My New Project…The Vegan Test Kitchen

Holy guacamole! It’s been over 5 years since my last post, and I’ve been up to quite a bit. In regards to careers, I left Starbucks to join the exciting world of quality control at Geek Squad City, then made a more permanent switch to real estate–working as a leasing consultant for a property management company and now currently a Realtor. And yes…I’m still vegan! But, I’m sure you’re not here to learn about my day job, so let me get to the exciting part–

While I enjoy writing, I’ve decided to venture into the world of video, and with the help of Luke as editor, we’re bringing you The Vegan Test Kitchen on YouTube! I’ve always wanted to veganify the Julie & Julia story, and the opportunity was perfect once we came across six old iPhones that just happened to be great video cameras. In my opinion, only one cookbook was worthy to test every recipe on video, and that’s the Veganomicon-The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. So, over the course of the next year I’ll be testing every single recipe, and you’ll have a front row seat. Subscribe to the channel and you’ll be updated every time a new episode is released (we’re currently planning for two a week)!

Come join me, in The Vegan Test Kitchen.

 

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Starbucks hesitant to call their sugar “vegan”

As anyone who frequently visits a Starbucks knows, we now have instant coffee.  Actually, it’s not instant, it’s ready in an instant.  Wow, I can’t believe I just said that.  That’s what months of corporate brainwashing will do.  I kid, I kid (I don’t want to be fired).  It’s called VIA.  When summer rolled around we launched a new Iced VIA that was sweetened with sugar.  And anyone who’s read my previous articles about Starbucks probably knows where this is going.

So a natural thought that would come to someone like me would be, “I wonder if this sugar is vegan.”  Now that may sound like a silly question to most people.  You might think, “Doesn’t sugar come from a plant?”  Well, yes.  But that’s not good enough.  At least not for the corporate giants who need something to do with their leftover cow skulls and bones.  In one last effort to squeeze as much money from the carcass of the animal they exploit, they ship off the remains to select charcoal manufacturers who in turn ship them to sugar companies.  What do they do with these skeletal remains?  They use them in refining sugar.  Something they call “bone char” or now “natural charcoal.”

Do they have to use them?  No.  The main reason bone filters are used is to make the sugar white in color.  Most people equate white with “pure”, and bone char makes that happen.  It’s quite amazing what we try to convince ourselves of, even when it’s unnecessary.  However, bone char/natural charcoal is prohibited in the production of USDA certified organic sugar.  Another reason organic is better.  But back to the main story…

After talking to my manager about the reasons why I would not try the new Iced VIA, or the yet to be released flavored VIA, he assured me we would get some answers.  Being very supportive, he e-mailed our District Manager.  Who in turn e-mailed our Director of Operations.  Who then followed through with someone with corporate.  Which then filtered back down to me.  The answer?  “They’re reluctant to call anything “vegan.”  To me, this just seems like a bureaucratic way of saying “no”.  Of course they don’t want to put a label on anything.  God forbid some angry vegan sue Starbucks because they found out their product wasn’t really vegan.  Which I’m sure is what it comes down to.  Starbucks doesn’t want a million dollar lawsuit.  Meanwhile, I just want to know how my food is processed.  Someone has the answer.  Is that too much to ask?

Does “free-range”, “cage-free” or “locally raised” mean anything?

A long time ago, in a supermarket far far away, I was strolling down the dairy aisle when I came across “cage-free” eggs.  I can get behind that.  Chickens that aren’t confined.  Happy chickens.  Then I saw the term “free-range.”  Hot damn!!!  These chickens aren’t just cage-free!  They can roam free too!!  If only.  Little did I know that the terms “cage-free”, “free-range” and “locally raised” guarantee virtually nothing.

I had always heard rumors from people that these terms meant nothing.  “Nonsense!” I said.  They have to be treating these animals better.  It says so right on the package!  I was a stubborn self-proclaimed animal-rights vegetarian.  I wanted my eggs and cheese goddamn it!  And if these ingredients were politely taken from animals and they were allowed to live out the rest of their lives freely, then I was content.  The following picture is of a “cage-free” farm.

Then I began to do a little research.  And a little thinking.  Let’s look at the term “cage-free.”  According to their website, it is completely unrecognized by the USDA.¹ If you see this term on an egg carton, it means absolutely nothing.  There is no independent party to verify these conditions, let alone know what to even look for since there are no concrete guidelines.  They may increase the chicken’s living space from 67 inches (the typical battery-cage condition in which they spend their entire lives in a space smaller than a letter sized piece of paper, which is the majority of egg farms), but they still may never see the light of day while they are cooped up with thousands of other chickens in a warehouse or enclosed barn.  Because of these tight quarters with other chickens, there is an increase in fighting and the practice of debeaking is still prominent.  Debeaking is a painful process where they cut or burn off part of the bird’s beak without any sort of anesthetic.  Now let’s talk about chicks.  Since male chicks are of no profit to these farmers, they have been deemed useless, thus are either thrown into a grinder alive to be used as feed, tossed in a dumpster where they starve to death or suffocate, or gassed.  They get to spend no time with their mothers before being killed.  All of these acts and conditions are permitted with “cage-free” eggs.

“Free-range” has to be a little better, right?  Well, it’s “better” if you consider yard-time an appropriate reward for innocent prison inmates.  This yard time can consist of only 10 minutes.  Again, there are no USDA standards for “free-range” egg production.  And the only USDA standard I found for non-egg producing “free-range” chickens are this:  “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”² Pretty strict guidelines huh?  Also, there is no third-party agency auditing these farms.  In addition to debeaking, forced molting through starvation is also permitted.  What happens to chickens who no longer produce as many eggs as they once did?  They are either gassed, electrocuted or have their necks slit open to bleed out.  These methods are far from humane.  The following picture is of forced molting practices.  

Since these methods are prevalent with big factory farms, you may think that the only option is to go with “locally raised” products from smaller farms.  And while the conditions for the animals here are probably a little better, they are still slaughtered with similar (if not the same) methods many, many years before their time is up naturally.  Since they are viewed as products rather than living beings, they are disposed of when their yield has declined.  Farmers everywhere, whether they are bowing to the needs of corporations or just tend to their small family owned operations keep in mind one thing  that is of dire importance.  Money.  If their farm isn’t profitable, they have no business.  It is far too expensive to keep every chicken and cow that has stopped producing enough eggs or milk.  These “commodities” would be eating into their profit, literally.  The most cost-efficient thing to do is to kill them.  They are never viewed as anything but price tags.  And to tap into that profit even more, they’ve created a niche market for consumers who want to feel better about the animal products they consume.  This is why they’ve coined terms like “free-range” and “cage-free.”  To give consumers peace of mind.  Not animals.  All for a few extra pennies.

Am I against better practices or better welfare for animals?  Of course not.  I would much rather someone get raped as opposed to beaten and raped.  But the deeper problem lies not with the welfare of the animal we use for our means.  As long as animals are viewed as walking commodities, products for our ends, or profit, they will never be treated humanely.  You cannot simultaneously consume animals while saying you “care” about them.  It’s as simple as that.  If you truly care about the well-being of animals, the only sensible conclusion is to stop the exploitation.  Over 27 billion animals are brought into existence in the U.S. alone, only to be killed soon thereafter for food that is not only unnecessary, but unhealthy.

Waiting for the industry to change would require a conscience on their part.  That will never happen.  We have to change it by cutting the demand.  Without demand, there is no product to sell.  Every single person makes a difference.  On average, if you cut out all animals from your diet, you would be saving over 50 lives a year.  Anyone who says that one person can’t make a difference is sorely mistaken when it comes down to profit-based businesses.

If you ever doubt that farm animals have personalities, visit an animal sanctuary.  They display the same emotions as dogs and cats.  If you live in the Kentucky area, and want to visit or support one, check out Home At Last Animal Sanctuary.http://www.homeatlastanimals.org/ They rescue farm animals in addition to any other animals needing care.

¹  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Focus_On_Shell_Eggs/index.asp

²  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Meat_&_Poultry_Labeling_Terms/index.asp

Need a Starbucks fix? Not to fret…check out the Definitive Vegan Starbucks Guide!

*Updated 8/23/10*

*Updated 6/22/10:  The new Soy Milk Starbucks uses has been confirmed vegan via VegNews magazine in their May/June 2010 issue*

So we all know how easy and how difficult it can be to obtain simple ingredient information from a company.  Sometimes it’s as easy as slicing a tomato.  Other times, it’s like taking that tomato and making origami with it.  Good luck.  Here’s a sample of some correspondence with Starbucks.  I don’t have the original message I sent, but the other emails are verbatim.  I said something like this, “I was wondering if you could tell me if the sugar you use in your new frappuccino bases and syrups or any other products are processed with bone char.  I am vegan and am not interested in obtaining confidential proprietary information, I just want to know if I am inadvertently consuming animal products, or by-products.  Thank you very much for your time.”

Here is their response:

Hello Elisha,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

Unfortunately none of the products that we carry are vegan

Monday through Friday, 5AM to 6PM (PST)

If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know.

Warm Regards,

Kevin B.

Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

800 23-LATTE (235-2883)

Naturally I was a bit pissed, knowing that some of their products ARE vegan, whether they publicize it or not.  My response was as follows:

am I to understand that even the soy milk has animal derived ingredients?  Or were you just referring to the frappuccino bases and syrups (including sugar-free syrups)?  Your answer was a little vague and just wanted to make sure I understand.  Thank you for your time.

Starbucks response:

Hello Elisha,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

I have included the soy milk ingredients below for your information. With the possibility of cross contamination it is impossible to guarantee that handcrafted drinks or unpackaged food items are vegan, gluten free, or Kosher. It is possible a packaged product would meet the guidelines you are looking for as being Vegan, and would likely be labeled as such if it were.

Organic Vanilla Flavored Enriched Soymilk is offered in US Company Operated locations.

Ingredients: Organic soymilk (Filtered water, whole organic soybeans), organic evaporated cane juice, calcium carbonate, natural vanilla flavor with other natural flavors, sea salt, carrageenan, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, vitamin a palmitate, vitamin d2, riboflavin (B2), vitamin b12.

My response:

I’m not concerned with cross contamination too much, I work at starbucks and know hoe that goes, I just wanted to make sure that the “natural flavors” and “b12” in soy are not animal derived.  If you could answer this, I would be most grateful.

And their final response:

Hello Elisha,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company. Please see below for information regarding requests for ingredient sources.

While we understand that some customers may have a need to know specific ingredient information prior to consuming a product, unfortunately we are unable to provide more in-depth information than what is currently available in the ingredient statement. If there are concerns about this product possibly containing an ingredient derived from a source that you do not wish to consume, we would recommend that product not be consumed.

So there you have it.  Being obviously not happy with those answers, I decided to do my own research, and since I work there, it was fairly easy.  Here is my extensive list.  I hope these categories make it easier for you Starbucks junkies.

Products or Ingredients that ARE VEGAN:

  • All whole bean coffee, including espresso and decaf espresso in handcrafted beverages
  • Soy Milk (specially formulated for Starbucks)
  • Starbucks VIA
  • Iced coffee (black)
  • Vanilla condiment bar powder
  • Nutmeg condiment bar powder
  • Cinnamon condiment bar powder
  • Sea Salt Topping (used on Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, Salted Caramel Mocha)
  • Sugar In The Raw
  • Tazo Awake Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Chai Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo China Green Tips Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Refresh Tea (full leaf)
  • Musselman’s Apple Juice (if you were to ask for apple juice from the bar)
  • Frappuccino Roast Coffee (the coffee pumps that go in a frappuccino, not the syrup base)
  • Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal
  • Oatmeal Nut Medley topping
  • Ethos Water
  • MetroElectro Micronutrient Water
  • San Pellegrino Water
  • Hint Flavored Water
  • Tree Top Organic Apple Juice Box
  • Odwalla Orange Juice
  • Naked Juices (except Protein Zone, Banana Chocolate Protein Zone, Tropical Mango, Very Berry)
  • Izze Sparkling Juices
  • Peter Rabbit Organics Apple and Grape Puree
  • Peter Rabbit Organics Mango, Banana and Orange Puree
  • Starbucks Dry Roasted Almonds
  • Stretch Island Fruit Strips
  • Two Moms In The Raw Blueberry Granola
  • Two Moms In The Raw Gojiberry Granola
  • Peeled Snacks
  • Lucy’s Cookies
  • Food Should Taste Good Sweet Potato Chips
  • Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Chips
  • Darling Spuds Crushed Natural Sea Salt Chips

Products or Ingredients that have only Natural Flavors (possibly animal-derived):

  • Tazo Iced Tea (Black, Passion and Green)
  • Tazo Calm Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Earl Grey Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Orange Blossom Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Passion Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Vanilla Rooibos Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Zen Tea (full leaf)
  • Tazo Organic Iced Green Tea (bottle)
  • Orange Mango Juice (used in Orange Mango Vivanno smoothie)
  • Strawberry Juice (used in Strawberry Vivanno Smoothie, Strawberries and Cremé Frappuccino, Blended Strawberry Lemonade)
  • Sugar Free Caramel Syrup
  • Sugar Free Cinnamon Dolce Syrup
  • Sugar Free Hazelnut Syrup
  • Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup
  • Peppermint Mints
  • Cinnamon Gum
  • Cinnamon Mints
  • Spearmint Gum
  • Spearmint Mints
  • Starbucks Salt & Pepper Popcorn

Products or Ingredients that have only Refined Sugar (possibly processed with bone char):

  • Starbucks Iced VIA (package)
  • Chocolate condiment bar powder
  • Dark Chocolate Curls (topping for Dark Cherry Mocha)
  • Cremé Frappuccino Syrup Base
  • Lemonade (used in Tea Lemonades, Blended Strawberry Lemonade)
  • Green Tea Matcha Powder (used in Green Tea Frappuccino, Green Tea Latte)
  • Mocha Syrup/Sauce
  • Oatmeal Fruit topping
  • Oatmeal Brown Sugar topping
  • Vanilla Bean Powder (used in Vanilla Bean Frappuccino, Cafe Vanilla Frappuccino)
  • Starbucks Simply Nuts & Fruit
  • Sahale Snacks Soledad Almonds
  • Sahale Snacks Cashews

Products or Ingredients that have Natural Flavors AND Refined Sugar:

  • Coffee Frappuccino Syrup Base
  • Caramel Syrup
  • Cinnamon Dolce Syrup
  • Classic Syrup (used to sweeten Teas, Iced Coffee, Green Tea Frappuccino, Strawberries and Cremé Frappuccino)
  • Dark Cherry Syrup
  • Hazelnut Syrup
  • Peppermint Syrup
  • Raspberry Syrup
  • Toffee Nut Syrup
  • Vanilla Syrup

Products or Ingredients that ARE NOT VEGAN:

  • All of the pastries in the food case, unless otherwise labeled (milk and/or eggs)
  • Cinnamon Dolce condiment bar powder (milk, sugar)
  • Sugar from condiment bar (Domino Sugar processes with bone char)
  • Caramel Sauce (milk, sugar, used in Caramel Macchiatos, Caramel Frappuccinos, Caramel Mochas)
  • Chocolate Chips (milk, sugar, used in Java Chip Frappuccinos, Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccinos)
  • Coffee Light Frappuccino Syrup Base (milk)
  • White Chocolate Mocha Syrup/Sauce (milk, sugar)
  • Toffee Mocha Syrup/Sauce (milk, sugar)
  • Pumpkin Spice Syrup/Sauce (milk, sugar)
  • Protein and Fiber Powder (whey, used in Vivanno smoothies)
  • Tazo Chai Concentrate (honey, sugar, used in Chai Lattes, Chai Cremé Frappuccinos)
  • Doubleshot Canned Drinks (milk, sugar)
  • Frappuccino Bottles (milk, sugar)
  • Madeleines (milk, eggs, sugar)
  • Peppermint Gum (gelatin)
  • Dark Chocolate & Caramel Bar (milk, whey, sugar)
  • Dark Chocolate Bar (milk, sugar)
  • Milk Chocolate Bar (milk, sugar)
  • KIND bars (honey, sugar)
  • Walkers Shortbread Cookies (milk, sugar)
  • Two By Two Natural Vanilla Biscuits (milk, sugar)
  • Biscottis (butter, eggs, sugar)
  • Chocolate Grahams (milk)
  • Starbucks Butter Popcorn (butter)
  • Sahale Snacks Barbeque Almonds (milk)
  • Sahale Snacks Southwest Cashews with Chili and Cheddar (milk, sugar)
  • Sahale Snacks Almonds with Cranberries, Honey and Sea Salt (honey, sugar)
  • Food Should Taste Good White Cheddar Tortilla Chips (milk)
  • Darling Spuds Sour Cream with a Hint of Mexican Chilli Chips (milk)
  • Starbucks Assorted Jellybeans (milk, beeswax)
  • Starbucks Dutch Caramel Wafers (milk)

So there you have it.  Let’s do a quick recap on bar drinks if you are a little confused.

Frappuccino Lights are NOT VEGAN

White Chocolate Mochas are NOT VEGAN

Chai Lattes are NOT VEGAN (if you do not consume honey)

Pumpkin Spice Lattes are NOT VEGAN

Toffee Mochas are NOT VEGAN

Caramel Macchiatos are NOT VEGAN (if you keep the caramel sauce on top)

Java Chip and Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccinos are NOT VEGAN

Vivanno Smoothies are NOT VEGAN (with protein & fiber powder included)

Whipped Cream is obviously NOT VEGAN

If you order a soy, no whip, Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate or Salted Caramel Mocha, there is NO dairy, only sugar and natural flavors.

As for the sugar and natural flavors, those are judgement calls.  I continue to drink the soy milk, since it’s much better than drinking milk and supporting the dairy industry directly.  I really hope this helped.  If you have ANY questions or comments, please leave them.  

Vegan Frappuccinos at Starbucks? Not quite…

So I’ve been reading all across the internets that Starbucks now offers vegan Frappuccinos!!!  Amazing!! Wonderful!! Outstanding, Starbucks!  If only.  While some vegans might not worry about refined sugar too much, just about everything at Starbucks is loaded with it.  While I’m not the health police, or vegan police for that matter, I have to say that turning your head when it comes to refined sugar does the vegan movement no good in the long run.  If you are unaware, a lot of refined sugar is processed with bone char from cows.  There are a few companies that DO NOT use bone char:

Florida Crystals Refinery

Refined Sugars Incorporated

Pillsbury

Supreme Sugar Company (subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland)

Sugar Companies that DO use bone char:

Domino

Savannah Foods

California & Hawaiian Sugar Company (excluding the Raw Sugar)

However, knowing where Starbucks gets their sugar for their products is impossible to find out.  This is proprietary information that they are not willing to give out.  Therefore are these new frappuccinos vegan?  Technically, no one knows, except for the sugar manufacturer.  How do we get a hold of them?  Your guess is as good as mine.  If you’re not concerned about the bone char that may or may not be used in the process of your sugar, then eat away.  To me, that’s like saying “As long as the cow is dead, what harm is there in using its bones, why let it go to waste?”  And I’m quite sure I would never hear those words being uttered by a vegan.  Eating refined sugar that you know is processed with bone char is no different in theory than eating steak.  You are still giving money to these factory farms.

As for artificial sweeteners, a lot have been used extensively in tests on animals if not by the companies themselves, by the FDA or EPA.  I just avoid all artificial sweeteners as much as I can.  I stick with Sugar In The Raw.  Any turbinado sugar, beet sugar, evaporated cane juice, and agave nectar are vegan.  There are lots of others, so just do a little research.

So, unless someone can contact the sugar buyers for Starbucks, and bribe them to tell us where they get their sugar from, it’s best to just leave the frappuccinos to the omnis.  I am however working on a master list of vegan friendly products from Starbucks, and since I am a barista there, I can assure you, my research will be thorough.