February Editorial- Agriculture: The Sacrificial Lamb of Corporate America

Written By: Tawny Tesconi
Published: February 7, 2020

Did you notice your February Farm News arrived a week later than usual? No, your mail delivery person didn’t fail you and our printing presses didn’t breakdown. We purposely held production of our much-loved monthly publication to allow for us to include stories, accolades, and pictures from our 31st Great Sonoma Wine & Crab Fest held on February 1st. What a night it was! Fun was had by all as they strolled through the reception area, enjoying food and libations from our many local restaurants and wineries while listening to the sounds of the band Court “N” Disaster. Once the close to 2,000 guests moved into Grace Pavilion, they were treated to an amazing meal served by over 150 4-H and FFA members. We can record this event as a success in the history books thanks to all the support from our members and non-members who stepped up and supported us through sponsorship, auction purchases and raising the paddle for our Foundation’s scholarship program.

There is much to share about that evening, but there is something that I feel I must rant about that has caused me frustration and has changed my weekly routine…and that is the recent announcement by Starbucks regarding their plant-based options. 

A few weeks ago, Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company, published a letter outlining plans to make the company more sustainable in the new decade. The five areas of focus for their Environmental Sustainability Commitment include: Expanding plant-based menu options, shifting away from single-use to reusable packaging, investing in regenerative agriculture, reforestation, forest conservation, and water replenishment, better ways to manage their waste, and more eco-friendly stores. In several interviews, CEO Johnson and his spokespeople explained their decision was based on the environmental damages caused by dairy cows and some animal agriculture industry opponents have stated that Starbucks leadership plans to eventually eliminate milk from its menu. 

I have no problem with plant-based milk alternatives – plants are agriculture products just like dairy products and consumers should have food options. However, when the plant-based food options are used to discredit animal agriculture and the media fails to report on the nutritional value that milk has over milk substitutes, consumers are being duped. What Johnson does not include in his letter and other public comments about this decision to move away from milk products is that People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of their newest shareholders – coincidence? I don’t think so.

Nowhere in Starbucks’ bold new sustainability plan can I find a mention of eliminating drive-thrus from the business model. Hmmm… could that business practice and potential company mantra hit too close to the bottom line? After all, according to a 2017 Green House Gas Emissions report released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when you evaluate the source of greenhouse gas emissions, the largest source is transportation at 29% and agriculture has the least amount of emissions at 9%. From another perspective, methane accounts for 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions when studying the type of gas emitted, which pales to the 82% of emissions reported from carbon dioxide. The US Department of Energy estimates that eliminating the idling of car engines would be the same as taking 5 million vehicles off the roads. CEO Johnson, if Starbucks wants to set the bar for other companies when it comes to positive carbon business practices, why don’t you eliminate drive-thrus, that will not only reduce carbon dioxide omissions but suggest a healthier lifestyle? Too afraid to reduce shareholder dividends?

Lately, people have been discussing the low rider counts for the SMART train. It took a supermajority vote to get the funding necessary to build the train but only a single-digit percentage of our County’s population rides the train. Sometimes referred to as “sin” tax – it’s a case of subjecting oneself to a penalty for choosing a more comfortable, or preferred option. In other words, “I am not going to choose this more environmentally friendly transportation option personally, but I will pay the cost to build it so others will use it. I am doing my part through self-taxation”. 

How does this relate to the Starbucks rant that is the subject of this editorial? Well, people are not willing to give up drive-thrus or other carbon-emitting practices related to personal convenience or comfort, and instead, look to other sources (like agriculture) to fix the problem that civilization and comfort have created.

To bring this editorial full circle, the day before our crab feed, I made a decision that unfortunately made more work for our amazing staff. We called up Starbucks who had already agreed to donate coffee service for the event and politely declined their offer citing the recent statements made against animal agriculture. We served our guests percolated coffee and Clover Sonoma half and half. Not the convenient thing to do…but the right thing to do.

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