Ask A Vegan: What was the hardest thing for you to give up, and are you still missing it?

For most people, cheese seems to be the hardest thing to “quit”.  And for good reason.  There are many studies that present evidence that cheese has addictive qualities, which is one reason so many people have cravings for it.  And although cheese was one thing that I ate on a daily basis before going vegan, I would have to say cheese was not the thing I thought most about.

I have a pretty big sweet tooth.  Ask my boyfriend.  And because of that, I’ve become my dentist’s best friend.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to eat a pastry at Starbucks every day.  The main reason being, I work there.  But when I went vegan, it meant that I was no longer going to pick out day old pastries from the bin in the backroom.  Every once in a while, I would gaze at a doughnut and remember how it would taste in my mouth.  But within seconds of thinking that, my brain would also switch to the process of making that doughnut.  It wasn’t just a vision of a machine squirting out dough.  It was how the milk was taken to make that dough.  It was how these dairy cows would rarely, if at all, get to see the light of day.  How they are constantly impregnated, then have their babies taken from them.  How these baby calves are either thrown back into the dairy industry or stuck in veal compartments where they are not allowed to move (literally) until they are killed, within months of being born.  And how these dairy cows are killed for meat after 3-7 years, when their typical lifespan is 20-25!

Because I work around these pastries on a daily basis, I have the opportunity to eat whatever I want.  But for me to do that, would mean I would be okay with the idea that animals are ours to do with as we wish.  Which strikes me as an incredibly arrogant, speciesist way of life.  Does that mean I am depriving myself?  Absolutely not!!  There are tons of sweets you can eat as a vegan.  In fact, one of the most popular vegan foods in the past few years have been vegan cupcakes!  You can find chocolate (Endangered Species, Newman’s Own), cookies (Newman’s Own, Oreos), and tons of dairy-free ice cream in most grocery stores.  And if I feel like something a bit more fancy, I’ll take a trip to my local health food store, which usually has some kind of delicious cupcake or confection.  And of course, I try to eat any sweets in moderation…as much as possible 🙂

What it comes down to in the end, is this:  I don’t look at it as giving up anything.  It’s not mine to take to begin with, therefore I don’t feel deprived.  There’s a tasty substitute for just about every animal product out there.  Just experiment to find your favorite, or make your own–that’s half the fun!

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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.