By now you must have heard the latest trumpeting about the triumphs of social networking. We are being reminded of the power of one person with a Facebook account as we read the news about Starbucks’ announcement that they will no longer used crushed beetles as a food coloring agent in some of their beverages.
Never has a tidbit of news unleashed so many questions.
First of all, who knew that Starbucks used a food colouring extracted from crushed beetles? The cochineal beetle of Latin America has been used for years as a dyeing agent. I saw a picture of someone squishing one and the result is bright red goo. Starbucks was using the carmine dye extracted from the beetle to give strawberry Frappuccino’s and smoothies their pink color and also to make the swirls in raspberry swirl cake nice and red.
The second question, of course, is why, if these Frappuccinos, smoothies and swirl cakes are made of strawberry and raspberry, do they need to be colored red? Answer? They don’t actually have strawberries and raspberries in them—it’s all done with flavour chemicals which aren’t naturally red.
Anyway, vegans decided that consuming squished beetle extract wasn’t consistent with their philosophy. So they started an on line campaign to get Starbucks to cease and desist.
One wonders whether it might have been easier to simply cease and desist from having strawberry smoothies at Starbucks in order to maintain one’s vegan integrity. After all, vegans give up a lot of things already. And not only that, this Starbuck’s stuff is the tip of the iceberg—according to the articles I read, you’d be surprised at the variety of foods and drinks beetle juice finds its way into. So you’re probably eating a lot of it without even knowing it.
My first reaction when I read this story, like almost everyone else I guess, was to go “Yuck,” and move on with life. But then I started wondering.
Starbucks has said that it will use a tomato-based dye called lycopene instead of the carmine dye. Why would a company like Starbucks change its recipes to make vegans happy? No one knows for sure how many vegetarians there are in the world, much less vegans. Some unscientific internet research indicates that the number of vegans is approximately 0.2% of the global population.
So when a big company makes a change to accommodate 0.2% of the population, you have to ask yourself whether there is something else going on.
I remember one time—long before the internet, so it never got out of hand—someone started a rumor that McDonald’s burgers were made out of worms rather than beef. It got to the point where McDonalds felt it necessary to issue a statement in which they refreshingly pointed out that worms were more expensive than beef so there’s no way they would use them.
I don’t know if the carmine dye is cheaper or more expensive than the tomato dye and I certainly don’t know all of the factors that went into Starbuck’s decision. But the more I think about it, the less I care why they did it.
I’m no vegan but I think this is a good thing. Vegans don’t eat animal products because they think it’s wrong to kill other creatures when there are perfectly good alternative foods available.
And speaking of alternative foods, consider the strawberry Frappuccino. It’s really a strawberry flavoured Frappuccino. It doesn’t have any strawberries in it. Just a bunch of chemicals that taste like strawberries when mixed together into a (probably) carcinogenic soup. I don’t know what color that potion is, but I’m guessing it’s not pink, so it has to be dyed, and beetle extract dye up until now was the coloring of choice.
The beetle might not be sentient, cute and fuzzy, or otherwise useful, but doesn’t it deserve better than to exist in order to fool us into thinking that the chemicals we are consuming are the real thing?