Sunday, March 12, 2006

These Stupid Starbucks Cup Quotes

Back to my stormy, love-hate, Moonlightingish relationship with Starbucks. Just when I thought everything was fine and we had learned to live with each other's faults, they hit me with these cup quotes that are just driving me stark raving insane.

Some aren't all that aggravating, and some are really just bland, but here's what happened to me. My local Starbucks that I swing by on the way to work every day must have gotten a jumbo-surplus shipment of cups featuring quote #74, because every day it's that same quote on my cup - taunting me, provoking me, haunting me. Shall I share it? It's the stupidest paragraph of text I've ever read.

"In a time when even our soil and air might not know the truth, the only solace we can take in decision-making about our inner peace is through honest, organic and sustainable farming. I guarantee that if you know the name of the person who picks your carrots and peas, you will feel better and so will your grandchildren." -Mario Bateli - Chef, author and host of Molto Mario and Mario Eats Italy on the Food Network.

Now for most of us, that statement is prima facie stupid, de facto stupid, and possibly other latin phrases stupid, and a line-by-line analysis of the stupidity is not necessary. But this is Petty Annoyances, and careful probing of why something is bullshit is what we're all about here.

Now look, I understand what Mario, in his senility, is getting at here. He's saying "Organic farming, people. Support it - you'll feel good." Putting aside the actual merits of the organic farming argument, and putting aside the notion that a political cause is worth supporting if it merely makes you "feel better" on a gut level, Mario and others like him need to understand that if you make your case with this tiedye-wearing, tambourine-waving bullshit approach about what the "soil knows" that you've instantly alienated me. You've made me far more emotionally invested in seeing you humiliated, upset, abused, depressed and utterly defeated than in the merits of what you were actually proposing.

If you say to me: "Join me in spreading the word about forest-fire prevention; because every time a forest burns, a sylph of the woodland sheds a silent tear." you've actually made me want to go out and set a forest fire. The satisfaction I would get from seeing your face as all the forests of the world lie in smoldering ashes around your feet would be worth all the carnage and destruction.

Mario would have us believe that the only solace we can take in decision making about our inner peace is through honest, organic and sustainable farming. To which the obvious rebuttal, clearly, is "huh?". Or possibly "Que pasa?" What the fuck does that even mean, Mario?

It means - bear with me - that we desire inner peace. But we are sometimes forced into decision-making as to how to achieve this inner peace. The decision making process, as implied by Mario's sentence, is an arduous one - one from which we would seek solace. Now, we're no longer talking about inner peace, we're talking about how to seek solace from the despair that accompanies the decision-making process that governs inner-peace acquisition. And to get this solace, there is only route - to farm honestly, organically and sustainably. Mario describes it as "the only solace". So, according to Mario, after a long day of frustrating decision making with regard to your inner peace, the only way you're going to get any relief from your personal turmoil is by finding the man who picked your carrots, and shaking his hand. Or possibly by engaging in some farming yourself - that distinction wasn't clear. Remember, this is in a time when our air, and even our soil might not know the truth. And if a cloudy vapor of nitrogen and oxygen doesn't know what's going on, what hope do we have?

Mario Batali, you are an imbecile and a fool. You know nothing, and your mystic, authentic-Italian, garden-Yoda routine impresses no one. If we're going to get the soil and the air caught up on current events, we should explain to them how an ass like yourself was permitted to opine on thousands of cups, with the full blessing of the Starbucks Corporation.

So, okay then. Organic farming. What's the story? Should we support it? Now of course you know that I'm already biased against it thanks to Mario - but is there actually a good case for knowing the guy who picks your peas? If you found out that your grandfather was on a first name basis with his pea-picker, how would you feel? Better? Consoled? Does Mario's guarantee hold up?

I caught an episode of Penn & Teller's "Bullshit" on this very subject a while back, where if I recall, they took the position that the best way to feed the global population of the future would be through synthetically enhanced produce, livestock pumped full of hormones to maximize grain yield, and efficient, industrialized mega-farms where the "person" picking my carrots would probably be a sterilized robotic claw. I remember thinking that they had good points (and this is all pre-Mario and his inner-peace plea). Maybe I can find a link to what they were talking about...

Yeah, they were talking about Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, his advocacy of high-yield, bio-engineered wheat, and how low-yield organic farming can't meet the nutritional needs of the world's population and how it actually contributes to global deforestation. I particularly like this quote: "Some of the environmental lobbyists of the western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

Read the whole thing here: Norman Borlaug

There are other Starbucks cup quotes that are plenty annoying. There was one I can't quite remember about "Traditional Peoples" and another one about Teddy Roosevelt that had me going. Feel free to read them on your own and be infuriated. What do you think Starbucks is really doing here? What's the motive? Do you think maybe they're worried, from a PR standpoint, about getting a Walmart-y or a Microsoft-y reputation and so they're cantering hard in the opposite direction, trying to make with the tree hugging and the kum-ba-yah to nip any values-criticism in the bud? I mean it does seem like a lot of these quotes have an environmentalism focus; sort of what you'd expect to see if you figure that the most likely attack on Starbucks is that they exploit farmers.

Is that what's going on, Starbucks? You want to own up?


Matt Vella said...

Of course it's an image thing. I'd be curious to see what percentage (what's 100% of nothing?) of the beans that Starbucks uses are organically grown.

Somewhere in between the tamborine man and the corporate schill lies a person who just wants a decent cup of joe.

Rowsdower said...

I've just been reading their Social Responsibility pamphlet, and they take great pride in their organically grown coffee. It seems like they're practically going overboard supporting the organic farming community - building health clinics and schools, only doing business with suppliers who meet their ethics standards, etc. My question is merely this: Shouldn't we be working toward a day when no one has to eke out a marginal living by spending all day out in a hot field, picking beans off of plants? Norman's point was that we have this romanticized image of the traditional farmer, but in reality its some of the shittiest work and no one should have to do it. Shouldn't the goal be to have our coffee grown, I don't know, directly in space, where it should be - supervised by intelligent robotic worker bees? Sort of an outer space, super-intelligent coffee hive, where the beans can be naturally sun-roasted? That's what Starbucks should be researching.

Matt Vella said...

Now that I can get behind. Space coffee!

Dr. Nuk-Nuk Smith said...

After reading your blog, my curiosity was piqued, so headed over to my local Starbucks and asked for a cup of coffee with a quote on it. A few minutes later they handed me a mocha grande with what was clearly a threat to rape me written across its side. I wasn't sure if this was part of the promotion or not, so I started asking around if anyone else had been threatened with rape by their coffee. Starbucks asked me to leave. I loudly made it clear that I enjoyed the coffee, but not enough to let it fondle and/or penetrate me. Less than a second later, I was hit in the throat with a beanbag bullet. I guess what I'm saying is, Starbucks has too strict a policy on what it considers a public nuisance.