Sunday, February 27, 2011

Starbucks: More Than My Daily Fix

Two years ago, I took a class offered at TCU and taught by Dr. Keith Whitworth on sustainability and green living. Over the course of the semester, I learned more about myself, the environment, and the ways we have a huge (and mostly negative) impact on our planet through the way we conduct our everyday routine. Our spending and shopping habits as Americans create waste at an astonishing rate: 99% of the things we purchased 6 months before are no longer in our possession, mostly from a perceived obsolescence created for us by the media.
At the time I was working in retail, a business that literally drives its sales by encouraging people to buy more of things they really don’t want— things that advertisers, the fashion industries, and businesses make us think we want— and relentlessly encouraging people to open credit cards, the likes of which have caused our economy to end up in the shambles it is in presently. The fact that I was supposed to be a cheerleader for the people who change trends and force our gently used clothes into a landfill with the introduction of seasonal fashion lines began to bother me. So I decided to do something.
I spoke to a few people about the loathing I had for my job, and my desire to work for a company that practiced active corporate social responsibility. This is what led me to Starbucks.
The Starbucks Mission Statement reads:
Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
Automatically, I felt this was something I could get behind. Still, living in an age where people are questioning the big business more and more about what really goes on, I was skeptical. Then I read into their corporate social responsibility efforts.
Although Starbucks is a part of the corporate sphere, they are trying as best as they know how to give back to the communities in which they do their business, both domestically and internationally. They make sure their beans are ethically sourced by participating in programs like the Starbucks™ Shared Planet™ partnership with Conservation International program. They ask partners (Starbucks employees) to contribute to their communities, and have set a goal to increase community involvement to over 1 million hours by 2015. They combine a passion for touching people on a personal and global level.
And so I came to work at Starbucks in October of 2009. After having almost been there a full year, I can say that it has truly been an enriching experience. My partners are uplifting, they are like family. The people that walk into our cafe and make it into their third place— the place they go when not at work or home— have become some of my greatest friends. My experience has brought me to this insight I hope to take with me after graduating from TCU: If you can find a company that believes in the things you believe in, then that’s just perfect.

Below is a video about just one of the many contributions Starbucks makes to the global community and is a big reason I decided to work for a company that shares my beliefs.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Something Green Is Brewing On Magnolia: Avoca Coffee

Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth is the street one wanders to see the products of clashing cultures in the city.  Some know this area as the "granola district" because of its modern hipster vibe, and others see it as the stretch of concrete that houses some of the finest dining in Fort Worth. Booming with up-and-coming restaurants and entertainment venues, the only thing Magnolia has yet to offer is a good independent coffee house – until now. 

Answering the call is Avoca Coffee, a local roast and coffee house that boasts a full menu of espresso beverages and teas, which will move into the neighborhood this spring.

Unlike many of its corporate brethren, Avoca Coffee intends to emphasize the impact of each person’s actions on the planet, including their morning cup of coffee. They plan on doing things a little differently. Instead of the throw-away bags you can pick up from the supermarket or a chain coffee shop, they are selling their house-roasted coffee in recyclable glass jars.

Many people don’t realize the impact their everyday activities can have on the environment, and owners Garold Larue and Jimmy Story believe by encouraging the re-use of their bean jars, customers will in turn think of other changes to their lifestyles they can easily make. Being a green business is also crucial if Avoca Coffee wishes to cater to a growing and influential market of consumers who desire to purchase products from exclusively environmentally-conscious businesses. Along with their bean jars, Avoca will strive to be sustainable through support of local bakeries, the showcasing of Fort Worth artists, and direct relations with their bean farmers.

"We want to bring the public to coffee," says Story. "We can do so by allowing them to see where the coffee comes from. Perhaps not the grove, but definitely the bean in its purest form."

Furthermore, customers will be able to view the entire Avoca Coffee roasting process right on location, making for an even richer experience. Not only will you be able to pick up your double tall latte, but you will also be able to see the beans roasted by artisan coffee roasters.

Residents of the greater Fort Worth area are abuzz with excitement, and it’s not from caffeine. Many are excited to finally see a local coffee shop open up in Fort Worth. Avoca Coffee will be the only one of its kind. This past week, the sign could be seen going up on the front of the shop, directly across the street from Spiral Diner. With its prime location and unique position on sustainability, Avoca Coffee promises to be a central gathering place for Fort Worth locals who want to say "no" to the corporate coffee chain. And whether you are an artist or foodie, the common word on everybody’s lips will be, "Avoca." 

Friend Avoca Coffee on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@AVOCAcoffee) for more updates on the shop and the official opening dates.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Social Media at Work: My Blog on The Veg Daily

As an Ad/PR major, I am constantly being reminded of the power of social media. I am plugged in on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and (of course) Blogger. I use a Twitter-Facebook-Blogger social media mix to get my blog posts out there, and today I found out it paid off! The Veg Daily, an online publication composed of stories, photos, and blogs that are tweeted with the hashtag "#veg," picked up my article on Hot Damn, Tamales! from earlier in the week. Thanks to The Veg Daily, this truly made my day! Follow The Veg Daily on Twitter (@VegGalaxy) and check out their daily publication at

Milk Alternatives

When I was vegan, I knew I would have to give up milk products, which I have found to be considered the hardest part of the transition when talking to my vegan friends. Cheese and milk are in so many delicious foods, the thought of giving up those things is almost frightening. What some may not know is that I have been lactose intolerant since I was young, so I have always tried to regulate my dairy intake. I have tried many different milk alternatives -- there was no WAY I would give up cereal -- and below are some of the alternative I have had the fun of trying in recipes, with my cereal, or just drinking by the glass.

Soy Milk- (Gluten-Free)

Soy milk is created from soybeans and is slightly thinner than cow's milk, and is sold in either the refrigerated dairy section or in shelf-stable packaging. It comes in many different brands (Silk is extremely popular) and flavors, such as original, unsweetened, and chocolate. Silk also offers their Silk Light, which is lower in calories than the regular Silk. There has been some research that finds a correlation between soy bean products and cancer in women, so making sure you go with a non-GMO and organic brand is important if you are going to drink soy instead of cow's milk. Furthermore, it has been possibly linked to stunted growth in males, so boys, limit how much you drink.
Soy milk is probably the most common milk alternative that is offered at restaurants and businesses. Starbucks carries its own vanilla soy milk (it's organic, too!), so you can always choose to make your latte or Frappuccino dairy-free.

Almond Milk (Gluten-Free)
Almond milk is my new found love. I am a sucker for dark chocolate anything, and Silk's PureAlmond Dark Chocolate flavor caters to all my cravings while supplying vitamins I need since I don't drink milk. Almond milk is made from, you guessed it... almonds! It is made by a process where almonds are softened in filtered water and blended into a liquid that is extremely close to cow milk. You can also find this in the dairy cold case or in shelf-stable packaging. For those worried about GMOs, or for the male reader, this is a great alternative and is close to what you may be used to.

Oat Milk
Oat milk is an interesting milk alternative, one that took some getting used to. It was recommended in a few of the vegan cookbooks I picked up when I began my meat-free journey, and it is hard to describe. Made from oats, this liquid is a beige color, thicker than cow's milk and has a sweet flavor to it. When I use it, I typically pour it out from its shelf-stable container into a larger one so I can water it down a little to the desired consistency. For those looking for a gluten-free milk alternative, oat milks are typically not gluten-free, though there are some.

Check out these alternatives and see which one is best for you. The best test (in my opinion) is using it with a plain cereal to see how you like the taste, but it is all about personal preference. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hot Damn, Tamales!

Having lived in Fort Worth all my life, I tend to take it upon myself to try and support local businesses in any way possible. First, this helps with the local economy, which is always good. Second, having good, local food creates a sense of pride for your city that you just can't replace. This is why on Monday, I finally decided to head down to Magnolia in Near Southside to try out Hot Damn, Tamales!, a local tamale shop with three tables for in-house dining. I decided to bring Ashley, a fellow vegetarian and good friend of mine, to check out what vegetarian tamales they had on the menu.

Hot Damn, Tamales! is extremely well priced, especially considering everything you get with your meal. They offer one choice, the tamale plate, which comes with three tamales of choice, black beans, Spanish rice, and homemade pico de gallo, all for $8.50. While you wait for your meal, they bring out homemade tortilla chips and salsa, which Ashley and I agreed could go up against the best. For my plate, I chose one three cheese queso tamale, one wild mushroom and Texas goat cheese tamale, and one black bean and Oaxaca cheese tamale.  It is hard to find good vegetarian tamales with flair, even in Texas, as the traditional tamale is made with chicken, beef, or pork, but Hot Damn, Tamales! is definitely the place to head if you are craving a traditional but meat-free tamale.

They also offer tamales in orders of a half-dozen or dozen for take-out, ranging in price from $9 to $24. Furthermore, they offer vegan friendly and gluten free options, so practically any dietary need can be met with one of their tamales. Check out their website for restaurant hours, prices, and a full list of all the tamales they offer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vegan Banana Muffins

Last week when I was sick, my mom was awesome (as she always is) and waited on me the entire time. She made these vegan banana muffins for breakfast and I thought I would share the recipe with you. These are made with no dairy or eggs, and the banana is used to bind the ingredients together. My mother made them plain, but adding cinnamon or chopped walnuts make for a yummy twist on the recipe.
Vegan Banana Muffins

3 browned (ripe) bananas
1/4 cup oil or vegan margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 360 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork till soft. Add the oil or vegan margarine and sugar and cream together.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Combine with the banana mixture, stirring gently just to combine.
  4. Grease or line a muffin pan, and fill each muffin about 2/3 full with batter. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. 
*We use Earth Balance brand vegan margarine, which can be found at WalMart.