Thursday, June 25, 2015

Moooove over, dairy: how to win my udder loyalty

From the true-true files: I drink a lot of coffee. And the salient point here is not just that I drink it, but I buy it. Regularly. With enthusiasm. (Like most foods and beverages,) I much prefer buying it to making it at home. I like going to coffee shops. I like getting coffee to go on the way to work.  I consider stopping for iced coffee an essential first step to any errand. I like barista lingo, the hiss of steaming milk, and rewards programs.

Let's focus on those last two for a moment.

In the circles I run in, or any circles that I would ever want to run in, it's fun to debate the grand question of our era, to wit: Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? I used to say that Starbucks is like cocaine (addictive, expensive, a definitive part of certain lifestyles,  ubiquitous in L.A. and Manhattan) while DD is like crack (cheaper, grittier, arguably more powerful, easy to find on every corner in certain cities). But this is not to say I'm all about the behemoths, because I also dig independent coffee shops. I've done quality time in Insomnia, Buzz Coffee, Someday Cafe, Champion Coffee, and more recently, Beans and Bagels. I also like the coffee chains that haven't reached cartel saturation levels, like your Peet's and your Caribou and your Intelligentsia, and I like the local heroes: Dutch Bros., Biggby, Angel-in-Us. Basically, if you are willing to invest in espresso, ice cubes, and employees,  I'm yours. "Iced coffee is civilization!" That's my motto, but I won't turn down a hot one, either.

So we need to talk about milk.

The dairy industry lobby is really powerful in the U.S./world. Disgustingly powerful. They have convinced so very, very many of you that milk is an essential part of your diet. "Got Milk?" "It does a body good,"  you know. Ha! The non-advertising truth is more like, what's up with suckling at the breast of an entirely different species, something most mammals only do when in dire orphaned straits? Because lattes, cappuccinos, cafe au lait, etc. are the greatest thing in the world, the aforementioned coffee shops buy a whole lot of milk. We are talking unfathomable amounts. The power of the dairy industry and economies of scale mean that milk comes cheap -- well, that and the immense suffering borne by the dairy cows, the calves ripped away from mothers, the mothers locked, immobile, in pens, the milking machines, the unjustified captivity, the industrial nightmare of it all. ("Got torture?" "It wears a body out!")

The coffee shops offer dairy alternatives, such as soy milk and more recently the trendy almond milk and coconut milk. This makes me happy. The coffee shops charge extra for these alternatives. This makes me sad. I have paid these extra charges over the decades because I have to, and I've watched them go from 30 or 40 cents extra to a standard of 50 or 60 and even sometimes 75 cents more for soy. 75 cents extra! For one drink! I can buy a carton of soy milk for $2.75 and get way more than four drinks out of it. (Don't even get me started on having the same upcharge for a latte, which is mostly milk, as for an iced coffee with milk, which is just a splash of soy. Some Starbucks cashiers do the right thing when you get just a splash and note "with soy" not "add soy" but you take your chances on this in general.) But the coffee shops don't pay anything close to retail prices for their truckloads of cow milk, so it makes some kind of economic sense to them to think of the cow milk in a latte as costing them a cent but the soy milk in a latte costing them 50 cents. That's not quite right, but I follow their thinking.

The problem is that the dairy industry is evil, and most coffee shops aspire to be socially conscious. What they should do is make soy/almond/coconut/oat/hemp milk free and charge extra for dairy.

Since the vast majority of people are ordering dairy, they could upcharge a mere ten cents and more than make their money back, but still call attention to the issue that your dairy choice is a bad choice (because it's cruel) (not to mention unhealthy) and that you could make a better choice. Or, hell, they could be brave enough to really speak truth to power and just go ahead and make it a fifty cent upcharge on dairy from the word go, which might light a fire under the ass of some of those who just need reality pointed out to them once in a while but who are willing to do the right thing.

And so here is my announcement:

Despite my love for any and all the coffee places, I hereby declare the I will permanently switch my loyalty to the first coffee place that makes soy and other non-dairy alternatives free while simultaneously charging extra for dairy.

If Starbucks has the socially responsible guts to do it, I'm theirs. If feisty upstart DD does it, something I find hard to imagine seeing as they recently made me pay the 50-cent almond milk upcharge when I got a "free" rewards drink that I had earned in their Perks program, then I will forever more choose to run on Dunkin' even if the mermaid is looking longingly at me from a block closer.If a smaller chain does it, I will visit that smaller chain every time I have the option to do so.

You might be thinking, um, what's the big deal? But if you actually know me, you know that the idea of becoming loyal to one coffee shop is a very big deal indeed. There couldn't be a bigger deal for me, unless I announced that I was going to read only genre fiction from here on out or something. (Note: that would never ever happen.)  And whatever coffee shop is willing to make people face a tiny portion of the cost that the cruelty of dairy incurs will get the added benefit of my evangelizing on their behalf forever, too, because when I'm loyal, I can also be loquacious.

If there is some coffee place already doing this, not just giving soy/non-dairy alternatives free but also charging extra for cow's milk, some beautiful little coffee shop somewhere, then let me know, because that place is my next vacation destination (and who are you that you haven't told me about it already?)

In China, Starbucks didn't charge extra for soy. I don't always espouse the benefits of living in China (or, you know, ever espouse those largely non-existent benefits) but that one is a good one. In the U.S., we Starbucks Gold Card members used to get free soy, but it was apparently costing them too much, so they changed their rewards program. They should have changed it to charging all customers for dairy instead.

Who will do it? Who wants my loyalty -- for LIFE?