A new campaign to end a surcharge for alternative milks is being embraced by local coffee shops, chains, and consumers clamoring for the change.

World of Vegan, a business created by vegan chef and animal advocate Michelle Cehn, launched its first-ever campaign and petition urging Starbucks and other shops to make alternative milks the “free” default for coffee drinkers.

Currently, customers who request alternatives to cow’s milk — such as soy, almond, oat, hemp, or coconut milk — typically will be charged anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 extra.

That surcharge started when plant milks weren’t widely available but has since become outdated, World of Vegan said.

“Plant-based milk is now more accessible than ever, price-competitive, and unanimously considered the more sustainable and ethical milk option,” the organization wrote on its website. “If anything, coffee shops should be charging a fee for cow’s milk and offering plant-milk as the default.”

A number of businesses — including Caribou Coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and Pachamama Coffee Cooperative – already have agreed to nix the surcharge in some capacity, whether for loyal customers or as part of a “Dairy-Free Week.” World of Vegan’s campaign also has caught the interest of coffee shops in Las Vegas, California, Boston, New York City, and Berlin, Germany.

“We’re seeing a lot more success reaching small businesses and offering them resources and support to innovate,” World of Vegan told Lady Freethinker.

The request aims to encourage consumers to make choices that are more compassionate for animals and the environment.  Mother cows used for dairy are forcibly and repeatedly artificially inseminated using equipment the agriculture industry refers to as a “rape rack,” separated from their calves within a few agonizing hours or days, bred and fed to produce nearly three times the amount of milk they’d naturally produce, and then are sent to slaughter when they are “used up” as adolescents — typically at between four and seven years old.

Dairy production also is a leading cause of freshwater usage and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

But the initiative also highlights research cited by a growing number of health, sustainability, and vegan advocates and organizations that the surcharge constitutes “dietary racism.”

World of Vegan defines dietary racism as “ an unjust fee assessed to those with the nutritional, health, religious, cultural, moral or otherwise common sense objection to consuming animal byproducts.”

About 68 percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, meaning the body has an inability to process lactose, commonly found in milk and dairy products, with side effects ranging from nausea and bloating to diarrhea and pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Lactose intolerance also disproportionately affects minorities — particularly Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian communities.

Offering alternative milks that are widely available at no additional cost makes a consumer’s experience more inclusive, World of Vegan said.

The campaign includes letter templates you can personalize and present to major corporations or your own local coffee shops, as well as a petition asking Starbucks — which has ended the surcharge in countries including the United Kingdom, France, China, India, and Germany — to also end the allegedly unjust fee in the United States.

Michelle Cehn

(World of Vegan)

An audit of Starbucks’ operations, conducted by sustainability consultant Quantis and the World Wildlife Fund, determined that the company had emitted 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and used one billion cubic meters of water in 2018 alone and that adding dairy-based whipped cream to millions of drinks produced more greenhouse gas emissions than the company’s private jet, according to the audit and news reports.

Starbucks, as early as 2020, announced plans to expand plant-based options and shift consumers away from dairy products to help cut its enormous greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. The announcement included goals to “expand plant-based options, migrating toward a more environmentally friendly menu” and to “innovate to develop more eco-friendly stores, operations, manufacturing and delivery.”

While many of the stores contain marketing encouraging customers to try an alternative milk, the company has refused to remove the corresponding surcharge.

“Continuing to make dairy milk the free default while non-dairy options cost an additional fee is inconsistent with the hypothetical ideal of inclusivity that Starbucks claims it provides to customers,” the World of Vegan petition states in part. “By making cow’s milk the default option, Starbucks is encouraging more unnecessary harm to our planet and to the animals we share with it.”

Starbucks did not respond to media inquiries.

To learn more about World of Vegan, check out their vegan-friendly resources (including recipes for making your own vegan butter, cheeses, or milk), and to sign the petition asking Starbucks to end the alt-milk surcharge, please visit their website here.