Justice Cup Campaign

We published an Open Letter to Starbucks

Half-page ad in The Seattle Times, Sunday, January 23, 2022


The Seattle Times, Sunday, January 23, 2022

Open Letter to Starbucks

Justice has been served in the U.K. But what about the 9,000 Starbucks stores in the U.S.A.?

Dear CEO Kevin R. Johnson and Global Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer Dennis Brockman:

On behalf of all people who are lactose intolerant and made sick by dairy, or who support social and environmental justice across the globe, Switch4Good loudly applauds Starbucks’ recent decision to eliminate the extra charge for non-dairy beverages in the U.K. Thank you!

This was a bold yet very smart move. You’re doing the right thing for your customers and the planet, considering the severe and unsustainable impact of dairy farming.1 Large-scale dairy production pollutes waterways, increases greenhouse gas emissions, and destroys local ecosystems all over the world. If you compare the production of oat milk to cow’s milk, it takes 80% less land and 90% less water with less than one-third of the CO2 emissions.2

Any move to make non-animal food alternatives more accessible is terrific. It also better reflects Starbucks’ stated values and those of your constituents. Just imagine the goodwill, boost to your brand, increased relevance and moral high ground Starbucks could claim if you announced a similar policy in the United States. Or everywhere you do business. In fact, this could be part of a broader call to action to other global food brands. That is true leadership.

Globally, more than 90% of people of color are lactose intolerant,3 meaning they cannot digest dairy. In the U.S., 36% of all people are lactose intolerant. Therefore, the cow’s milk in Starbucks’ beverages makes 1 in 3 Americans sick—mostly people of color.4

Bottom line: people of color are disproportionately and unjustly penalized by Starbucks’ minimum 70-cent upcharge (in the U.S.) for drinks made with non-dairy milk. When most people of color have to pay extra—or make themselves sick by consuming regular dairy milk—charging them more for non-dairy milk is a form of dietary racism. Even if it’s unintentional racism.

Indeed, noted nutrition and health policy expert Dr. Milton Mills says that “dietary racism clearly parallels environmental racism, and often creates financial barriers that exclude people from making healthier food choices. Dietary racism impacts potentially every person of color in America.”

Starbucks is a good company because you try to make things right. After the 2018 fiasco in a Philadelphia Starbucks with Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, you stepped up, declared the incident “reprehensible,” and mandated meaningful interventions like the May 29, all-hands racial bias training. And your follow-through spoke even louder than your eloquent and heartfelt words. Eliminating the non-dairy surcharge throughout your global network of stores is another bold act, one that will forever be heralded, respected, greatly appreciated, and stand as a compelling example for other companies to follow.

Of course, doing the right thing is always worth it, despite incremental and affordable cost. This generous and easily achievable policy would help to protect your customers’ health, promote dietary justice, support your commitment to sustainability, and create massive and invaluable goodwill among your customers and constituents.

Will you build on your brave, smart move in the U.K. by eliminating the surcharge in ALL Starbucks stores?

We wait, hope, and thank you for listening.


Dotsie Bausch, U.S. Olympic Medalist and Founder of Switch4Good

Milton Mills, MD, Critical Care Physician and Racial Justice Speaker

Rachael Adams, U.S. Olympic Medalist and Social Justice Warrior

Kevin Tillman, Decolonize Project

Sailesh Rao, Founder, Climate Healers

Jo St. George, Director, Women of Color for Equal Justice

Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award Winning Director, The Cove

Neal Barnard MD, Founder, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Phil Keoghan, Television Host, The Amazing Race

Marc Bekoff, NYT Best-Selling Author, The Emotional Lives of Animals

Rip Esselstyn, #1 NYT Author, Founder of PlantStrong

Gene Baur, Time Magazine’s “The Conscience of the Food Movement”

Kathy Freston, #1 NYT Best-Selling Author, Quantum Wellness

Bob LeRoy, Founder, Prevention of Disease.org

James Marin, RD, EN

Alan N. Desmond, MD, Gastroenterologist, U.K. NHS

Will Bulsiewicz, MD, Gastroenterologist

Judy Brangman, MD, DipABLM

Angie Sadeghi MD, Gastroenterologist

Monica Aggarwal, MD, Cardiologist

Susan Levin, RD, EN, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Matthew Glover, Managing Director, Veg Capital

1. UN Making Peace With Nature (2021)

2. Poore et al. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0216 (2018)

3. NIH “What is lactose intolerance?” (2018)

4. NIH “How common is lactose malabsorption?” (2018)

Paid for by Switch4Good

Download Letter

Why the Justice Cup?

Up to 95 percent of people of color cannot digest dairy. Yet Starbucks charges extra for non-dairy milk. That is dietary racism—even if it’s unintentional. The Justice Cup is designed to highlight the injustice.

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Switch4Good believes charging extra for non-dairy milk is unjust and unfair. Up to 95 percent of BIPOC individuals are lactose intolerant—meaning they cannot digest dairy. However, only 15 percent of white people are affected. So, people of color are disproportionately penalized by Starbucks’ minimum 70 cents upcharge on drinks made with non-dairy milk.

We think that’s incredibly unfair—so we decided to do something about it. We partnered with The Yes Men (who have used humor and trickery since 1996 to highlight the corporate takeover of society) to bring attention to this issue and launch the Justice Cup campaign.

What Did We Do?

On December 9, 2021, we partnered with The Yes Men to mount a “brandjacking” campaign, starting with a spoof Starbucks announcement eliminating the non-dairy upcharge. But we did not stop there.

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  1. Spoofing Starbucks, we issued a Press Release announcing that the company was eliminating its non-dairy upcharge and instead charging more for drinks made with cow’s milk.
  2. The announcement included a link to our spoof Justice Cup launch video and a spoof Starbucks Cares website, featuring the Justice Cup.
  3. When we were confident Starbucks had seen the press release, we made a spoof Denial announcement (still pretending to be Starbucks) refuting the pricing change.
  4. Finally, we issued a Campaign Reveal video—claiming responsibility for the “brandjacking” and outlining our rationale.
  5. After everything was revealed, we issued another Switch4Good Press Releasefleshing out the details of our Dietary Racism Explainer educational video.
  6. We supported the campaign with fun activations. We made fake Vouchers discounting the non-dairy upcharge then sent our team into Starbucks stores to redeem them (see hilarious Going Undercover video). We also made phone calls to Starbucks Customer Service, asking them to drop the upcharge. Turns out Starbucks’ own frontline employees also support our cause.
  7. We published an Open Letter in The Seattle Times (Starbucks’ home town newspaper), thanking them for eliminating the surcharge in the UK and asking them to follow suit in the US. We wait and we hope they will comply.

Campaign Results

Starbucks UK dropped the non-dairy upcharge 3 weeks after we launched The Justice Cup! More than 32 million people saw the campaign. And we added “dietary racism” to the national lexicon.

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  1. Starbucks UK Dropped the Non-dairy Upcharge! We didn’t expect Starbucks to simply acquiesce. But they did—at least in the UK. On December 28th—less than 3 weeks after we launched our campaign—Starbucks UK announced they would stop charging extra for dairy alternatives starting January 5th, 2022.
  2. Switch4Good Received Accolades and Credit for Starbucks’ Policy Change. Numerous media outlets credited Switch4Good’s campaign for Starbucks UK dropping the non-dairy upcharge. Read what Plant Based News, VegNews, Green Queen, and Business Insider had to say about the “coincidence.”
  3. We reached millions of people with our Justice Cup campaign. Conservatively, we reached an audience of over 32 million people through “traditional media” alone. That doesn’t even count social media reach, which is obviously much harder to measure. And it wasn’t just “vegan” media that covered us. Prominent business outlets like Business Insider, Bloomberg, and Yahoo News reported on the campaign. And even though those mainstream outlets removed their stories after the spoof was revealed, for several hours, the news was live. Plus, as the Business Insider story shows, they are still following the story and acknowledging Switch4Good’s role in post-campaign developments at Starbucks.
  4. Our campaign added “dietary racism” to the national lexicon. We didn’t invent the phrase—much less the concept of dietary racism. But if Google search results are any indication of social sentiment and trending topics in the national conversation, Switch4Good’s Justice Cup campaign has spotlighted dietary racism in an unprecedented manner. 

What Are We Doing Next?

Food justice is one of our top priorities. Our fight extends well beyond dairy alternatives at Starbucks. We are challenging the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and building a BIPOC coalition to end all forms of dietary racism.

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Food justice is one of Switch4Good’s most urgent imperatives. We advocate strenuously for a more equitable, sustainable, and compassionate world—a plant-based, dairy-free world.

Our fight for food justice stretches well beyond dietary racism in coffee shops:

  • We petitioned the USDA to remove dairy from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)—including testifying on Capitol Hill.
  • Having succeeded in getting soy milk recognized as nutritionally equivalent in the DGA, we are now working hard to ensure schools have access to and reimbursement for soy milk
  • We are building a powerful, multicultural coalition to pressure lawmakers into enacting fairer, healthier nutrition policy.
  • We have an ongoing collaboration with BIPOC clinicians, dietitians, activists, athletes, and other thought leaders to spread the word that Dairy Does a Body Bad.

What is Dietary Racism?

Dietary racism is a social construct built by a racial majority that privileges their cultural foodways. It is often an unconscious bias. So, we strive to educate the majority about how their actions affect others and empower minorities to take a stand for their health.

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