Wednesday Walk: Good Groceries, Bad Kombucha
The popularity of Saira Rao, an informative local grocery store, and more thoughts on #nonewclothes
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As is typical every Wednesday, I’m bring you a smattering of topics that I hope will make you a bit more curious about the world around you and give you something to think about later. I call these Wednesday Walks, as it’s the type of conversation we might have walking down a path in the woods. Shall we take a stroll?
You Liked Saira!
I wanted to open this week by thanking so many of you for listening to last week’s interview with Saira Rao. Her antiracism work can be new territory for some listeners and I wondered before the episode was released if people would be open to her message. I wanted to talk to Saira, but I had no way of knowing if others would want to listen.
Even after more than 100 episodes of the podcast, I still have a hard time guessing as to which episodes will be popular and which won’t be. Well, in just the first few days of release it’s already been played a lot. People listened and shared in a big way!
I remember observing a similar pattern when I had Sarah Kendzior on the podcast back in 2020. She’s an author who wrote books like The View From Flyover Country and Hiding in Plain Sight and she used her scholarship of European autocracies to predict much of the chaos of the Trump years and to call out other government officials for their inaction. She also co-hosts the amazing podcast Gaslit Nation. As with Saira, I was amazed with how quickly Sarah’s episode was listened to and shared. In both cases, I hope the message resonated and led to action.
It’s a reminder to me that sometimes the people with the most provocative sounding message are actually just being the most truthful. Audiences respond to that, in part I think because so much media coverage ends up being very vanilla in an attempt to appear to avoid bias. News producers seem reluctant to book Saira, Sarah, or other people that call out hypocrisy (Jon Stewart comes to mind) out of a perceived fear of upsetting the apple cart (which in this case includes audiences, advertisers, and management).
Looking at the numbers that Saira did in just the last few days and that Sarah Kendzior did three years ago is a reminder to me that these voices can attract a big following. Saira described in the interview being told by a publisher at Penguin Random House that he didn’t expect her book to sell very well and that people in the publishing industry thought he was crazy for printing the book. White Women became a New York Times best seller.
As I look at the evolving media landscape, I feel like the old gatekeepers gatekeep at their peril. Maybe cable news and other legacy platforms are irrelevant when social media and other digital platforms allow people to share a message directly with those most interested and in a position to take action.
For those of you who listened to Saira’s episode, I wanted to follow up with information about the New York event she mentioned during the podcast. It will be at the historic venue The Town Hall on October 27. Here’s a blurb from The Town Hall’s website:
“The event begins with a screening of Deconstructing Karen, a documentary about the Race2Dinner movement that Jackson and Rao founded and will be followed by an on stage dinner discussion with the film's Emmy-winning director Patty Ivins, New York Times Bestselling Author Frederick Joseph, award-winning actress and director Lake Bell, writer, activist and co-founder of The Progressivists Jo Lorenz and more to come. Come to The Town Hall to witness difficult, but necessary, conversations in the house that was built for them.”
Tickets are on sale now. We ordered ours earlier this week and I’m really looking forward to seeing Saira, Regina, and the other guests in person. I hope to see some of you there perhaps!
Good Groceries, Bad Kombucha
This weekend, we did a little staycation, taking the RV to some places closer to home. One stop that we made which I wanted to highlight is River Valley Co-op, a community owned grocery store with locations in Northampton and Easthampton, MA.
I first learned of River Valley when they hosted a Zoom class on fermentation with local company Real Pickles. Real Pickles had advertised the free class on their social media page and I signed up. It was completely free and was very educational. It changed how I ferment my foods, and if you’ve been around here for a while, you know I like my fermented foods like sauerkraut.
Visiting River Valley in person was quite the experience. The store feels like a small version of Whole Foods Market, although it seemed to specialize in more local foods. They had an amazing bulk food section where I loaded up on some nuts. My kids picked out some exotic cheeses.
What I liked about River Valley was that it was clearly a place with values. The store was displaying an LGBT+ flag and a Black Lives Matter flag and felt very inclusive. They still offer special masked shopping hours and curbside pickup for those who prefer that or are immunocompromised.
But perhaps my favorite aspect of the store was a little sign I noticed in the kombucha aisle.
I appreciated that the store followed its values and that it was willing to adjust to new information. I wasn’t too familiar with the labor issues cited on the sign, so I decided to scan the QR code. It took me to an article by Sam Dean from the Los Angeles Times which outlines the issues with GT’s.
George Thomas Dave is the founder of GT’s, which is by far the most ubiquitous kombucha brand on the market. According to Forbes, he is estimated to be a billionaire, although it seems that he may have reached that point through the exploitation of workers.
“…according to a ruling filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Dave’s kombucha company subjected a number of workers to ‘deplorable and abusive and disturbing working conditions’ in one of its factories in Vernon, just south of downtown Los Angeles, between 2010 and 2014.
The judge in the case, William Highberger, found that the company hired workers without legal status, knowing that they could be ‘intimidated and abused,’ that it required workers to clock 12- to 14-hour shifts without adequate breaks or overtime pay and that Dave himself, who testified in his own defense, ‘demonstrated a total absence of credibility’ by contradicting himself in court.”
It goes on to state:
“Every two weeks, the company would ask the workers — some of whom the court found to be illiterate — to sign a time sheet indicating that they worked eight-hour days and released the employer ‘for any future claims on this pay period.’”
The entire article is worth a read and is a reminder that even the companies that project an image of compassion or responsibility are still subject to the same capitalistic temptations as any other business. A rich owner exploits workers to get even richer (according to the article, Dave just bought a hilltop estate a few streets away from his existing compound in Beverly Hills).
I certainly hope that River Valley Co-op is as good as it seems from my brief visit there this weekend. I appreciated that they were willing to share their business decisions with customers and that they viewed their store as a place of education.
#NoNewClothes- Week 47
Finally this week, I wanted to do a quick check in on the No New Clothes challenge.
If you haven’t been following along with this No New Clothes challenge, it was inspired by a newsletter I wrote about Amory Sivertson, who did a similar challenge last year. So far, I’ve only purchased two used tops (a vintage Sears sweater and a used Patagonia flannel) and one new shirt (although it was from the clearance rack at an outlet mall).
Since it’s been almost two months since my last update, you may have wondered if I was still keeping the challenge going. The answer is yes, and the truth is that it’s gotten more routine now and doesn’t feel as novel or worthy of an update.
I was asked recently whether we were doing a lot of back to school shopping for our kids and my answer was “not really.” We certainly buy them clothes when the need presents itself (they both got new pairs of sneakers for school), but we’re also not buying new clothes just because we feel we have to; because we’re being told by advertising that now is the time to buy.
At this point, I don’t anticipate going another five weeks to round out the full year of not buying anything new (well, except that one shirt) will be any problem. I’m not counting down the days until I can order a new wardrobe or anything like that. I half wondered as I set out to write this update this week if one year could have possibly already come and gone without me even realizing it.
The truth is, we are encouraged to consume so much, too much sometimes, and it’s nice to fight against that some and feel like there’s some breathing room to just enjoy life and enjoy the things I have.
I have a lot of clothes in my closet and I’ll be wearing them as long as I can. When it’s time to replace them, I’ll try to be more thoughtful about what I buy, opting for high quality clothes, often used or vintage, so that they will last longer and be more durable.
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Other Wednesday Walks
If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.