The Saddest Things You’ll Ever See Are At The Starbucks

Filed under: @ 9:07 pm

I saw the saddest thing I hope to see in a long time last Saturday.

Andrew and I were in our local QFC, the one that just opened the Starbucks stand despite the fact that there’s a Starbucks storefront not 500 yards across the parking lot.
We were picking up some things for dinner when we rounded the end of an aisle and I saw, standing in the bakery looking at the catalogue of fancy children’s birthday cakes, a mother and daughter. Mom was maybe mid-30’s, somewhat taller and somewhat heavier than I, but not in the obese category. She looked a lot like a woman who exercised some but not enough and cared about her diet some, but not enough.
Her daughter however……

Daughter was maybe, maybe, 6 and had to weigh over 100 pounds. I’ve never seen such a truly, morbidly obese child.
And the worst part of it was that both mom and daughter were sucking on giant blended Starbucks drinks. Daughter was carrying a bigger Starbucks cup than I’ve ever ordered.
I just wanted to scream.

To a certain extent it is hypocritical of me to rant about this sort of thing, especially when I witnessed it on a shopping trip where we ended up purchasing a chocolate cream pie for our weekly dessert extravaganza. But I’m overweight, I know I’m overweight, and I put a lot of effort and thought into reversing the situation (or at least in keeping it from getting worse!)

This woman knows her daughter is obese and on a trip to the grocery store she purchases for her daughter and her daughter alone, a 32 ounce blended coffee drink (now in all fairness it may not have been coffee, it may have been one of the chocolate/caramel drinks, but regardless) that came in a cup that was longer than the child’s arm.
I wanted to go up and talk to her, to ask her if she knew that at no other time in her daughter’s life was she likely to have such a big influence and such rigid control over what her daughter consumed. To ask her if she knew that she was shortening her daughter’s life by setting an example and providing resources for her to further a problem that was already well advanced. To ask if she had considered purchasing her child a piece of freakin’ FRUIT as a treat while they were shopping. And why does a trip to the grocery store automatically require a treat anyway?
I wanted to rant a lot.

I know that there are underlying situations in the lives of this woman and her child that I’ll never know. Maybe the Starbucks drink was as a reward for the child who has been on a diet and had already lost 10 pounds. Maybe the kid has cancer and isn’t going to live long enough for diabetes, heart disease, blindness, amputations, and progressive debility to be a factor for her.
And I know that it would have been pretentious of me in the extreme to walk up to this woman and light into her about how she is raising her child. On the other hand I also think that my failure to act was a part of the problem that this increasingly obese country faces. Maybe if more people were willing to make an embarrassing public scene about things like this, more people would be shamed into being a little less permissive about their children’s diet. Sure the rant would end up backfiring on some people (“Well! How DARE you! My child has cancer and won’t live another 6 months. If she wants a giant coffee drink, a giant coffee drink she shall have!”), but since these days society frowns on calling an obese child obese, especially in public, societal pressure to do something to keep your child from being morbidly overweight has disappeared. Or at least it’s gotten very lost in the background.

While I decry in every way allowing words to become weapons that are used against the vunerable, I think that using words as weapons against those who are supposed to be protecting and nurturing the vunerable but ain’t is probably okay.

7 Responses to “The Saddest Things You’ll Ever See Are At The Starbucks”

  1. Tony Lenzer Says:

    Margaret: if there, I would have shared your anguish, as well as the feeling of helplessness. Given all the social pressures and the “what ifs,” it is unreasonable to expect individuals to intervene in such situations. This is so clearly a PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM, needing to be addressed in many ways: education, legislation, advocacy, enforcement, role-modeling…in no-holds barred ways. Would take a gov’mint gutsier than ours to take on the Obesity Purveyors. Small gains( “No Trans Fat in our fattening
    fries”) seem to come when the OPs find it fashionable, hence profitable. Mebbe the answer is about to emerge from McDonald U (?)

  2. Dalek Says:

    That’s really sad. It’s also somewhat remarkable, given that one of my vanpoolmates related a story to me this morning about how, when buying a cup of coffee at a Starbucks for a friend and just happening to have her year-old in tow, the barista blatantly asked her if she were breastfeeding because if so, y’know, she shouldn’t be drinking that. 😯

    When exactly did it become okay to ask a woman about her breastfeeding status and habits in public? And why would that be okay, but people just nod and smile and hand over the high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden 32-oz bombs to overweight kids? I’d be really happy if the current fads included an immediate ban on high-fructose corn syrup, because at least there’d be a months-long gap as prefab-food purveyors everywhere had to switch to alternative (and hopefully healthier) sweeteners.

  3. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Hey Dad,

    Thanks for chiming in. I am curious how you feel about the weight problems I had as a kid (and still have now, truth be told). From my own perspective, it seems like you and Mom did absolutely everything in your power to try to turn me around—or barring that, at least keep me in check—but I was just dead-set on noshing my way to oblivion. I mean, what do you do when your son steals money from his grandmother to buy Twinkies and Cokes from the local liquor store? ❗

    The key difference between yourselves and that anonymous mother at the QFC is, of course, that you tried everything that you could think of. You kept the sugary garbage around the house down to a dull roar (or perhaps buzz); you got me involved in soccer; you encouraged me to cook. Honestly, I have no idea what I was looking for at the bottom of the Slurpee cup, but it’s sure as shit I didn’t find it.

    Short version: thanks to both you and Mom for being the parents you are, and not the kind we see at the Starbucks.

  4. Uncle Andrew Says:


    While I agree that the barista crossed a line, I’m not at all sure where the line actually lies. Is what she did inappropriate because it took place between a paying customer and an employee? Because it included the subject of breasts? Because it took place under such very public circumstances? (If it is okay to breastfeed an infant in public, is it perhaps by association okay to make statements and voice concerns about breastfeeding in public?)

    A similar situation from my life: about ten years ago Margaret and I were walking around downtown Olympia when we spotted a family near the (then) new downtown fountain. This is one of those dealies where water shoots up from recessed jets in a flat expanse of concrete. The couples’ daughter of maybe four or five was running through the jets of water naked. Only about a week earlier a little girl had been taken to the emergency room with internal damage from being hit point-blank in the groin with a jet of water from the very same fountain. I felt I had to make them aware of this (though I could not imagine a universe in which they were not; it was major news).

    I approached the two, and as politely and as circuitously as possible I brought up my concerns. They gave me a polite and friendly brushoff, but I felt like I had made my point; everything else was up to them. But there are few things less comfortable in life than approaching total strangers to discuss your concerns about their four-year-old daughter’s genitals. The whole thing could have gone much worse if they had been more ornery/defensive/asinine.

    So while I agree that your scenario was not handled properly, I have to give the barista some points for making what she mistakenly thought were legitimate concerns known. Although the hazard was much more imminent in my example, there’s something to be said for speaking truth to parent. 😉

  5. Tony Lenzer Says:

    In those long ago days when you were a kid, there was less nutritional science available, albeit enough to know that obesity couldn’t be good for your health. At least as important, we knew (as you did) the stigma attached to being a fat kid…and what an effect other kids’ attitudes and responses could have on a kid. So we did what we could. Thank you for recognizing (somewhat belatedly, but obviously sincerely) our efforts!!

  6. Dalek Says:


    For me I think it was merely the contrast between the overt and intrusive (if well-meaning) action on the barista’s part when it came to the evils of caffeine and breast milk, vs the covert complicity (and damaging) action on the barista’s part when it came to the evils of giving a calorie bomb to a morbidly obese child. Granted, we’re not talking about the same barista (I think), but still: what makes it socially okay to take a potentially nursing mother to task about caffeine, and not take a parent/adult of a grossly obese child to task about empty calories? I’d think they’d both be about equal in both rudeness and worth, if you get my meaning. If anything, I’d be less inclined to speak up about a possible baby-buzz, but then again, I know a lot less about the perils of caffeine in milk than I do about excess weight and massive amounts of sugar. And I don’t assume breast-feeding.

    Either way, I’d find it hard to speak up to a stranger about it, but in the case of imminent danger (like your fountain), I’d try. In the case of less iminent but likely long-term danger…well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

  7. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I’d think they’d both be about equal in both rudeness and worth, if you get my meaning.

    I think you are right. And either would be likely to get a barista fired if overheard by the manager, I’d wager. 😐

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