Letter Writing Campaign

22 May

Some people love their wine, some people love their beer. Me? I love my coffee. I love my coffee so much, that I frequently have to apologize for being catatonic prior to my morning latte.

Must. Brew. Before. Functioning.

So, I am somewhat of a staple at Starbucks.

It should be noted that, while I grew up loving caffeine, I wasn’t exposed to a free-standing Starbucks until my senior year of college (and promptly spent  the remainder of my college dining dollars there).  It should also be noted that the amount of actual coffee in most Starbucks drinks has become quite questionable in my opinion; Black Forest Mocha Latte with whipped cream anyone?

But let’s get down to business here, since I have had my morning latte. We all know that my last letter writing attempt didn’t get such a desirable response. So I’m trying again, with Starbucks. Recently, Starbucks began making strides to become more sustainable and healthful through the food they sell. They claim to be removing artificial ingredients and I have seen more organic bagged snacks pop up at (the many) Starbucks that I frequent, even the ones in grocery stores.

I have written to Starbucks on two prior occasions already, once to ask if they ever advertised for non-profits on their coffee sleeves (I have yet to see it but will give them credit for using 60% post consumer recycled fiber), and once to ask why they no longer offer organic milk as an option in their drinks. I got a response both times.

And, if you are wondering, as I was, why organic milk made a brief appearance and then high-tailed it off the menu, here is your answer: When Starbucks offered organic milk, it was at a time when it was difficult to know whether or not milk was coming from cows that had been given bovine growth hormones. The only way to know for sure that the milk was free of hormones was to buy organic. This has now changed, and Starbucks deduced that this was the prime reason that consumers were requesting organic milk in their drinks and subsequently dropped the option. They do however use organic soymilk at (the many) Starbucks that I go to. Not to pick on Starbucks, I interrogated Coffee Bean as well. There is no organic milk option on the horizon there either.

In addition to all of the health and environmental benefits of switching to organic dairy, there is absolutely no denying that organic milk just tastes better. Much better. It’s creamier, it’s sweeter.

I wanted to know why there was such a disconnect here. Why would Starbucks start to offer organic food and leave out organic milk. Almost any drink order at Starbucks includes milk!

As I stopped at Starbucks the other day, another question came to mind. Better ingredients or not, I’m not always in the mood for a frosted cinnamon roll at lunch time (OK, that’s a lie), but sometimes I feel too guilty to order one at lunch time. How about a piece of fruit? That sounds much healthier. So…my options are a fruit salad, packaged in plastic, using fruits not in season, with a plastic fork to go along with, or a banana.

I love bananas, sold. One coffee, one banana.

Thus, I wanted to ask Starbucks, “Is part of your new campaign going to involve selling organic or more local fruit?” Because the banana was not organic and it also cost nearly a dollar. Non-organic bananas from Trader Joes, I should mention, are 29 cents-a pound. There’s no way my Starbucks banana weighed anywhere near a pound. For that amount of money it should have been organic and fair trade certified.

81% of coffee bought by Starbucks in 2009 met their Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices principles. This means that a third party has verified that working conditions were safe and fair, waste was managed appropriately and biodiversity was preserved. These qualifications are a bit vague and this is Starbucks’ own grading system after all. (However, it is in partnership with Conservation International.)

But I would also like to be assured that the people involved in harvesting my banana got fair working conditions. I have other concerns about my banana, actually. Bananas are now grown as a monoculture crop, though there are (or were) many varieties of banana. The natural biodiversity of bananas help shield it from fungus and disease. Now completely lacking this biodiversity, bananas as we know them could in fact be wiped out. Starbucks claims to be protecting this biodiversity with their coffee, why not also with their fruit? How do I find out if pesticides or poisons that are banned in the US are used on my foreign banana? As I stared at my nearly-a-dollar banana, I began to think that even a price that high came nowhere close to the actual cost of the fruit, all things considered.

Now clearly, this is a lot to lump all on Starbucks, but I did want to learn about some of their specific food guidelines, any new plans for organic dairy and some more details about what they consider to be “fair trade.” I’ll keep you all posted on Starbucks’ response. I’m at least hoping for a gift card here, right…

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