Go big or go home. This is Starbucks’ thinking, now that outlets in the US have introduced the Trenta size. How big, relatively speaking, is the 31oz, or 916ml cup? Bigger, apparently, than the capacity of the average human stomach. By RICHARD POPLAK.
In the now classic Pixar movie “WALL-E”, a trash compacting robot spends his interminable life cleaning up our destroyed planet. It’s 2805, and the corporation Buy-N-Large has long ago schlepped the remaining inhabitants of Earth off to space, where they continue to consume unabated. WALL-E finds himself on the spaceship Axiom, which resembles nothing so much as a vast, zero-gravity cruise liner, and the morbidly obese inmates live only to fill their gullets with stacked plates of food and Big Gulp-sized beverages.
For a good half of its running time, WALL-E is the finest science fiction film ever made. Then it just gets scary. So plausible is the notion of enormously fat folk floating around in an eat-all-you-can buffet that any enjoyment the film could otherwise provide – the eye-popping animation, the charming love story between WALL-E and a “fem-bot” named EVE – goes out the escape pod. WALL-E reminds us that, as a species, we may not have a shut-off valve. Given the correct set of circumstances, we’ll consume ourselves off the planet.
Those “correct set of circumstances” might well be Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee and lifestyle chain that is determined to get us all a berth on the Axiom. They have recently introduced the Trenta cup, a 916ml behemoth that is meant as a receptacle for their “iced beverages”. Now, along with Bob Dylan CDs and scented candles, the Starbucks guest can order almost a litre – a litre! – of liquid to start his or her day.
The Starbucks blog insists this isn’t a ploy to make America fatter. To wit: “So, why did we launch the Trenta? We listened to you. You told us on My Starbucks Idea and through your purchases that you love refreshing iced coffee and tea beverages but want them in a larger size. Did you know that over 60% of our iced tea customers currently order our largest size, the 24oz Venti?”
The notion that the Trenta is a consumer-driven concept is even more horrifying than it would be had Starbucks HQ simply yanked it out of the air as a desperate money-making ploy. (“7oz more for only 50 cents!”) It would seem that in the race to destroy both our species and the planet, a larger petroleum-based beverage container is exactly what we need to shunt things along.
How, one wonders, did we get here? America has always been a place of bounty, where the Puritans escaped the privations of the Old World for a place where even those of the lowliest station could fill their bellies and live in a 2,000m², four-car garage über-home. America’s foremost gourmand, the late New Yorker writer AJ Liebling, summed up the notion of New World appetite thus: “The Proust madeleine phenomenon is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton’s apple or Watt’s steam kettle. The man ate a tea biscuit, the taste evoked memories, he wrote a book … In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sautéed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece.”
In other words, America’s brilliance is linked to America’s waistline. And before South Africans get too uppity, that notion has travelled to the bottom of Africa, and how. (Observe the consumption rate at your average Sunday braai, and then start pointing fingers at Los Americanos.) It’s a perfect New World concept, this eating ourselves to genius. But like all good ideas that begin in the belly, it has curdled into vice. Avarice stalks us like Death, scythe at the ready in the form of a Body Mass Index calliper.
Lest you think that the Trenta is an isolated phenomenon, Tim Horton’s, the Canadian-owned chain that has become all but ubiquitous in North America, is now experimenting with a mega-cup. The trend will no doubt continue. After all, a litre of yummy iced-tea to jump-start your day shouldn’t be thought of as gluttony. Rather, consider it fuel for busy 21st century lives. And make sure you have a berth booked on the Axiom. iM
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer