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June 2006 -- Starbucks, of all enterprises, is the latest victim of food fascists. It is ironic that the Center for Science in the Public Interest is attacking the politically correct, rainforest-friendly, self-styled socially responsible Seattle-based corporation for clogging the arteries of Americans.
Starbucks, of course, is famous for offering its customers many choices. It's impossible to order just "a cup of coffee." There are two or three coffees of the day chosen from some three-dozen blends from around the world. You can get them in regular, decaf or half-caf and three different sizes: tall, grande and venti. Maybe you want a latte, cappuccino, Frappuccino, Macchiato, Americano or straight espresso? Perhaps you want it extra hot or with ice? Or with one of a dozen favors, malts, mochas or toppings? Or go for their teas. It's a consumer's dream.
But Starbucks is very conscious of its customers' health concerns. That's why it offers whole, skim or soy milk. Watching carbs? Try your drink "breve" with half-and-half. Watching calories? Order your latte "skinny" so you won't fill out when you ask for "extra foam." Or forgo the whipped cream on the more milkshake-like beverages. Or order sugar-free vanilla or hazelnut syrup. And just skip the many cake offerings altogether.
Critics charge many Starbucks products are high in calories and high in fat, especially those tasty trans-fats that are really bad for us. So what? Starbucks offers everyone a choice. If you don't like the venti vanilla caramel Macchiato with extra whip, don't order it. In any case, Starbucks lists on its Web site and brochures in its stores the nutritional information about its products.
But that's not enough for the self-appointed health police. They're trying to shame Starbucks into putting all of that information on menu boards in their cafes which, aside from being redundant, would make those menus, crowded with numbers, look to most people as confusing as the big board at the stock exchange. In any case, come on people, we all know whipped cream and cakes are fattening. Starbucks' upscale clientele is certainly educated enough to figure that out.
Critics also want Starbucks to "voluntarily" cut down on the fat stuff in their fare. Normally, boring biddies can natter at us all they want and we're free to take their advice or tell them to take a hike. But that's not what the Center for Science in the Public Interest wants. They and their kind are bent on stopping us from being unhealthy -- by their definition -- no matter what.
For example, that Center recently filed suit against KFC to stop it from frying chicken in high-fat oil. (Perhaps anything short of Kentucky Steamed Tofu just won't do.) They sought to ban olestra -- a fat substitute -- from potato chips because it gives some individuals slight digestive problems. (Hint: If a food doesn't agree with you, don't eat it.) These guys aren't just interested in educating us. They're interested in controlling us, not just taking our coffee and cakes but our freedom. They are part of our social order's degeneration: pretentious paternalist prudes who believe they have a right to run our lives and we have a duty to obey.
In its pamphlets, Starbucks touts itself as socially responsible. It signs onto every nice-sounding environmental, energy, labor and global standard. It's the epitome of PC. While it's questionable whether we're really endangered by a lack of recycling or the loss of animal habitat, there's no question that the greatest danger to all Americans and the citizens of all other countries is the lack of individual freedom and the loss of liberty.
I grant that many Americans would do better to order carrot sticks rather than carrot cake and to plant themselves on an exercise bike rather than a stool at the eatery in the local mall.
I myself am a jogger. I usually order my Starbucks sans the high-calorie, high-carb additives, though as I write this piece I'm sipping a banana-coconut Frappuccino (damn, it's good) in solidarity with my broad-at-the-hips brothers and sisters and with a successful business under siege.
Personal autonomy and our freedom to run our own lives are really at stake here. Enterprises should be free to offer whatever goods and services they want and to advertise them as tastier or healthier, better priced or better quality, utilitarian or stylish, indulgent or eco-friendly -- whatever. But all enterprises and citizens must recognize that the ultimate value in a society is individual choice, based on mutual consent of the parties involved, free from government interference. To defend this freedom is the highest act of social responsibility.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.