Starbucks adds to portion problems

Starbucks Coffee will be rolling out a new, gargantuan, 31-ounce “Trenta” drink size to all Starbucks stores in the United States by May 3.

Cue the collective groans of every dietician in America.

The Trenta release comes in response to the consumer demand for bigger iced drinks perfect for those long, hot summer days.

Thankfully, you won’t be able to pick up a 31-ounce Frappuccino any time soon, since the size is restricted to iced teas and coffees, with the usual choices of sweeteners, milk and cream.

Even Starbucks had the common sense to know that America doesn’t need 31 ounces of caramel macchiato.

Here’s the kicker, though: The Trenta, with a volume of 916 ml, is bigger than the average capacity of the human stomach, which is about 900 ml, according to the Huffington Post.

Do we really need to be lugging around icy beverages that have more liquid than the average stomach would like to hold? Granted, a stomach stretches, but the image is weirdly grotesque.

Coffeehouses are meant to be cool, dignified and sophisticated, regardless of whether any of those adjectives fit Starbucks anymore. The rise of the espresso drink, formerly an accessory of the stereotypical European-Italian, brought with it a certain appeal. An appeal threatened by what appears to be a slow march toward the 7-Eleven Big Gulp.

Even ignoring the oxymoronic nature of a chain Starbucks following the lowbrow “bigger is better” consumer trend, there is something very silly about introducing such an enormous drink size to the public. Everything is already too big. Portion sizes have grown across the board in America, distorting our sense of what’s properly portioned and what’s just way too large.

The average drink size 20 to 30 years ago was about eight ounces, according to the New York Times. Now, it’s somewhere around 20 ounces.

Such increases have left us with more than a quenched thirst: the number of obese people in the United States has doubled since the ’70s.

With every increase in portion size, we start to lose sight of how much we’re supposed to eat. And one of the easiest fixes to this literal and metaphoric ballooning of America would be food establishments simply offering smaller portions.

The irony of this, when it comes to Starbucks, is that while they’re willing to unveil a new drink size that could satisfy a baby blue whale, they still hide their smallest available size, the eight-ounce Short, behind the counter. You have to ask for it specifically, as it’s not an on-the-menu option. Why try to keep it secret? A smaller size delivers a better, more classically potent espresso flavor while being healthier and cheaper at the same time.

Even more surreptitiously, Tim Harford, author of the book “The Undercover Economist,” said that some companies participate in deliberate “product sabotage” toward products that are less profitable. This includes hiding them, damaging them or making their packaging look ugly, encouraging customers to buy the bigger, better options.

“It’s not hard to identify the price-blind customers in Starbucks. They’re the ones buying enough latt to bathe Cleopatra,” Harford wrote in Slate. “The major costs of staff time, space in the queue, and packaging are similar for any size of drink. So, larger drinks carry a substantially higher markup.”

And so, as is inevitable with any business situation, it all comes down to money. Starbucks has to find a way to keep up with fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, which serve larger drinks for less cash.

And though Starbucks optimistically states that a sweetened Trenta-sized drink won’t be more than 230 calories, it’s still a disconcerting move in a nation where everyone can’t seem to get a grip on how much they should be eating and drinking. Such curiously manipulative business practices aren’t going to change for a while.

At least now I can have a Trenta iced tea to hold me over until they do.

Eddie Kim is a sophomore majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California.