The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I glued my hand to a Starbucks counter. Here’s why.

James Cromwell at the premiere of "The Promise" in 2017 in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

James Cromwell is an actor in the HBO series “Succession” and an honorary director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

For the past couple of days, the evidence of my recent protest at a Manhattan Starbucks has still been stuck to my hand. Bits of superglue between my fingers remind me of the half-hour I spent adhered to the store counter, making my case for the coffee chain to stop charging extra for nondairy milk. People have asked whether I would do it again. Absolutely. The stakes are just too high.

As The Post reported last week, climate scientists are sounding the alarm that global temperatures could reach the tipping point of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels established in the Paris climate agreement within the next five years. There simply is no more time to waste. We have to slash greenhouse-gas emissions right now.

As the largest coffee chain in the world, Starbucks is in a position to make great strides in that direction — and the company has admitted as much. Former CEO Kevin Johnson acknowledged that dairy products are Starbucks’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions and that switching to plant milk is “a big part of the solution.” Yet despite knowing that cow’s milk is responsible for three times the emissions of plant milks, the corporation still slaps an undue fee of up to 80 cents on eco-friendly choices.

“Succession” actor James Cromwell superglued himself to a Starbucks counter in New York City on May 10 to protest a “senseless upcharge” for nondairy milk. (Video: PETA via Storyful)

If you’re thinking the company is merely passing on its additional cost to the consumer, think again. According to PETA’s research, it costs Starbucks a few pennies extra to use vegan milk in a drink — but it charges you 10 times the cost or more. To me, the reasoning is obvious. About 40 percent of U.S. adults now purchase nondairy milk (mostly almond), oat milk sales shot up 95 percent in the 52-week period ending in early September, and around half of Gen Zers say they’re dropping dairy. Making conscientious people pay more is profitable. But for any company with the reach and resources of Starbucks to profiteer in the face of a global calamity … well, it brings to mind the greedy Gordon Gekko.

For those questioning whether an extra fee on a beverage that already isn’t cheap really makes a difference, consider this: Starbucks sells more than 4 million coffee drinks a day in the United States alone. If even a small proportion of those customers are dissuaded from making an eco-conscious choice because they’ll have to pay a bit more, you can practically watch the emissions pile up, like the line at 8 a.m.

And the environment is not the only reason I’m passionate about this issue: Cows endure heartbreaking and horrifying abuse on dairy farms. These animals aren’t fountains. They aren’t constantly producing milk and hoping some solicitous human will relieve them of it.

Like humans and other mammals, cows lactate only after giving birth. Dairy farms forcibly inseminate them with a metal rod and make them go through pregnancy and delivery only to drag their newborns away from them so that the milk meant for their baby can be sold for lattes instead. It’s a traumatic experience for both mother and calf.

Mother cows often cry out for their missing babies for days, while the terrified infants are commonly shoved into veal crates that don’t even have enough room for the calves to turn around. They suffer no less than humans would if subjected to the same thing.

Cows naturally live to be about 20 years old, but on dairy farms, they’re usually killed by age 5. By that point, their bodies have worn out from the strain of being kept constantly pregnant. A study by the dairy industry itself found that by the time they’re killed, nearly 50 percent of cows are lame as a result of standing on concrete flooring, usually in their own waste.

That’s why I’ve been vegan for decades. I believe that all animals — including humans — have the right to live free of abuse and suffering.

Finally, Starbucks’s racket is a matter of justice, as well. Considering that over 90 percent of Asian Americans and 80 percent of Native and African Americans are lactose intolerant, it’s hard not to see the store’s steep fee as discriminatory. Those groups disproportionately have to pay extra simply because of the digestive system they were born with. There’s no way that’s acceptable.

We can do better than only exploiting profit from the planet, its animals and people of color. In its environmental and social responsibility statements, as well as its mission statement, Starbucks says it wants “to inspire and nurture the human spirit.”

So Starbucks, put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, I might have to put my hand where your counter is — again. End the vegan upcharge.