Sitting in Starbucks Coffee on the corner of Union and Laguna in San Francisco…..
Well, I’ve been officially kicked out of my home office. My dining room table has been COVERED with books, emails, articles, concepts and notes for 6 months now. We have had nowhere to enjoy family dinner. My piles have become a constant reminder that Mommy is busy with something that doesn’t directly involve pitching softballs, supervising back-bends, stirring spaghetti or talking to Daddy. With the best intentions, moregreenmoms was launched, but now it has become a symbol of persistant resentment in our household.
So late last night the books were shelved, the files were organized and my laptop was put into a mobile carrier. I have stashed all visible evidence that I am desperate to contribute to the health of our children and our planet, but not entirely certain of how to pull it off with such a young family needing my focus and attention.
Resolute to find a better strategy, I walked my kids to school this morning and then sauntered to our local library for today’s allotment of research and writing time. But of course my closest branch doesn’t open until 1:00 today. Just my luck.
Plan B – Starbucks. While I used to visit this establishment EVERY day of my professional life, I think my frequency has dropped to less than a dozen times a year. The good news is that my Wi-Fi isn’t T-Mobile enabled so I can’t mess around on email. Deciding to physically sit on my Blackberry, I have become the anonymous housewife in the corner, focused, productive and tapping happily on my keyboard.
But while I’m supposed to be writing about healthier cosmetics for teenagers, I can’t resist noting a few not-so-green aspects that now color my Starbucks experience. First of all, I applaud the company’s commitment to promoting fair trade coffee. With the volume they purchase, Starbucks can make a significant contribution to the vibrant success of responsible growing practices that do not further decimate our rainforests and other cocoa bean crop locales. But a quick glance on the shelves and menu board reveals that only a small percentage of the coffee or tea served here appears to be organic, thus providing most customers with a slight daily dose of pesticide to go with the caffeine jolt we all know and love. And don’t forget that the farmers who have planted, cared for and harvested the chemical coated beans have potentially sacrificed their health so we can all enjoy our aromatic morning concoctions.
And when I say, concoctions, think of your own experience of hearing your friendly barista call out, “non-fat, triple shot, extra hot, foamy vanilla latte.” Or whatever…. As we all know, a key component of many Starbucks drinks is milk. The other night while having dinner with a friend, who is an executive at Safeway, she mentioned that her company has a significant relationship to provide rivers of their Lucerne brand to Starbucks establishments across the country. I asked her my favorite question these days, “Is it organic?” But I already knew the answer as my son and I recently drove through Petaluma where many California dairies are based. We noted the dairies like Clover, Straus and Wallaby, brands we buy, which proudly promote their organic status. Lucerne does not.
We do not drink anything but organic milk at home. It never really occurred to me to question what is in my latte. But now I do. And I also have a new view of the Starbucks food selection. So many pastries. So much fat. Yoplait yogurt with Aspartame. Sliced fruit and some sandwiches and salads – none of them organic. I actually tried to order a few of the company's breakfast items with my kids on a recent vacation on our way to visit a Zoo. We stopped for Mommy’s coffee and we left with mini scones, a sausage and egg muffin, banana bread and yogurt parfait. As hard as I worked to avoid the doughnuts and chocolate croissants, I still felt that I was loading them up with an unhealthy start to the day. I had to fall back on the belief that non-healthy transgressions once in awhile won’t kill them… But I pledged to myself to seek a different option the next time.
To close on my Starbucks musings, how about the cups and paper that flow through here? Tully’s, a West Coast coffee competitor, now uses corn-based, compostable cups and publicizes this fact in its stores. In addition, they have green bins (as well as blue recycling containers) in every location for the food, cups, napkins and cardboard that can be used to create fertilizers rather than dumped into our landfills. Think of all the trees and chemicals required to make Starbucks very white 10% post-consumer fiber cups (information printed under the Josh Groban quote on today's latte). We can compost these too so let’s get the company to make it a habit in every store. And do they really need to put a plastic lid on EVERY drink? This has made me crazy for years!
If you love Starbucks coffee (and I do like the taste, believe me), try and bring your own container. And ask them if they serve organic coffee in their espresso drinks, organic hot chocolate, organic milk. It will annoy your cashier, but don’t be afraid to ask again and again and again. Maybe someday they will and you will be contributing to the support of healthier people, farms, crops and cows, which means healthier land, rivers and air for all of us. The food chain is indubitably long and if you think about every action you can take to support a healthier planet, your latte matters!
Sorry to have to pick on Starbucks, but with its brave ubiquity in our culture, I think there should be a required responsibility to more aggressively lead by example. Baby steps are fine, but we need leaps and bounds and I plan on rewarding my business to companies who walk the talk and have our collective health at the forefront of their business goals. Back to my fair trade, organic drip!
p.s. Once online again, I found this link to the Organic Consumers Association which describes their perspective on several of my off-the-cuff observations above.
p.p.s. My FAVORITE Northern California dairy is the Straus Family Creamery, which sells their product in glass bottles and still delivers to their customers' doorsteps. They are the prime example of a sustainable, healthy farming business and their products are out of this world: