Last year, Seattle woman Beautiful Existence ("YES, it is my real name") challenged herself to a year of eating and drinking only what she purchased at Starbucks. The Starbucks challenge of 2013 was the third year-long "brand challenge" for Existence, who spent 2011 shopping only at Goodwill (she patronized other retailers for food, hygiene and toiletries) and in 2012 she tested out tips from the pages of Parents magazine.
Existence has been so pleased with how these first three year-long challenges turned out that she is preparing for many, many more years of corporate exclusivity. She writes on her blog:
The first years challenge was so fantastic that it’s lead to me mapping out over 20 years worth of personal challenges to explore in my life! With everything from politics to pennies, coffee to communities and everything in between… I will explore that which defines our existence for a year and write all about it on my blogs.
Existence chronicled her menu and her daily life in her blog. The result is a pleasantly voyeuristic, if essentially advertorial, read. Here is part of a post she wrote in August:
When NatGeo was interviewing me for Winter’s show they asked if I was tired of the Starbucks menu 7 months into my challenge? I get asked that question (and what next years challenge will be) a lot now. But with all I’m surrounded with already, and now with even MORE goodies like “Evolution Harvest” coming out soon…. I ask you how I EVER could get tired of the innovative, amazing options from the brilliant minds at Starbucks?
And here's an excerpt from a post she wrote in March on how to pull of a Starbucks Passover Seder:
What happens when you are only eating & drinking everything from Starbucks? Can you partake in a Seder? Well I’ve now experienced this question first hand and the answer is YES! Yes you can get most of your Seder food items (obviously not Kosher though) at your local Starbucks store! As the list of traditional Seder food items above shows, I was able to purchase a Chicken and Hummus & a Protein Bistro Box and get most of the items needed to go along with everybody else!
Next year, Existence will spend her year "living REI," the massive outdoor sporting good retailer, by learning every recreational sport possible.
Existence is not the first to embark an obsessive, one-firm-only spend-fest. She's essentially following the model set by Morgan Spurlock in Supersize Me, except instead of setting out to prove that a diet consisting exclusively of fast food is bad for your health, she's setting out to prove... nothing? We can only conclude that by committing a large portion of her life to abiding by arbitrary, corporate restrictions Existence is conducting a dystopian experiment to see if she can convince a different company to sponsor her existence each year.
Regardless of motive, we were intrigued by the idea of patronizing only one store for one annum and we came up with a list of the best — and worst — places to do so. (With some suggestions from The Wire staff.) Our caveats are that the commitment is only extended to what the retailer offers, so you don't have to buy your sweaters at a chicken restaurant. Feel free to take these suggestions into the rest of your 2014.
Popeye's or Bojangles': If I had to eat only one kind of fast food for the next year it would be Popeye's or, even better, Bojangles. There is enough diversity in sides that you would never get taste-fatigue. Spicy or mild? Red beans and rice or seasoned fries? Strips or chicken pieces? Also I have yet to see anyone eat a Bojangles' Cajun Filet Biscuit and not be satisfied. Sure diabetes would be a drawback, but YOLO or something. - Alexander Abad-Santos
Trader Joe's: It's so cheap! There are so many frozen food options! Sure the lines are crazy-long but at least you'll always have something to talk about parties. Whenever the conversation starts to stall and people look at their phones or the ceiling or for another drink, you can say, "Dear God, the line at Trader Joe's on 14th Street was hellish today," and everyone will commiserate and offer their own long-line stories. It's foolproof.
Cheesecake Factory: Eating at the Cheesecake Factory for an entire year would be the best, because you could finally taste every single item on its excessive and bloated menu. I'm not sure even the people that work there can say they've tried everything Cheesecake has to offer. You could be the first. - Eric Levenson
Google: You can buy anything on, and let's face it - probably from, Google. They already have already have all your personal information, so just them take care of the rest of your life. Case closed.
Chick-fil-A: Eating at Chick-fil-A would not be cool because you would end up pouring thousands of dollars into the pockets of people who support anti-gay legislation (even though we all know you think their sandwiches are sooooo gooooood). Also, (despite the Popeye's idea) a year-long diet of fried chicken sandwiches would not be good for your health (although, if we trust Chuck Klosterman's McNugget experiment, could be fine for a week). And ALSO, their ad campaign is predicated on the notion that chicken and cows are in a blood feud and that you, by eating chicken, are on the side of the genocidal cow. Isn't that weird?
Slim Jim: You would die. - Elspeth Reeve
Target: Two months ago we would have been pro-Target. They've got a massive selection of clothing and food-stuffs, and they offer fancy designs on the cheap. But we've got to put them on our worst list after this major hacking scandal, their faulty gift cards, and because both of those things made it seem like they were trying to ruin our Christmas.
Guy Fieri's Time Square Restaurant: Location, food, clientele. - Philip Bump
The Best/Worst (We're Torn)
Walmart: Walmart has literally everything, and ever since we saw Where the Heart Is we kind of want to live in one, at least for a little bit. But the fact that Walmart has everything means it's can also be totally overwhelming and crowded, and life-threatening (on Black Friday, at least.) Also it, you know, allegedly blocks unions and has locked employees in overnight, so again ... ethics.
Disney World: Pros: You'd be a regular in the most magical theme park on Earth. You'd have your fill of international foods via Epcot, and silly futuristic predictions in Tomorrowland, and princesses will treat you with saccharine kindness and tell you you're great. Cons: it would cost you a fortune, you would have to avoid certain rides with annoying theme songs (you know who you are), and will probably end up hating children, and maybe all families, forever.
This article was originally published at http://www.thewire.com/culture/2014/01/year-long-challenge-starbucks/356640/