Monday, April 2, 2012

Bad Reporting: Grist says we should "shut up and drink" bug juice

In an article today on, Why you should be glad there are bugs in your Frappuccino, Jess Zimmerman asserts that "vegans, corporation-haters, and bloggers who like writing about gross things you just put in your mouth" should "get off your high horse" and "shut up and drink your bug juice." Zimmerman bases these bold statements on three points:

1. the completely false assertion, copped from an entomologist, that the only viable alternative to cochineal is a petroleum-based food dye.

2. the fact that the production of cochineal provides income in impoverished areas

3. that the product in which the colorant is used is "not food" - i.e. unhealthy.

So let's look at the ways this is nonsense.

1. The fact that Starbucks made the change because they wanted to get away from artificial dyes automatically takes Red 40 out of the equation. You therefore cannot defend the change by saying it's better than Red 40 because the entire point was to choose a natural alternative to Red 40. As stated in the petition that moved Starbucks to reconsider their use of cochineal,

While it’s commendable to move away from artificial ingredients, there are other natural means to achieve the red coloring. Red beet, black carrot, purple sweet potato and paprika are all-natural alternatives to artificial dyes and safe for those with dietary restrictions. (And those who don’t want crushed bugs in their designer drink.)

If you're going to choose a natural alternative to Red 40, you don't choose the one with the highest potential for causing severe allergies, and which violates vegetarian, vegan, and possibly Kosher guidelines without telling your clientele.

2. Does cochineal provide income to impoverished areas? So would beet farming.

Yes, I'm being glib, but to suggest that the only solution to poverty is crushing bugs is spurious reasoning. Loss of jobs is propaganda often used against veganism, but food and dyes still need to be produced. We only want to see them produced from non-animal ingredients.

3. I am so tired of the 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' approach. This is an absurd justification. Because other ingredients aren't healthy, we should not care about one that can cause severe allergic reactions and violates the ethics of 10% of the US population (vegetarians and vegans) being introduced with no warning?

So as if it wasn't bad enough that Jess Zimmerman's article was offensive and rude, it's also complete bunk.


  1. Excellent points! I LOVE your last line! I read the last two words as "complete Bull$#!&"..guess my subconscious switched bunk to BS! ;)

    What I found amusing in the article is that he makes the point that because Anthony Bourdain eats bugs we should all consider that as proof that bugs are edible! Bourdain would eat his own dog if he knew they tasted good! I doubt many of us would consider our dogs edible no matter how many other people consider dog as food or edible!

  2. I'm stalking your old articles. :)

    I would have to add that, besides the issues for people who are vegetarian/vegan/allergic...I think that EVERYONE has the right to know what they're eating! Just that! Let US choose! I know people who would drink bug juice. Not a problem. I wouldn't have an issue with it, myself, as long as I knew it's what I was ingesting. But I find it SO irritating that companies are hiding things like bugs, GMO foods, gluten and animal derived products in such a way that it's incredibly challenging to KNOW what you're eating! And I'm so incensed that I can't stop using exclamation points! Just...arg! Ultimately, if Starbucks had said - no, we're not going to change it - at least vegans and vegetarians and other people who can't or prefer not to drink this product, could make an INFORMED choice not to ingest it. But no one can do that if it's not clear what's in these products. Hence, the uproar.

    1. You're right - that really is the heart of the issue. It wasn't the bug juice that was the business problem for Starbucks, it was changing that they'd previously asserted to be a cochineal-free product to a cochineal-included one without warning. It's a double-whammy against the consumer's right to know.