Gavin McCarthy is a freelance illustrator and graphic artist. This blog is a collection for various sketches, experiments and new work. Comments are always welcome and encouraged. All blog content © Gavin McCarthy

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Food Rant - Bye Bye Cochineal Dye.

A poor little bug is getting less respect then Rodney Dangerfield (RIP) because some squeamish individuals have gotten wise to a centuries old practice. The cochineal is a small parasitic insect that feeds of cacti in South America and Mexico. These little pigment powerhouses are harvested, dried and ground into a powder which is then used to create a vivid red dye. This dye is used in a number of items including food, for example imitation crab and namely a few Starbucks treats.

Some of you reading this might be thinking "Whoa... we eat bugs" and the answer is "yes". I'd much rather know my food's added colour comes from a bug than a chemical. You've swallowed a spider or two in your sleep, you'll be fine.

But aye... there's the rub. A group of individuals have petitioned Starbucks to stop using the bug based dye as it is not vegan. Remember, the products in question are treats, not staples of nourishment like rice and wheat but indulgences. I'm all for people honoring a lifestyle or religion, but with that comes sacrifices like the omission processed food. All processed food has "mystery bits", it's just part of the process (they allow for it). Those practicing Jainism will sort through their food thoroughly, inspecting it prior to eating to ensure they don't accidentally eat and kill a bug; I very much doubt there would be much for them to eat in our modern, western world; you cannot mass-produce purity.

I guess my frustration is about people trying to force a company to change because they refuse to change their indulgences. If you don't like the product don't order it, walk down the street and visit a smaller business that uses fresh ingredients. Stop demanding organic-vegan-instant-space-food and either enjoy your bug-shake or give your business to a nice little bistro that can take the time to make it from scratch.

But that's just my opinion, what's yours?


  1. Different story if you have life-threatening asthma attacks from ingesting the bugs though. Sucks to be allergic.

  2. My opinion is that instead of cochineal dye Starbucks can start using some industrial petrochemical product, the manufacture of which causes massive habitat destruction, wiping out not just individual insects but possibly entire species of all kinds of organisms. But you know, the vegans really really need their frappucinos, and it would hurt their conscience to think about the poor cochineal buggies.

  3. Why do products need to be dyed red in the first place? Seems like an unnecessary aesthetic.