Along Merrick Road, Humane Long Island protests non-dairy milk surcharge by handing out oat milk coffees


If you traveled along Merrick Road on Feb. 14, you likely saw Juliana Di Leonardo, vice president of Humane Long Island, dressed in a cow costume, clutching a sign that read “Vegan Up Charge: Udder Nonsense.”

Her husband, and president of Humane Long Island, John Di Leonardo, stood next to her handing out vegan treats to curious onlookers.

Their beef, they say, is with Starbucks.

The animal rights activists partnered with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to protest Starbuck’s controversial vegan milk up charge in coffee and other beverages.

The chain currently charges 70 cents per drink to substitute cow’s milk with vegan options like oat or soy. Activists like the Di Leonardo’s argue that the policy is bad for cows, and potentially for business.

On Valentine’s Day, Humane Long Island took to the corner of Merrick Avenue and Merrick Road, handing out 600 free vegan lattes to those driving by, supplied by Rise Brewing Co., a canned coffee company.

“We wanted to show people how easy it is to have non-dairy milk,” John said, “and to make it easier for them to have that option on Valentine’s Day.”

This isn’t the first time the Di Leonardo’s, and countless advocates across the country have protested the same cause. Last year, John super glued his hand to the counter of a midtown Manhattan Starbucks with actor James Cromwell, after nearly 150,000 PETA supporters asked Starbucks to end the up charge.

“We respect our customers’ rights to respectfully voice their opinions so long as it does not disrupt our stores operations,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement to the Washington Post last May following the protest in Manhattan.

John said that Starbucks agrees that animal-friendly vegan milks are better for the planet than dairy milk but is frustrated the corporation insists on charging extra for the dairy alternative.

“No one should be penalized for trying to live a little healthier and a little kinder,” he added.

The afternoon gave drinks to some pedestrians, but the majority of those passing by were in cars. The couple said the protest was well received, and many people asked questions about the reduced carbon footprint associated with a vegan lifestyle.

“We saw a bunch of other people who said they never tried oat milk,” John said. “They said it was delicious.”

The animal rights activists also caught the attention of some vegans, who said they didn’t know about the up charge. 

“Consuming dairy not only reduces blood to the heart, but to all organs,” John noted. “Humane Long Island is making it easy for coffee lovers to show love for cows, the environment, and their partners by kissing dairy goodbye this Valentine’s Day.”

John said that each person who goes vegan spares nearly 200 animals. In addition to reducing the risk of impotence, plant-powered eating slashes the risk of heart disease by a whopping 52 percent, according to studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“You can do a lot by taking cruelty off your plate,” Juliana said. “Peace does begin on your plate.”