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
National

Reddit boosts news capabilities in social media turf…

By Jennifer SabaNEW YORK (Reuters) - Reddit, a website with a retro-'90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As,…

Local

New York joins accord to strengthen popular vote…

New York State joined a nationwide effort that would gives the state's 29 electoral votes for president to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

National

Missouri man charged with sexually torturing five women

A Missouri man has been charged with raping and torturing five women in a St. Louis-area apartment over several years, law enforcement officials said on Tuesday.

Local

Report: NYPD disbands controversial Muslim surveillance program

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the police unit behind NYPD's Muslim surveillance program was disbanded.

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

Going Out

Accomplice Tour: New York (Spoiler Alert)

When I signed up for the Accomplice show tour, I had no idea what I was in for. But every grimy job comes with a great reward.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 15: 'New Girl,'…

'New Girl' Nick and Jess are hiding their breakup from the other loft residents. And Winston passes the police academy exam! That guy needed some…

Television

'Orphan Black' is back with 'crazy clone shenanigans'

“Orphan Black” is the little show that could. It had a few things working against it: a sci-fi premise, attracting an audience who had never…

NBA

Nets miss chance to clinch No. 5 seed…

Nets head coach Jason Kidd expressed little concern after a 109-98 loss to the Knicks, but others seemed to disagree.

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.