Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Should we hate on Starbucks?

when i'm not thinking about food, i'm a nerd.
Food list:
Breakfast:  granola I bought from the Logan Square Farmer’s Market, blueberries and soy milk
Lunch: raspberry fruit leather, cucumbers and peanut butter (this is more delicious than you could imagine), sweet potato bread
Snack: tangerine, almonds, Starbucks sugar-free vanilla soy latte
Dinner: applesauce, blueberries, sweet potato chips

Where Is it from? And Theological Reflections (all in one!)
Ok, well, my latte came from the Starbucks that is about a block away from McCormick. Hyde Park has an absurd number of coffee shops in its neighbor; there are at least four in easy walking distance from McCormick. Starbucks is the corporately owned option. It’s the one I tend to go to the most (because its closest to school), but here are my other options.

Until this year, I didn’t even know about the DivSchool Coffee Shop. Its student run and most of its coffee is fair trade and the cups are paper-based. I’m convinced that this is the greenest coffee option in Hyde Park (they’re working on composting their coffee grounds!)

I’m still not really sure how I feel about ThirdWorld Café on 53rd—the customer service isn’t always that great and they can almost never foam my soy milk correctly. But their coffee is fair trade. And that fair trade coffee is served in a Styrofoam cup.

My very favorite coffee shop in Hyde Park is a longer walk from McCormick but it’s the best: Café 57! It’s locally owned and the coffee is fantastic! The distance from school is the major deterrent for me going there (I’m already commuting down to school, so I often can’t convince myself to walk half a mile for coffee). But it’s where I went every Monday night before my Spanish class last semester.

So why did I go to Starbucks? Because it’s closest to school. It’s what was most convenient. I’m not sure it a terrible, terrible choice for a coffee spot. Going to Starbucks is a once-a-week event for me. It’s a weekly adventure into corporate coffee (the rest of the week, when I want coffee I go to New Wave Café in Logan Square!) and I mostly think that’s fine.

But not everyone likes Starbucks.

This site talks about why one particular person dislikes them: http://www.ihatestarbucks.com/why.php

Coffee growers should be paid fair wages and work in non-oppressive work environments. Oxfam successfully convinced Starbucks to be better to their workers.

Here’s what Oxfam says about eco-friendly coffee growers in general: http://www.oxfam.org/en/development/ethiopia/coffee-growers-earn-better-price-protect-environment . This mostly focuses on better growing conditions for the coffee plants, not for the workers (though Oxfam has worked for better work conditions for Ethiopian coffee workers).

But what I think a conversation about Starbucks is really about is local versus corporate. Buying local means that we support local businesses and people, and we can have actual relationships with people at all parts of the production process. And food is not just for nutrients but also for relationships. At risk for repeating things I’ve said before—Jesus used food to build relationships and teach. The types of relationships we build should be ones that deepen our integrity and push us to work for the good life for all people. 

I’ve hated the fact that I don’t like going to the local coffee shops which use Styrofoam (just because they use Styrofoam), but I’ve also hated the fact that I take the easy way out and go to Starbucks because it’s closest. I wonder if it matters what choice I make if I only go once a week now, if I go to a local place every other time.

One of the things that the person at http://www.ihatestarbucks.com/why.php complains about is that the company is just out for profits. Isn’t that true of local shops too? this person also complains that the baristas are “slave labor”… my friends who have worked at Starbucks have gotten paid minimum wage plus tips. Not the best salary, but not slave labor (that’s hyperbole).
Maybe I’m just justifying my laziness one day a week.

All you Starbucks drinkers or Starbucks haters… thoughts?


  1. I feel like it's all about balance (which I guess isn't that novel an idea)--do the most good where you are. You buy food at other locally-owned establishments (see: granola), and you support other kinds of local businesses. At least Starbucks employees are unionized to some degree.

  2. I'm torn on Starbucks too, and tend to go elsewhere when I have the option. Though I have recently decided it is not the "great Satan" many people make it out to be based on a few things.
    1) The specific Starbucks in Hyde Park was opened in partnership with Magic Johnson's "Urban Coffee Opportunities" which was established specifically to bring attention to underserved neighborhoods and create economic opportunities in areas that were marked as food deserts and badly in need of job creation. One can argue as to whether or not the Hyde Park location fits into that criteria, but the initiative itself seems to have good roots.
    2) I have several "starving artist/student/theater" friends living in the city working for Starbucks and they hands down say the employees are treated incredibly well. They all (both full-time and part-time) have access to affordable full coverage health care and make livable wages. One single mom I know credits her job there and their health insurance with getting her kids to college. They also were one of the first companies out there to provide, and continue to be outspoken advocates for, same sex domestic partner benefits.
    So, that's my 2 cents. I try to buy elsewhere because I figure starbucks really isn't going out of business anytime soon and I like to support local. But, I definitely do not find it to be morally reprehensible to be a patron.

  3. on top of all those things, Meg, there's this: http://www.naturalstep.org/en/dancing-with-tiger

    this book talks about how starbucks is actively looking to be on the leading edge of environmental sustainability--so they are trying to be profitable even as they're trying to be responsible to their people and to our planet.

  4. Instead of Styrofoam you can always have them put your beverage in a thermos or reusable drinking receptacle. Most places will charge less. I’m assuming you would have to refill this many times to make up for the energy is cost to produce, but Styrofoam is the worst when it comes to Mother Earth.

    Compost piles aren’t that hard to have. We should start one. My dad has one in his woods and puts coffee grounds, banana peels, etc. Then he uses it in his garden as fertilizer. Great idea!

    As far as being a barista you don’t really have that job to makes lots of money. You have to enjoy what you do. From a business standpoint I could see consumers are demanding you to keep your prices down would in turn make it so your employees are paid a fair, but not excessive wages/salary.

    I wish I didn’t have to overanalyze the way we drink coffee. I guess that is what has to happen to be conscientious. I only drink water when I am at work so I brought a permanent cup to refill every day vs. using a temporary plastic waste cup.

    Cuuute Blog! Can’t wait to be blessed with your presence soon.

    P.S. - I had to prove I was not a robot to make this post. HAHA!

    1. lauren: i hate styrofoam so much!!! but that's really the smaller reason why i don't got to those places that use it. in hyde park, those particular cafes just happen to have the crankier baristas (though that's started to change the last couple of times i've stopped by).

      you should absolutely start a compost in your backyard. i will come help you! :)

  5. I had a sore throat this morning and stopped at the deli at work for a hot cup of tea. They filled up a styrofoam cup and proceeded towards the microwave because their hot water wasn't working. Who puts styrofoam in the microvewave!? I stopped them, advised them that I changed my mind and booked it out of there. I found a mug at work and some tea bags in my desk, haha. I hate styrofoam! ewwwwwwwwwwwww. That was a close one. ::phew::