday, 7, Book Court

163 Court St., Brooklyn

718-875-3677

www.bookcourt.com

   

Friday, 6:30 p.m.

La Casa Azul, 143 E. 103rd St.    212-426-2626

www.lacasaazulbookstore.com



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.