PETA polar bears roar into Market Square to protest Starbucks' vegan upcharge | Pittsburgh City Paper

PETA polar bears roar into Market Square to protest Starbucks' vegan upcharge

click to enlarge PETA polar bears roar into Market Square to protest Starbucks' vegan upcharge
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
PETA protesters dressed as polar bears demonstrate in front of the Market Square Starbucks location on Aug. 7, 2023.
A demonstration gathered outside a Pittsburgh Starbucks today and, for once, it had nothing to do with unfair labor practices. Instead, those in Market Square looking to buy a coffee encountered a line of animal rights protesters dressed in white hazmat-style suits, their faces hidden behind giant cut-outs of polar bear heads. 

The demonstration is part of a nationwide campaign led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urging Starbucks to stop charging customers extra for plant-based alternatives to dairy milk, including those made with oats, soy, and almonds. In a statement, PETA says the extra charge, which can amount up to an extra 80 cents, incentivizes customers to "opt for dairy, even though the industry is a top producer of the greenhouse gases that are contributing to melting the ice caps, killing polar bears, and driving the climate catastrophe."

PETA also claims that the dairy industry "hurts" herd animals, as milk production can only happen by consistently breeding female cows, whose calves are quickly taken from them to either be raised for milk production or sold for slaughter.

Racheli Holstein helped organize the Market Square demonstration, which attracted a handful of participants in and out of costume. Holstein tells Pittsburgh City Paper that the polar bears serve to raise awareness about the dairy industry's impact on climate change and to push Starbucks to "prioritize their commitment to the climate" by not penalizing customers.

Currently, the Starbucks website outlines a number of the global coffee giant's pledges for protecting the environment and animals. The company has in fact acknowledged that dairy stands as the "biggest contributor" to the company's carbon footprint.
click to enlarge PETA polar bears roar into Market Square to protest Starbucks' vegan upcharge
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
Plant Based Treaty team member Ellen Dent (second from left) joins the PETA polar bear team outside of the Market Square Starbucks on Aug. 7, 2023.
Many researchers agree that the dairy industry has a devastating impact on climate change. A 2017 study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council claims the production of dairy milk, along with beef, tops the list of contributors to agricultural-related pollution.

“Starbucks admits it has a massive carbon footprint from its use of dairy, yet the company still refuses to put the planet over profits,” says PETA executive vice president, Tracy Reiman, in a press release.

A corporate Starbucks spokesperson tells City Paper that, in U.S. Starbucks stores, "customers can add a splash — up to four ounces — of non-dairy milk" to drinks "at no additional cost." This information is also available on the Starbucks website.

However, the company writes that customers who want to customize a beverage on the menu with non-dairy milk, such as those made with soy, coconut, almond, and oats, can expect an additional cost. Starbucks says this is "similar to other beverage customizations such as an additional espresso shot or syrup," and that pricing for plant-based milk "varies market by market."

Using a coffee pun, PETA insists that, by continuing to charge extra for plant-based alternatives, "Starbucks doesn't give a frap" about animal welfare or sustainability.

Holstein says the company has not given PETA a reason for the plant-based milk upcharge but points out that it has been eliminated in Starbucks stores in other parts of the world.

"It's such a small request that can have a great impact on the environment," says Holstein, adding that anyone can take part in the campaign by texting 73822 or by visiting

She adds that the reason they are focused on getting Starbucks to change as opposed to other coffee chains is that the global company sells "four million cups of coffee every single day."

She says the anti-upcharge campaign will continue until Starbucks decides to change its policy.

"They can make a global impact for the better and instead they're making a global impact for the worst," Holstein says.

This story was updated on Aug. 7 with quotes from Starbucks.

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