Actor James Cromwell will not rest until Starbucks drops its vegan milk surcharge in the United States.
The 83-year-old actor is best known for his role as Arthur Hoggett in Babe and, most recently, as Ewan Roy on HBO’s Succession. This month, Succession wrapped its fourth and final season, with a noteworthy performance by Cromwell.
While all eyes are on him, Cromwell also took this opportunity to draw attention to an issue he cares deeply about: the vegan milk surcharge at Starbucks. While many coffee chains offer plant-based milk substitutions free of charge, Starbucks continues to charge up to 80¢ per substitution in milk-based beverages such as lattes and cappuccinos.
As part of an ongoing campaign with animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Cromwell bombarded the Atlantic City Boardwalk in New Jersey with a message to Starbucks: “Stop milking customers who choose vegan milks.” Cromwell’s face and message to drop the vegan milk surcharge was visible on 100 screens along the boardwalk, which runs near two Starbucks locations.
“My friends at PETA and I are calling on Starbucks to stop punishing kind and environmentally conscious customers for choosing plant milks,” Cromwell said in a statement.
Cromwell’s vegan activism at Starbucks
Vegetarian since 1975, Cromwell initially decided to go vegan 28 years ago after connecting with a piglet on the set of Babe. And Cromwell has been protesting Starbucks’ vegan milk surcharge policy for some time.
Last May, Cromwell joined PETA and other activists at a Manhattan Starbucks location where he superglued his hand to the counter in protest of the vegan milk surcharge. “All over the world, in Great Britain, in France, they give these things away, no charge for it,” Cromwell said in a video shared by PETA.
“Here, there’s an exorbitant charge,” Cromwell said. “Why? Why, when it’s so important now to address climate change? There’s no reason for it except greed.”
While Cromwell was not arrested, the police arrived to disband the protest as the disruption went against Starbucks’ store policy. “We respect our customers’ rights to respectfully voice their opinions so long as it does not disrupt our store operations,” a Starbucks spokesperson told VegNews at the time.
Starbucks’ vegan milk surcharge
Starbucks aims to become a resource-positive company by 2030, which it cannot achieve unless it grapples with dairy, the main driver of its carbon footprint globally.
In addition to Cromwell, many others—including Alicia Silverstone and Paul McCartney—have rightfully argued that in order to encourage customers to make more climate-positive choices, Starbucks cannot continue to charge extra for plant-based milk substitutions.
Outside of the United States, Starbucks has made more progress in eliminating obstacles for consumers making more animal- and climate-friendly choices with vegan products. Last January, Starbucks dropped its vegan milk surcharge in the United Kingdom. At its more than 1,000 UK locations, the chain committed to no longer charge extra for all five of its plant-based milk options, including oat, almond, coconut, soy, and Starbucks Original Nut Blend (a housemade vegan milk option).
Earlier this year, Starbucks dropped vegan milk surcharges in France and Germany, where it operates approximately 205 and 145 locations respectively. Also, at Starbucks locations in India and China—where it operates a total of more than 6,000 locations—vegan milk has always been offered at no extra surcharge
However, with nearly 16,000 locations, the US is home to the majority of Starbucks outposts and maintaining its vegan milk upcharge places a cost barrier on many consumers that could choose more climate-friendly options to help the coffee giant reach its sustainability goals.
“We all have a stake in the life-and-death matter of the climate catastrophe, and Starbucks should do its part by ending its vegan upcharge,” Cromwell said.
James Cromwell fights for animal rights
In addition to protesting Starbucks’ policy, Cromwell uses his fame to bring attention to other issues within the food system.
In April, Cromwell rescued a piglet who had fallen from a truck that was taking him to be fattened before being slaughtered for Easter. Now living at the Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in Dalton, PA, Cromwell aptly named the piglet “Babe,” making sure to bring public attention to his rescue to spotlight the suffering animals who are exploited for agriculture.
“Having had the privilege of witnessing and experiencing pigs’ intelligence and inquisitive personalities while filming the movie Babe changed my life and my way of eating, and so I jumped at the chance to save this real-life Babe,” Cromwell said in a statement at the time.”
“Every pig deserves to live in peace and joy at a sanctuary, choosing when to frolic, where to forage, and how to spend their time, yet few do,” Cromwell said.
Over the years, Cromwell says he has lost track of how many times he has been arrested for fighting for issues he cares about and his other animal-rights efforts include protesting against the exploitation of marine animals at SeaWorld, demanding the removal of gelatin from Peeps, and more.