Why I’m going to continue drinking Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and you should too (if you want to)

Standard

Recently a graphic made the rounds on social media. It was from this chick who calls herself the “Food Babe” and it was full of paranoia, propaganda, lies, and bullshit — with a huge, HEAPING dose of food shaming. (I am not sharing the image on this post, because it’s food-shaming and gross and could trigger either eating disorders or an explosion of rage, and I really don’t want to give any of y’all aneurysms.)

You can easily see this image is a crock of crap if you go to Snopes (warning, they do share it). Honestly, I think the world would really improve if peoples’ browsers forced them to visit the relevant Snopes page before they can share any of those fraudulent pieces of BS to their FB pages.

Anyway. “Food Babe” has several problems with Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and Starbucks as a company, it seems. She actually appears to be on a bit of a crusade against them, which sends up MAJOR red flags as to whether or not I should trust what she says. She claims to be skeptical, but doesn’t realize that to be skeptical means to neither believe nor disbelieve — ie, be neutral — not hold in outright contempt. (Lots of self-identified skeptics could stand to relearn the definition of the word.)

One of her complaints? “The latte has no real pumpkin in it!”

Well, duh? It’s a Pumpkin Spice Latte, not a Pumpkin Guts or Pumpkin Seeds Latte. Honestly, having pumpkin mash in your latte would be disgusting and not drinkable. I ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte, not a flipping smoothie. I’m perfectly okay with that delicious spicy flavour coming from a syrup, not actual pumpkins. (Also, can you imagine the cost? Starbucks is already expensive.)

fall coffee

Mmm, delicious pumpkin-free coffee on a nice fall day.

The biggest issue with the Pumpkin Spice Latte, according to “Food Babe”, is the inclusion of Caramel Colour IV because it’s apparently carcinogenic. What she fails to note is that the thing that is carcinogenic, 4-MEI, not only occurs as a natural byproduct of cooking some foods, but is in levels so small the FDA has labelled it as safe. Here’s a quote from them:

What is 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI)?

4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is a chemical compound that is not directly added to food; rather it is formed as a byproduct in some foods and beverages during the normal cooking process. For example, 4-MEI may form when coffee beans are roasted and when meats are roasted or grilled. 4-MEI also forms as a trace impurity during the manufacturing of certain types of caramel coloring (known as Class III and Class IV caramel coloring) that are used to color cola-type beverages and other foods.

Is there a risk from eating foods that contain 4-MEI?

Based on the available information, FDA has no reason to believe that there is any immediate or short-term danger presented by 4-MEI at the levels expected in food from the use of caramel coloring.

See that? It may form when coffee beans are being roasted. So you can’t even escape it by eschewing Pumpkin Spice Lattes and drinking home-made coffee. Don’t think your barbecue is safe, either, because it might form in grilled meats.

Bottom line on this one: the FDA may not be infallible, but they’re also not run by a cabal intent on hiding info to poison the world. Trust them on this one, and not “Food Babe” (whose qualifications are what, exactly?).

She also claims Starbucks is hiding the ingredient list, which is an outright lie, seeing as it’s listed on their website. Though it should be noted, the ingredients for the pumpkin syrup listed on the site is the ingredients for the sold-for-home syrup, which differs from the syrup used in retail locations. Namely, the syrup used in retail locations doesn’t have HFCS, while the sold-for-home syrup does.

Another claim: made with “Monsanto milk!” Yeah, no. Starbucks phased out the use of Monsanto milk products back in 2007.

“Food Babe” also seems to think that 50g of sugar is a “toxic dose”. If nothing else, this should tell you she’s completely ignorant and shouldn’t be trusted. 50g is not a toxic dose of sugar. A fruit salad would send you to ER if it were. “She’s probably talking about processed sugars,” you may shout, desperately clinging to the idea that this woman knows something (hint: she doesn’t). Even if she is, 50g of processed sugar is not a toxic dose. Most North Americans get that level daily, or at least weekly. Most of us would be dead or dying if 50g were a toxic dose.

inconceivable

Also on the list: “ambiguous ‘natural flavours’ that can be made from anything on earth“. OH MY GODS. NATURAL FLAVOURS FROM ANYTHING? IT’S PROBABLY MADE OUT OF BELLADONNA AND HEMLOCK, FOR THAT ZESTY AFTERBURN. Fear-monger more, lady.

Artificial flavours she claims are made from petroleum. Uh, sources please? Oh wait, you probably can’t supply any, which explains why there are none in the blog post and it’s all just a bunch of vague fear-mongering. (Which leaves me wondering about the critical thinking skills of the people who take what you say at face value.)

Preservatives and sulfites that “can cause allergic reactions.” Look, anything can cause allergic reactions. Literally anything. And on that note, Mr. Katje’s mom is allergic to sulfites and she’s able to drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes WITH NO ILL EFFECTS. (So long as she orders it without nutmeg.) So I seriously doubt the levels of sulfites are at a dangerous level.

“Possible pesticide residue from using non-organic coffee beans.” Oh my gods could you be any more pretentious. If you want organic coffee beans, go to a different store, and complain about how much more expensive it is while you talk about how environmentally conscious you are drinking a beverage made from beans that are shipped thousands of miles to make it into your cup regardless if they’re organic or not. Also, sources please? And maybe you could mention what kind of pesticides are used, seeing as there are MANY MANY pesticides that are completely harmless to humans. Oh wait, again, you can’t supply any of this info, because you don’t actually know anything.

Her final complaint? The latte is not vegan even with soy milk options because of the use of condensed milk products. Again: sources, please. Also: you are ordering a coffee from a place that gets hundreds of customers a day. There may be trace elements of something not vegan in your soy-substituted latte. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. It might happen. You may not get 100% precision with your drink made by a rushed barista who just dealt with three assholes and someone under the influence (I salute you, baristas). If you absolutely cannot abide by minuscule trace elements of non-vegan ingredients in your food, then I advise you to eschew lattes at Starbucks, stick to their regular coffee, and bring your own soy or other milk substitute to add. Or just make coffee at home. Or learn to like it black.

This entire sundae of BS is topped off with the words “THINK before you drink!” Not only does “Food Babe”, with her absolute lack of any qualifications in the area of nutrition or chemistry, want to spread a bunch of lies about various foods that people enjoy, she has to shame them for liking them. Food Babe, I did think before I had that Pumpkin Spice Latte. I thought, Man, today would be great for a delicious Pumpkin Spice Latte, and then I enjoyed a delicious Pumpkin Spice Latte and suffered no ill effects from it. Just because I didn’t come to the same (misinformed) conclusions you did does not mean I didn’t think.

While I spent the past several days ranting about this image to Mr. Katje and anyone who would listen, it became clear to me that I’d seen “Food Babe” around before — back when she posted some serious BS about the ~*~dangers~*~ of beer. That was thoroughly debunked by people who actually know chemistry and science. From the link:

Yes, it would appear that the Food Babe got her education from popular books and Google University and somehow got the messianic bug to save the world! Maybe a better way to describe her is the Jenny McCarthy of the food industry. Of course, I don’t mean that as a compliment. Just as Jenny McCarthy has been a prime force spreading fear and ignorance about vaccines, Vani Hari has been a malignant force promoting ignorance about food. Sure, mixed in with all the pseudoscience, antivaccine beliefs, and admiration of cranks like Russell Blaylock, is the occasional bit of good advice about eating more vegetables, avoiding too much processed food, and recipes that, for all I know, might actually be tasty. But the price is too high, buried as the occasional trivial bit of good advice is under the tsunami of nonsense.

Bottom line, Food Babe — or “Fraud Broad” as she’s becoming known — is a quack. She has no qualifications for what she’s talking about, and it shows. Her conclusions are BS and she thinks that “chemicals are dangerous”.

Right. Chemicals are dangerous. I guess we should work to avoid things like Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12), or (2R,3S,4S,5R,6R)-2-(hydroxymethyl)-6-[(2R,3S,4R,5R,6S)-4,5,6-trihydroxy-2-(hydroxymethyl)oxan-3-yl]oxy-oxane-3,4,5-triol (Starch), or (heavens forfend) 3,7-Dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione (Caffeine).*** All very dangerous things that will surely kill us! Live a chemical-free life today: stop eating, drinking, and breathing.

I’m not listening to anything the Fraud Broad has to say, and neither should you. Her stuff is not only fraudulent to the point of being dangerous, it’s food-shaming, too. If you want to read things from an actual nutritionist who won’t shame you, I recommend Michelle Allison.

And keep on drinking your Pumpkin Spice Lattes! I’m certainly not stopping. Not for Fraud Broad nor anyone else sans qualifications, avec a major axe to grind.

(And if you don’t like Starbucks or Pumpkin Spice Lattes or pumpkin, that’s fine too. I am certainly not saying you have to. Just don’t shame people who do, because it will do no good. Every time someone shames me for drinking Starbucks — which happens often — instead of going to a local coffee shop, you know what happens? On my next trip to get coffee from a shop, instead of heading to the local coffee shop (because I do like to go to both! amazingly life is not black and white! I can hold love for Starbucks AND local places in my heart!), I head to Starbucks. Every time you shame someone for ANY of their food or drink choices, period, an angel turns to stone, becomes quantum-locked, and puts you on its hit list. So stop food-shaming people, unless you want to get killed by a Weeping Angel. And you know what? Food-shamers totally deserve to have Weeping Angels come after them. Enjoy living your life in the past where you have to deal with what food is given you.)

-Katje

***No, I did not know those chemical names offhand. I got them from this article.

Confessions of a Coffee Snob: Decaf isn’t that bad

Standard

I am a coffee snob. I have been for ages. By coffee snob I don’t mean “I like these two specific coffees because they were agreed upon at the Annual Coffee Snob Convention.” I mean I like it a certain way that’s particular to me even if another coffee snob may think my tastes are horrible. Yet I agree with other coffee snobs when they say Tim Horton’s or Folgers is toxic waste, not coffee.

I prefer coffee that stands on its own. If you have to put milk or sugar (or both) into coffee to make it bearable, it’s not good coffee. It’s not necessarily bad or terrible coffee — it’s just not good. That doesn’t mean I drink my coffee black — I prefer sweetened coffee. If I’m making coffee at home, I’m adding honey or agave to it. But the coffee I buy to make at home can stand alone, sans milk or sugar. (That doesn’t mean all the coffee I have at home is like this; I’m currently in an economic state where most of the coffee I have was given to me by people who love me and, moreso, prefer dealing with me after I’ve had my morning coffee. None of it is bad coffee, but some of it doesn’t stand so well on its own.)

If I choose to go out for a coffee, I’m not looking for black coffee. I do not expect the coffee I get at a coffee shop to be coffee of my liking; my tastes are particular. Hence, when going out to a coffee shop, I get one of those flavoured drinks that most coffee snobs sneer isn’t coffee. Sorry to disappoint you, fellow snobs. It is. It’s a coffee-based drink and so long as it’s not Timmy’s or Folgers, it’s still coffee. It may not be great, good, or even bad coffee — it may be terrible. But it is coffee.

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like flavoured drinks, especially holiday inspired ones. They’re a form of comfort food for me. Despite my lack of money I try to get a pumpkin spice latte each autumn, or it doesn’t feel like fall to me. Christmas has become my favourite time of year, because there are at least two special holiday drinks that I adore on the menu. There’s coffee in them — enough for me to taste, enough for me to get a shot of caffeine if that’s what I need. And it’s not bad coffee. (Lots of people complain that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt. I don’t complain, because I kind of like that burnt taste. It reminds me of Turkish coffee.)

I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a teenager, and I’ve been a snob about it since I worked as a barista. For many years, I was in complete agreement with my fellow snobs about decaf. Decaf isn’t even real coffee. Decaf is pointless. Decaf is disgusting. DEATH BEFORE DECAF. Friends of mine have even said they’d consider getting that as a tattoo.

I never considered it, and I’m really glad. Because three years ago, I ran a restaurant.

(Sort of. I was managing the restaurant but because of a lot of issues that were beyond my control, we never officially opened. So I did a lot of before-opening, behind-the-scenes work, hoping to get it set up so another person could take over my management at the end of the summer, when I left the small town to go back to school. Powell River is basically dead in the winter anyway. Regardless, it never happened.)

A page from my planner during the time I ran a cafe. Filled with copious notes.

Two pages from my planner during that time. It’s a lot of work.

Part of my job in the pre-opening stages was deciding on what coffee we would serve. (I should say, this wasn’t really a restaurant; it was a café, with plans of food, coffee, live entertainment, books, and vintage furniture…exactly my type of place.) First, we went around town and sampled the competition, to see what we were up against. It was not stiff. If you want a decent cup of coffee in Powell River, your only bet is Breakwater Books. They scored an 8 out of 10 on our rating scale. Starbucks was a close second, scoring a 6. All the other coffee places didn’t even make a 5.

So I wanted to go with Salt Spring Coffee. They were local, which was important to me, and they were no doubt far better quality than the coffees mainly available in town. Most cafés in Powell River go through the same supplier.

The person I chatted with at Salt Spring, Kevin Burk, was amazing, and it makes me sad that the café never got off the ground, because I would have loved to continue having a professional relationship with him. He sent me a box of sample coffee. Not just tiny bags — full bags of Salt Spring coffee, so I and my team could try them and decide if Salt Spring was the way we wanted to go.

Included in that, of course, was decaf, which we had to try. (The Peru single origin.) I had never had decaf in my life before; I was not looking forward to it. But I couldn’t make an informed decision without trying it, so I brewed up some in our French Press and gave it a whirl.

To my ultimate amazement, it was quite good. It reminded me of, again, Turkish coffee. It certainly wasn’t something I’d choose to drink on a regular basis, but this decaf led me to wonder from where all the ire had originally come.

Yes, caffeine is amazing, and surely I cannot live without it. Yet I wonder how much of my good mood after a cup of coffee is attributable to the caffeine itself, and how much is psychosomatic? Does coffee put me in a better mood because of the chemicals, or does it put me in a better mood because it’s a comfort food for me?

I think it’s a combination. I still drink decaf, after all. I have to, now. Before, when I was young and carefree and able to sleep anywhere, at the drop of a hat, I could drink eight cups of coffee and go to bed an hour later. (Not just in my teens, when caffeine apparently has different effects on your body, but in my early and mid-twenties, too.) Now, in my late twenties, if I have caffeine after noon I’m risking being up until 4 in the morning. If I drink decaf, I have a chance of actually sleeping. This is so important to a person with a as-of-yet-undiagnosed-but-definitely-real sleep disorder.

Most importantly, I’m still in a good mood after a cup of decaf.

I no longer agree with my fellow coffee snobs when they scream, pitchforks and torches in hand, DEATH BEFORE DECAF. Now my rallying cry is I’D REALLY RATHER PREFER REGULAR COFFEE BUT DECAF BEFORE ANOTHER SLEEPLESS NIGHT, PLEASE.

It may lead to my getting kicked out of the clubhouse but I won’t waver on this. Decaf tastes fine to me, and that’s okay. If it doesn’t taste fine to you, that’s okay too. My approval of decaf coffee does not, so far as I’m concerned, revoke my Coffee Snob membership card, and you can pry it from my cold-because-I-haven’t-slept-in-three-days fingers. Because the second I give into peer pressure, I’m just another conformist douche incapable of forming an independent opinion and sticking to it. And I’d rather not have that be the only definition of coffee snob.

Why Bellica is $4.99, and why my other books will be too

Standard

Friends! Romans! Countrymen fellow indie authors!

We are in a crisis. We have been selling ourselves short. Pricing our books at $0.99 just so we can get the impulse buys, driving the market down, forcing our fellow authors to do low prices as well just so they can compete.

This is all wrong.

If you’re publishing your book via Kindle you only get $0.3465 of that $0.99. Yeah. They take $0.6435. Sell a hundred copies and you’ve just made Amazon $64.35 and yourself $34.65 for a book that most likely took you a few years to write and countless sleepless nights.

Price it at $2.99 and your royalty jumps to 70% — $2.09 a book, while Amazon makes $0.90. Sell a hundred copies and suddenly you’ve made 209 dollars, while Amazon has made 90.

Which scenario makes more sense, here? Who should be getting the bulk of the money for your book? Amazon, who, yes, provides a valuable service but hasn’t done as much work on your book as you have and will still not promote it for you, or you, who’s written it, gotten it edited, found a cover design, formatted it, advertised it, sweated over it, lost sleep over it, and obsessed about it from conception to completion?

Bellica took me 13 years to complete. Why would I sell myself short? It’s worth $4.99 — hells, it’s worth more than that, but I had to drop the price to stay competitive.

Writing is now my full time job. This means that Bellica will remain that price for ebook format, and the paperback will remain $26.99. This means that The Jade Star of Athering will be $4.99 after the promo period price of $2.99; as will Dead Transgressions, Islands of Fire and Water, and any other novels I produce. Novellas and poetry collections will be slightly lower, but I will never drop my books below the price of $2.99.

Continue reading