Like most people who live on planet Earth, I adore me some Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I never expected the drink to be as healthy as say, kale, but as it turns out, its ingredients give a whole new meaning to the word “junk food.” In the midst of all the pre-autumn pumpkin hype, Vani Hari, the woman behind the healthy living blog Food Babe, is on a public mission to make Pumpkin Spice Lattes healthier. In a post on her blog, she shares an eye-opening list of what’s actually in the beloved PSL. Among lots of icky artificial flavors and preservatives, a serving of the drink includes two doses Caramel Color Level IV, a food coloring that sounds harmless in name but is actually made with ammonia and considered a carcinogen. Hari wants that food coloring taken out of the recipe. She’s also hoping to pressure Starbucks to do away with other harmful additives, offer organic milk at all store locations, and make the ingredients lists for their products publicly available. For a company that goes to great lengths to frame itself as transparent, health-conscious and socially aware, these requests hardly seem extravagant.
Hari has major swaying power with food corporations — she convinced Chick-fil-A to stop using corn syrup in their products and pushed Subway to stop using azodicarbonamide, the “yoga mat ingredient,” in their bread. If anyone can take on the Goliath that is Starbucks, it’s her. Hari had wanted to avoid a public takedown of the corporation, and initially tried to address the situation with Starbucks reps without involving the the media. Starbucks has maintained they’d kept a dialogue going with Hari for months, but she grew too frustrated with their inaction to keep things quiet any longer. She was also moved to publish the post because she was disturbed by the shady, inconsistent answers she received from Starbucks when digging up the ingredients list for the beverage.
Caramel Color Level IV contains a substance called 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel), which is what makes it so harmful, and PSLs are not the only Starbucks drinks to include them. The company claims they’ve been considering phasing out the caramel coloring, but offers no timeline or real commitment to do so. Caramel coloring is approved by the FDA for now, but its level of safety is currently being reviewed. In the past, it’s been found to increase the risk of mice developing lung cancer and leukemia. Starbucks says they only use an amount of the product that is legal and safe (per California’s Prop 65 laws that require a warning label be placed on products with a certain amount of carcinogens in them), but professionals say that at the end of the day, no amount of the substance can really be considered safe. The chemical has nothing to do with taste and everything to do with the hue of the drink, so really, cutting it out would just make the latte more of a generic brown instead of a caramel-looking brown. I don’t know about you, I’m pretty sure I’d rather my latte be more of a boring color than run the risk of cancer. So many products we use and eat every day are laced with questionable chemicals, and it’s worth a shot to at least try to improve that reality.
Hari has laid out some easy ways to push Starbucks to make a change. We can contact them via Facebook and Twitter, call their customer service department at 1-800-782-7282 to request that they remove dangerous additives from their drinks and post their ingredients online, and sign this petition asking the company to serve organic milk.
Reprinted with permission from The Frisky. Want more?