Friday, 7 October 2011

Feature: Milk and coffee price hikes make soy option worth another glance

When switching from dairy creamers, many would-be vegans find that soymilk tends to dominate the sought-after pleasant taste of coffee, often citing it as one of the common hurdles encountered in trying to change lifestyles for ethical or health reasons.
Explanation of product price change: Due to a rise in the price of fresh milk, the price of drinks containing milk are being changed with immediate effect (Americano and Iced Coffee remain unchanged. ... City Cafe

        Perhaps this week’s 10-15 percent hikes to the prices of take-away coffee imposed by at least three of Taiwan’s largest convenience-store chains (and following a similar price rise at Starbucks) will encourage vegetarians and other consumers (as well as more coffee vendors to join Starbucks) to give the environmentally friendlier soymilk another chance. The price increase comes on top of last month’s rise of NT$1.9/litre set by the Council of Agriculture (COA) for milk bought from local farmers, which has raised retail prices to around NT$70/litre in supermarkets and almost NT$90/litre in convenience stores. This compares to prices of NT$20 to NT$40/litre for soymilk.
        While those whose vegetarianism is inspired by desire not to kill animals can maintain that drinking milk does not harm the producing cow (even though the male 50 percent of her necessary offspring as well as many of the females enter the food chain), this argument is not available to environmentally concerned vegetarians. A cow emits climate-changing methane with each exhalation whether it is being fed to make steak or to make milk.
(On the other hand, of course, imported soybeans, which essentially means all soybeans sold in Taiwan other than the immature, green “hairy bean” 毛豆 snack, are not without their own carbon footprint. In addition to the emissions associated with shipping them—mostly from the Americas—there is the nastier issue of destruction of forests to make way for soybean plantations if consumers do not buy “Amazon-friendly” soy products [1].)
        Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s coffee drinkers (who consume around 5 million cups per day according to the London-based International Coffee Organization) are peeved by the news, with some talking about boycotting take-away coffee until prices are lowered. Similarly, the Consumer Foundation has suggested the convenience stores are operating a cartel, since three of the largest, 7-Eleven, Hi-Life and Family Mart, imposed hikes of the same magnitude on the same day. It has demanded the government’s Fair Trade Commission undertake an investigation, and even threatened to take the FTC to the Control Yuan if it fails to act. The COA under the Executive Yuan said it suspected coffee vendors were taking advantage of milk farmers.
        Perhaps the soft-power solution amidst these hard-sounding responses is, therefore, to give the soymilk (or other non-dairy creamer) option a chance, or better still, to drink coffee black and sugar-free. 
It is possibly with this in mind, and to soften the blow of its price increases, that 7-Eleven is also offering a "buy-1-get-a-second-cup-half-price" on Americano coffee this week.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

[1] More problems relating to soybean consumption will be discussed in a future column.

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