A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
If you’re a fan of any of Starbucks’ pink-hued treats, such as the Strawberry & Creme Frappuccino, I hope you know that you haven’t just been sucking down empty calories. You’ve also been eating bugs. I’m not sure which is worse, come to think of it.
No, I take it back. Bugs is much, much worse.
A group of vegans recently uncovered that the red dye used in Starbucks products like the Strawberry Frapp, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie is made using a product called cochineal extract.
“What’s that,” you may ask, if you’ve been living without important Internet news for the last month. Well, cochineals are tiny beetles which leave a smear of deep red on your palms when you smush them in cold blood, as illustrated by Google Image Search. It is evidently a common practice to use their natural crimson blood+guts as a form of food coloring.
I know. Gross.
The vegans, understandably, were in an uproar after learning that they’d been unwittingly ingesting the remains of those who were once living, albeit creepily. And the non-vegans were just plain horrified at the idea that they’d been unwittingly ingesting dead bugs. (That’s above the usual annual intake of unwittingly ingested bugs, of course: two pounds!) So Starbucks first responded saying some blabidyblah about natural ingredients being preferable to chemical ones, and everyone was like, please try a little harder to fix this or stop serving pink crap. And now the ‘Bux has cleaned up its act and has announced that in June, it will begin transitioning away from bug juice and towards tomato extract. And that’s great and all, but to my layman’s brain, a tomato-based product sounds so much more obvious a choice than an insect-based one. I would love to have been a fly on the wall (bad pun: intended) during the board meeting when they weighed out the pros and cons between using artificial coloring, vegetable-based coloring, and beetle puree.
Anyway, I’m not one to criticize their decision to figure this out properly. But this little flap does bring up the issue of why we need our foods to be so aggressively colored, after all. If it tastes like strawberries and it’s made from strawberries, do you need for it to be pink? Consider this:
The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at a Baskin Robbins ice cream
gulag store. For some reason, no one was ever happy in there. Employees, customers, least of all the manager. It was a miserable place. So one miserable day, a miserable woman with her miserable, tempestuous child came up to the counter to place an order.
The woman looked down at her child with a half-hearted smile-grimace plastered across her face. “What would you like, sweetie?” she asked nervously.
The kid frowned and pouted and then shouted, “I want a milkshake! A green one!”
“Green, like mint?” she offered.
“GREEN!” he screamed, pointing to a picture of a mint chip shake on the board above my head.
She gave me a look that was at once petrified of him and furious at me. “HE WANTS A GREEN MILKSHAKE!” she yelled into my face, again pointing at the photo.
“Mint chip?” I asked. “That’s a mint chip milkshake you’re pointing to.”
“YES! THE GREEN ONE! JUST MAKE IT GREEN!” she shrilled.
So I made them a stupid mint chip milkshake, which of course is nowhere near as green in real life as it is in the significantly enhanced product poster. The mother came to retrieve it and went back to her table. Sure enough, within a minute she was back at the counter with a fierce expression on her face. She shoved the milkshake towards me and pointed to it.
“Is this green?” she asked threateningly.
“It’s the mint chip milkshake you ordered.”
“It’s not really green.”
“That’s because it’s real ice cream, and not a picture.”
Her savage look seemed to wilt a little, and she appeared to be paralyzed with the realization that, at the age of five, her son had successfully manipulated her into becoming a maniac. But she wasn’t going to let me see her soften. And somehow, this was all my fault.
“We asked for green,” she pressed.
“Unless you want me to put some food dye in it, that’s as green as it gets,” I said calmly.
“Well,” she seethed. “You should really start telling people that your milkshakes aren’t as green as they look in that photo!” And with that, she stormed back to her table where she was undoubtedly to be received mercilessly by her displeased little despot.
Perhaps we’d all be perfectly fine without any added coloring to make our food seem like it tastes more flavorful. Or perhaps without it, everything we eat would look bland and unappetizing.
Either way, I know two things: one, that I am happy I never drank Strawberry Frappuccinos, and two, it’s never as green as you want it to be.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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