It\u2019s been 15 years since Starbucks started carrying soy milk in its stores in 2004. Since then, we\u2019ve had two new presidents, we found out Pluto wasn\u2019t a planet, and weed became legal in 10 states. So much has happened. But for some reason, we\u2019re still being charged extra for soy. In 2004, the world was much different for vegans. Often, the only plant milks you could find on grocery shelves were in non-refrigerated tetra packs: likely rice and soy milks found in the baking aisle. Vegan cheeses were pretty much nonexistent unless you lived in a larger city with boutique nutrition-focused stores or were willing to pay a lot in shipping. And when they arrived, you realized they didn\u2019t really resemble cheese at all. Though the products available that year didn\u2019t hold a candle to the Miyokos of today, I was just as excited to try the brand-new options then as I am now. Giving up dairy meant significantly reducing my carbon footprint, lowering my risk of breast cancer and saving thousands of gallons of water per year. When anyone gives up dairy, vegan or not, they\u2019re doing a favor to their health, society and the planet. Despite having lackluster options, the mere fact that they existed was cause enough to celebrate. When Starbucks started carrying soy milk as an option, a whole new world opened for non-dairy folks like myself. They charged an extra $0.80 to switch out dairy for soy milk and I happily bought expensive coffee drinks without thinking twice about the extra charge. \u201cSoy milk is more expensive, so I\u2019ll pay extra,\u201d seemed to make sense. Thankful for being noticed, vegans and lactose-free customers felt\u00a0included\u00a0by the corporate coffee giant, not taken advantage of. We knew that this was likely seen as a trend and were happy big companies were jumping in with us. Now, a decade and a half later, pretty much every coffee shop carries soy milk, many offering almond, coconut, oat and other alternatives as well. We\u2019re in a whole new era, where veganism is not only represented on menus, but we\u2019re specifically sought after as customers. This isn\u2019t an accident. Veganism is growing at a quick rate: The number of U.S. consumers who identify as being vegan increased about 600% between 2014 and 2017, and a much larger percent of Americans are sometimes choosing plant-based alternatives despite not claiming the lifestyle. Corporate giants like Tyson and Hormel are investing in and releasing their own plant-based meat alternatives and now, plant milks are snatching up about 15% of overall \u201cdairy\u201d sales. Despite these immense changes, though, vegans are still being individually charged for replacing dairy with plant alternatives. In fact, we\u2019re being charged\u00a0a lot.\u00a0On average, you can expect to spend somewhere between $0.50 and $1.00 extra for every latte and up to $5.00 for every pizza you veganize. It may not seem like much, but for many people, that cost can add up to hundreds of dollars per year. Coffee beans themselves are sold at different rates, depending on their origin, current market value, and type. However, you\u2019d be hard-pressed to find a coffee shop that charges a different price for each type of brewed black coffee. I\u2019m not asking to be charged less than what my meals or drinks\u00a0actually\u00a0cost. I\u2019m asking for the costs to be rolled into one, like they do for coffees and other food groups, instead of being charged an extra fee on top of what is a fixed cost for everyone else. Coffee beans themselves are sold at different rates, depending on their origin, current market value, and type. However, you\u2019d be hard-pressed to find a coffee shop that charges a different price for each type of brewed black coffee. When building their menus and deciding on pricing structures, restaurants and shops add up all the ingredients and average out their operating costs across the general menu set. They do this in order to make the most amount of profit and to avoid charging $20 for some meals and $5 for others: many of us would be surprised to see what the actual costs were at most restaurants for similarly priced meals. Pizza is a great example as well. Bell peppers cost more than twice as much as onions but are always included together as one fixed price on pizza menus, each costing around $0.50 to $1.00 to add to a pizza, with no differentiation in price despite costing different amounts for the restaurant. I doubt that many people have ever questioned this discrepancy. So what if we did the same with plant milk? The monetary cost isn\u2019t all I\u2019m worried about. Seeing your food as something abnormal really takes a toll on customers \u2014 vegans, those with gluten intolerance, and people with allergies often feel like unappreciated outsiders and that our patronage is inconvenient or hurts the company we\u2019re supporting, rather than helps. To a cynic like myself, it often feels like I\u2019m not just being charged because my food costs more, but because they rely on that extra charge to increase profits. The discrepancy between what some shops charge and what others do is enormous, and illuminates how the upcharge is disconnected from economic realities. Customers are charged anywhere from $0.25 to $1.25 to sub in a vegan dairy alternative. This doesn\u2019t even correlate to the actual price difference between the two, which is generally around five cents per 12 ounce latte (based on quick research of national averages of costs of dairy and soy milk). And vegan coffee shops, where they sell nothing\u00a0but\u00a0plant-milks, seem to be doing just fine: Chris Rios, who owns East Austin Coffee, a 100% vegan shop, says \u201cI feel that our costs are about the same. Even though we don\u2019t charge extra for plant-based milk, we are competitively priced versus other premium local coffee shops.\u201d Extra charges have a place: when you\u2019re purchasing more. An additional cost for ordering avocado on your burger, cheese on your fries, or a pump of vanilla syrup in your latte makes sense. But when we order a latte with plant-milk, we\u2019re switching out an ingredient, not doubling up the size of our drink. Perhaps if plant milks weren\u2019t an extra charge, more customers would try them. When companies charge an extra fee to individual customers, they\u2019re alienating vegans and making a plant-based choice less desirable for non-vegans. Nolan Green, the owner of Machine Head Coffee in Austin, TX sees a third of his customers ordering drinks without dairy, and he recently ditched the extra charge for plant milk after seeing a popular post on Instagram that called the extra charge into question. He says even though most of his customers aren\u2019t vegan, he views it \u201cas an opportunity to reach someone who is reluctant to try a plant-based product.\u201d When we see restaurants willingly changing their menus to accommodate some causes, but not vegan ones, it\u2019s easy to think they simply don\u2019t care about the harm dairy does to human bodies, animals\u2019 welfare, and the environment. But it\u2019s more likely that they simply don\u2019t see a reason to stop charging extra since no one is really complaining about it. Compelling restaurants to absorb costs for more ethical options isn\u2019t unprecedented. In fact, it\u2019s something some activists have accomplished. Working with local governments and inspiring small feats of change at the societal level, environmentalists have made it pretty much an abomination to serve food and drinks in Styrofoam containers, which take 500 or more years to decompose. At many restaurants in larger cities, customers expect their takeout containers to be made from compostable or recyclable materials. In some cities, like Seattle, it\u2019s the law. And the cost of switching to compostable materials is heavy: over twice the cost of less environmentally-friendly products. Restaurants aren\u2019t switching to earth-friendly material at their own loss, either: they\u2019re passing on the cost to customers within their menu set, and not externally, which is exactly what they should be doing with vegan alternatives. Perhaps environmentalists have achieved something vegans haven\u2019t quite mastered: the art of making these issues everyone\u2019s business. Is it so easy, though? When we see restaurants willingly changing their menus to accommodate some causes, but not vegan ones, it\u2019s easy to think they simply don\u2019t care about the harm dairy does to human bodies, animals\u2019 welfare, and the environment. But it\u2019s more likely that they simply don\u2019t see a reason to stop charging extra since no one is really complaining about it. If it doesn\u2019t seem to be broken, why fix it? \u201cThat\u2019s when I really feel like it\u2019s a vegan tax. A lot of places seem to go very light on the vegan cheese, but not so light on the up-charge for it.\u201d So, should we be thankful that businesses offer non-dairy alternatives at all? Yes, absolutely. We should celebrate companies who recognize the market for more ethical ingredients. But when we forget that businesses exist to serve the needs of their consumers, we sell our buying power short. Robbie Lordi owns Li\u2019l Nonna\u2019s Pizza in Austin, TX, which switched to an all-vegan menu about a year ago in 2018. His advice to other restaurants? \u201cIf you are trying to bring vegans to your restaurant, I highly suggest not up-charging non-dairy options. You are actively including a whole new customer base that may not have had another reason to patronize your business. I get \u201cnot needing\u201d to attract vegan customers, but what I find most objectionable is when the up-charge is disproportionate to the cost. That\u2019s when I really feel like it\u2019s a vegan tax. A lot of places seem to go very light on the vegan cheese, but not so light on the up-charge for it.\u201d Starbucks didn\u2019t start offering soy milk to its customers as charity. They were meeting the ever-increasing demand for plant milks; a demand that has only intensified as time has gone on. In a recent poll by Ipsos-mori, over 50% of American consumers stated they purchased plant-based milk alternatives. Instead of simply being appreciative of corporations who offer these alternatives at an upcharge, we should be alarmed that they\u2019re not absorbing the costs into their menu sets after years of data has proven that plant milks are the\u00a0future, and not simply a trend. 15 years is too long. Vegans and our plant-based alternatives are not going away, but the vegan tax should. *Reprinted with permission from Tenderly.