When plant-based food is used purely as a marketing gimmick by those who do not fully understand the environmental impact of eating animal products, the true meaning of the word ‘plant-based’ becomes lost, and the reason for its creation becomes secondary, redundant and in this case almost forgotten.
We need to talk about the word ‘plant-based’ and how it is used here in Asia. We have been wanting to broach this topic for a while, but our ‘plant-based’ experience at Starbucks here in Bangkok today, has forced this topic into the spotlight.
By definition, plant-based food is 100% plant-derived with the exception of honey. The use of the word ‘vegan’ instead of ‘plant-based’ often refers to a moral standpoint on animal exploitation, meaning a vegan would also refrain from wearing leather, wool, silk, eating honey and visiting zoos. However, both diets exclude animal products.
Over the past week the plant-based internet scene has been buzzing with the news of Starbucks’ new Plant-based menu launching across Asia. Today was the first day this menu became available in all Starbucks’ locations Thailand wide.
At first glance, this menu features 3 delicious looking plant-based drinks made with Oatly oat milk, and 1 plant-based Beyond Meat sandwich.
Upon entering, we were ecstatic to see posters broadcasting the arrival of the new ‘plant-based’ menu throughout the store.
On closer inspection, the Beyond Meat sandwich appeared to have cheese inside it. Excited at the possibility that there was a plant-based cheese atop this plant-based sandwich, we double checked if the cheese was dairy-free. The staff respond with a “no, it contains dairy”… The Starbucks staff were met with pure confusion on our end.
Next step was to just double check if the bread contained milk… just in case we could remove the cheese. It turns out this also contains dairy. Sadly, their seemingly plant-based sandwich, contains no plant-based ingredients apart from the Beyond Meat patty itself.
Ok, not to worry, we still have an amazing looking plant-based drinks menu to enjoy! This menu shows 3 delicious looking drinks. An Oatmilk Cocoa Macchiato, an OatMilk Cocoa Frappuccino and an Iced OatMilk Teavanna Pure Matcha Latte.
On the menu photo, the OatMilk Cocoa Frappuccino appears to have cream on top. After what we had just learned about the sandwich, we thought we would double check that this was plant-based cream… “the cream is made from dairy”, the staff explained. Next question, “if we remove the cream, would this drink now be plant-based?”. “Yes” replied the Starbucks staff.
OK great, now we are over that hurdle, we order all 3 drinks in dine-in glasses. The Starbucks staff politely inform us that they don’t have dine-in glasses like the ones shown on the menu, only plastic cups…
Plastered across the counter were “Let’s Go Green” signs stating that Starbucks don’t use plastic utensils and “use paper straws”. However, they do not offer any plastic-free alternatives for their cold drinks (their most popular menu items) and only provide PLA plastic straws. Not paper.
When we received our drinks, 2 of them were topped with chocolate syrup. We thought we would just check once again, that this was a plant-based syrup. The Starbucks staff informed us that all 3 of the plant-based drinks contain ‘cocoa’ that is made from dairy milk. This was not mentioned to use before ordering despite informing the staff that we were allergic to dairy (oldest trick in the book!).
We very quickly went from a very exciting plant-based menu with 3 drinks and 1 sandwich, to realising that none of the items on the plant-based menu were 100% plant-based. Luckily, we were finally able to modify the drinks, after multiple changes, to be made 100% plant-based. This did mean however, that the drinks were no longer the exciting drinks shown on the menu and contained no chocolate or cocoa flavour at all.
(Although these drinks were delicious, the same result could be achieved by ordering a flavoured soy latte which is, by default, 100% plant-based.)
The one saving grace to our visit was that, luckily, as we are nearing the vegetarian festival here in Thailand, Starbucks did have one Jay food item in the corner of the fridge for sale. Which we confirmed was 100% plant-based.
As a global company, you would expect Starbucks to understand the concept of plant-based food. We were shocked to realise this is far from the truth. Promoting a misleading menu is detrimental in many ways. First and foremost, it could be very dangerous for people with serious allergies to animal products. But also, it spreads misinformation about what plant-based food really is.
If we want Thailand to keep up with the global plant-based food revolution and truly future-proof Thailand’s food system, we need to call out misleading menus and share the true meaning of this word, before it’s too late.
Share this article and tag Starbucks to encourage them to turn their not-so plant-based menu… into a real plant-based menu!