Starbucks: Socially aware, or as oblivious as the rest of us?

The other day I was in Starbucks enjoying a hot cup a coffee when I noticed this video playing on a little tv screen:

(watch it to the end, it’s short)

watch the video

Now, let’s discuss. 

A couple things.  For one, the intentions of the video are very cool.  One of the drawbacks of modern food culture is that there’s a huge disconnect between what ends up on the plate and how it got there.  Not only does this slight the many people that worked hard in producing the food, it leads to missed opportunities for the consumer to more fully appreciate it.  Wouldn’t that chocolate bar taste even better if you ate it thinking about the tropical jungle it originated in rather than the ad campaign that screamed its name?  I’d hope so.

That’s exactly what this video does very well – celebrate the colorful, exotic, and proud path of the otherwise banal cup of coffee.  We get to see the gorgeous green mountains that bear the coffee beans, the great care and pain (literally at 0:37) that go into harvesting them, and the storied faces of the workers themselves.  Personally, I know I worry much more about the minute and a half wait in line at Starbucks than the months it took for the coffee to get there.  After watching the video, it’s hard not to feel at least a little embarrassed of that ignorance.

starbucks line

The back-breaking labor of fresh coffee.

But wait – things aren’t all so respectful.  If you keep watching to the very end, you might see something more familiar: American ignorance!  Look closely – when the finished cup of coffee is finally presented, the customer snags it and bolts!  No reverent pause, no silent beat suggesting a nicety spoken to the barista, just a heaping helping of good ol’ impatient, self-interested consumerism.

Which leads to the big question: is the video’s final sequence Starbucks’ way of holding the mirror up to society?  Or is it evidence that the ignorance of origin is so prevalent, Starbucks can’t free itself of it even when addressing the issue directly?  We may never know for sure.

One thing I do know – if I were a big wig at Starbucks, I’d probably have that video re-cut.

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One comment on “Starbucks: Socially aware, or as oblivious as the rest of us?

  1. Joe says:

    Great question. Instead of answering I thought I might offer up a book recommendation and a link to a great article. First the book. It’s called “Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture” and is written by journalist Taylor Clark. It juxtaposes an examination of the cultural and societal implications of Starbucks’ near ubiquity with a history of coffee and gourmet coffee’s ascent in the U.S.

    The article, “The Starbucks Cup Dilemma” is very relevant to a huge sustainability issue that Starbucks faces right now. Link here: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/a-story-of-starbucks-and-the-limits-of-corporate-sustainability.html

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