Vegan Upcharge!

PETA has launched a weird protest against Starbucks.

Harrisburg, PA’s WHTM ABC27 (“Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell glues himself to Starbucks counter, video shows“):

Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell superglued himself to the counter of a Starbucks café in New York City on Tuesday to protest of the chain’s policy of charging extra for plant-based milk.

The protest began shortly before 10 a.m. EST, according to livestreamed footage which was shared to Facebook by PETA on Tuesday morning. After gluing himself to the café counter, Cromwell — who has appeared in “Babe,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Succession” — read a prepared statement in which he denounced Starbucks’ vegan-milk upcharge, calling it harmful to the environment and discriminatory toward those who suffer from lactose-intolerance, which affects people of color at a greater percentage, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“When will you stop raking in huge profits while customers, animals and the environment suffer?” said Cromwell, in part, while situated among a group of PETA-affiliated protestors near the Starbucks register. “When will you stop penalizing people for their ethnicities, their morals?”

After finishing his prepared statement, Cromwell and other activists began chanting, “Save the planet, save the cows. Stop the vegan upcharge now!”

Cromwell is 82 years old and I’ve enjoyed his long career as a character actor over the years, so I’m not inclined to pile on too much. Still, I must say I find this hysterical.

Most obviously, because plant-based “milk” is actually quite a bit more expensive than actual dairy products. My local grocer has been implementing this “upcharge” as long as I have been aware of such “milks” (going back to almond milk, close to 20 years ago). There’s also a “whole-grain upcharge” in the bread aisle and a filet mignon upcharge in the meat section. Why, some vegetables are even more pricy than others.

And supergluing oneself to a counter is just a weird-ass way to protest. Then again, it got my attention.

Apparently, both the concept and the talking points are PETA’s.

PETA had previously staged a similar protest in April, which resulted in the arrest of two activists who glued themselves to the counter of a Starbucks café at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Just a few weeks before, PETA also teamed with Paul McCartney to urge Starbucks to end its policy of upcharging for alternative milks.

PETA, however, has been campaigning against Starbucks’ surcharge for years, arguing that it not only contributes to the support of dairy farmers and the veal industry, but that it unfairly discriminates against vegan customers. Also affected are lactose-intolerant customers, “most of whom are people of color,” PETA has previously said.

Oh, and it turns out that Starbucks only sometimes charges more for substituting plant-based milk–basically if a customer wants a lot of it.

Starbucks locations in the U.S. currently charge extra to customize its beverages with non-dairy milk, but a “splash” of the same non-dairy milk can be added to certain coffee beverages free of charge, Starbucks has previously confirmed.

Interestingly, despite all of the outcry over the sheer wastefulness of water that goes into the production of almond (and other?) plant-based dairy substitutes, they apparently are in fact less harmful to the environment in many ways. Not surprisingly, variety has its own tradeoffs in this regard.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Environment, Humor, Popular Culture, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Net-net, PETA has done more harm to their causes than good.

  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    Honestly, this is the sort of thing I normally just walk on by. There’s quite likely an artificial scarcity, which enables price discrimination. It’s a very widespread phenomenon. I don’t like it, but I don’t really see how to do much about it.

    Honestly, though, if I’m right about the artificial scarcity, then I would hope that some other coffee purveyor would find advantage at supplying vegan milk at no extra charge. Which might or might not give them a competitive advantage.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    If it’s on the internet it must be true:

    Health Benefits of Black Coffee
    Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention
    Reduced Risk of Cancer
    Reduced Risk of Cirrhosis
    Depression: Studies have shown that coffee may help to reduce depression risk, especially if you drink four or more cups per day. BUZZZZZ!
    Diabetes Management

    I guess that I’ve been drinking vegan coffee all along. It’s made from a bean.

  4. Gustopher says:

    Most obviously, because plant-based “milk” is actually quite a bit more expensive than actual dairy products.

    Perhaps if we didn’t have massive subsidies to dairy farms it wouldn’t be.

  5. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Actually, the subsidies benefit mega-farm type dairies, and are a major reason for the death of the small dairy operation. AFAICT, small producers get about the same price per pound from the processors as they did when I declined the opportunity to inherit 180 acres and 200+ Holsteins back in the mid-70’s. IIRC, one of the many snivels from The Orange One was that Canada dairy farmers made significantly more $$$/pound of milk than their ‘Merikan cousins, and were able to run small, sustainable herds. Interestingly enough, Oregon has several dairy operations in excess of 100k cows.

    I’m presuming that PETA refers to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (and not the less-well-known group People Eating Tasty Animals). insert snark emoji, please.

  6. Monala says:

    As someone who isn’t vegan but is lactose intolerant,I have loved the proliferation of vegan dairy substitutes. I can now enjoy things like cheeseburgers and shakes. I know I pay a little more, but it’s been worth it. (Not that I wouldn’t appreciate the prices coming down).