Trenta’s Terror: Misinformation & Propaganda

This post was originally part of my previous News Bites post but it was too big for the format. It sat as a draft for a few days before I modified it for clarity and expanded it:

  • Graphic: How big, exactly, is Starbucks’ new ‘Trenta’ size? [National Post] I actually first noticed it when Serious Eats posted it. I’m going to rant here, and not for the reason you expect:

Dear readers, you know that I’m a healthy living advocate and I’m the first to urge drinking water instead. I’ve also stated in my “about” page on this blog that I’m not a fan of Starbucks. However, infographics like that and rage against Starbucks feel like propaganda. I don’t think that it was intended to be. Sometimes an infographic is just an infographic and the infographic itself is pretty benign. Interesting, even. It shows, simply, size of drink in relation to average capacity of human stomach. That’s it. It’s the reaction to it that sets me off.  After seeing the image all over the internet I feel like the message is diluted and like there’s a little bit of “broken telephone” (remember that game?) going on with the message.

Fact: Comments from baristas at some of the websites and blogs that carried the infographic indicate that the Trenta size is only available for iced coffee and tea (see “broken telephone” above). From what I’ve seen, media – traditional and new – hasn’t reported this. Makes me wonder why. One misinformed media outlet can spread the word like wildfire.

Fact: With a regular coffee-based or tea based blended beverage (think anything made with flavoured syrup, your milk – based lattes, macchiatos, Frappuccinos, mochas, etc.) any size you choose, they’re full of unhealthy stuff. You know this. You can customize your beverage and omit the whipped cream, make the lower fat milk, etc., but Starbucks blended beverages are basically junk food in beverage form whether you order a Tall, a Grande or a Venti size.

Fact: Most of those drinks – and as I’ve noted, the Trenta is only for iced drinks – are mostly ice. Generally when you buy iced coffee drinks, fountain drinks, mixed alcoholic drinks or any cold drink that doesn’t come in a can or bottle, they are mostly ice. It dilutes the product while maximizing profit.

Fact: Long before Starbucks conceived of these bigger sizes there was “Super sizing”. There were “Big Gulps” and whatever other large sizes that 7-11 and other convenience stores/bodegas have been selling for years.

People talk about how bad this move to a new size is, and (misinformed) people commenting on blogs are ranting against it, but many of those people are still drinking those blended beverages. How about instead of riding the propaganda train you stop buying this crap and advocate alternatives?  As I said, I’m seeing this infographic everywhere (two more). Not to say those websites/writers are all deliberately spreading misinformation or not practicing what they preach. I don’t want to cast them in a negative light. Some of them I like because they’re health promotion websites. I suspect that some websites and blogs who have published the infographic are riding the popularity of what’s become a meme of sorts for their own website hits. A search for this infographic resulted in over 20 pages on Google Blogs search.

The National Post responds with “From Tumblr to TV: How our #Starbucks ‘Trenta’ graphic became an online hit”. Even Anderson Cooper discussed it. This is cool. I’m proud of the National Post for getting that reach. Again, I have no problem with the graphic itself, only to the reaction to it.

I don’t like defending Starbucks. I don’t like their coffee.  I occasionally drink their blended drinks, which do a decent job at masking the taste of bad coffee. I did, however, like the book How Starbucks Saved My Life.

My opinion, bottom line: Go ahead and order the Trenta sized ice tea or coffee. I might disagree with your taste in coffee, but I won’t argue that it’s “bad” for you.

P.S. My undergraduate degree was in Mass Communications. I graduated in 2000. A bunch of my essays and theses were about the internet, but the internet has changed so much in that time. My “Truth and Propaganda” course would probably be an entirely different course today.

Eat well, be well, drink better coffee.

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