Sunday, August 27, 2006

bitter taste of coffee

There's a great article on Salon about Starbucks marketing high calorie, high caffeine drinks to teenagers, aka "the Frappucino generation". According to the kids interviewed for the piece, the coffee drinks make them feel "grown up," while they acknowledge that the whipped cream and caramel ("the kids menu") make the drinks palatable to to their peers who are turned off by the bitter taste of coffee. Shockingly, despite efforts by schools to rid the hallways of vending machines selling soda and candy, teachers are letting kids bring the drinks to class.

(I can't even imagine what would have happened if I had brought the equivalent -- a Friendly Fribble? -- into Sister Eleanor's Latin class.)

What is most interesting about the article, however, is how it points out that the appeal of Starbucks for young people is also strongly due to the fact that they simply have so few places to hang out.

"It provides them a place for where, for a few bucks, they can stay as long as they like without being hassled. And since it's not overtly marketed to kids, it feels more cultured than going to a fast food chain, like McDonald's. Plus, unlike at McDonald's or Taco Bell, you can move the chairs around to make room for all your friends."

The kids' parents don't object because they recognize the alternative: there are worse places to hang out. They'll find a way to deal with the caffeine buzz if it keeps their kids off the streets.

I am sure that, if I were in high school today, I would be one of the kids hanging out at Starbucks -- despire the fact that I don't like the taste of their coffee. I would be drawn in by the allure of appearing to be grown up (how sad that I now fight so hard to NOT be a "grown up"). I would hope that I would be smart enough to recognize that a Frappucino a day was nothing but a sure recipe for a size 16 prom dress. (A 16 ounce White Chocolate Frappucino, for example, has 610 calories - 480 without the whipped cream -- and 19 grams of fat. Lordy.)

The issue of kids not having anywhere to hang out is a real one that very few adults acknowledge or make the effort to address. In addition to its contribution to obesity (no place to run around or be outside), not having any place to hang out leads to kids spending time in places where adults unjustifiably perceive them as nuisances, loiterers and, worst of all, delinquents. Mike Males writes about this -- the demonization of young people -- and has been for years. (I've got Framing Youth and The Scapegoat Generation on my shelves.)

Adults, in contrast, have endless places to spend their time, either in the privacy of their own homes or in public. And those that have money to spend have even more.

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