Peeps. Here’s a tip: don’t read super depressing books on vacation.
Maybe everyone knows this but me, but I never get time to really tear through books like I so love to do. So, on my annual month off from cooking I haul all the books I’ve been hoarding throughout the year to my little vacation paradise (a shack next to Jacob’s dad’s house on Kauai) and read until my eyes burn. Here’s what I’ve devoured so far:
Momofuku by David Chang & Peter Meehan: UTTERLY FASCINATING cookbook. Yes, pretty damn meaty. But really wonderful. More about it later…maybe (see how I’m being so good and not forcing myself to write blog posts on vacation?). I read literally every word and every single recipe—even for things like “Pig’s Head Torchon,” (I got though that one by not looking at the pictures) and I learned something new and interesting on every page.
Celebrate with Chocolate by Marcel Desoulniers: picked up at a thrift store for $1, really lovely.
Bakewise by Shirley Corriher: like Momofuku but even more so: constant firecrackers of ideas and inspiration going off. Truly invaluable.
From A Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i by Haunani-Kay Trask. See below.
The Boss of You: Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business by Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears: haven’t started it yet, looks great. Update! GREAT! Gave me lots of good ideas for how to inject some zest into my boring businessy inner workings.
Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace by Pun Ngai: heartbreaking, fascinating, heartbreaking, heartbreaking.
My Bread by Jim Lahey: haven’t started yet, very very excited!! Update: AMAZING, LOVED IT, SO MANY GOOD IDEAS! Sorta slim, but all in all a well-crafted, well-edited, curated little collection of ideas and recipes. The dude loves and cares for bread, that’s for sure.
and finally, Bitter Chocolate by Carol Off
Throw in about 20 magazines, and I feel on top of the world of words. An amazing feeling.
But Bitter Chocolate and, to a lesser extent, Made in China and From A Native Daughter, are messing me up more than I’d like to admit.
From A Native Daughter is primarily about why haoles (white people like me) shouldn’t ever go to Hawaii because it was stolen from Hawaiians, etc. It’s pretty devastating in its critique of American imperialism and the horrors capitalism hath wrought. I’m only halfway through it right now, but it’s not actually making me feel more guilty than I already feel about spending so much time on this stolen island—because here’s the thing: if Hawaii wasn’t a state—and I do believe that it should be given back to native Hawaiians tomorrow, make no mistake—I’d love it even more. If tight restrictions where put on where tourists could go (so ancient and sacred sites were protected, for example) and what they could do (if the stupid horrible fake “luaus” and hula shows and things were ended, for example), I’d feel much happier about enjoying this island. Similarly, I’d love to know my tourist dollars were going to local businesses owned by residents and native people rather than American multi-nationals. Hawaii should be a country. That’s the bottom line for me. I have a feeling, however, that Trask still wouldn’t want my white face around, and I’m hoping the rest of the book can help me understand her position a little more. She is filled with a sometimes explosive rage, and as you can imagine that thrills me to no end. She’s one of us! (I sort of want to name a chocolate after her, can you tell? She’s been on my short list for a while.)
So when I’m not reading about how I should be ashamed to be in this place I adore so, I’m reading about how my entire beloved business is built on the backs of poor people halfway across the world. Bitter Chocolate is harsh.
Here’s what I emailed to my friend Randy about it:
…See, I’m reading this book, Bitter Chocolate, all about, well, the chocolate industry. As expected, it’s horrifying. The phrase “death by chocolate” is used, and it doesn’t refer to a decadent cake. And I of course knew all of this, but what the author has to say about fair trade chocolate is predictably terrifying as well. So sad. And the choc I use (Tcho) isn’t fair trade certified [and I'm happy about this, because I increasingly doubt the ability of the too-tidy f/t label to really do what it says and the process of getting certified can actually make things worse for small farmers--more on this in a minute]—they work with small farmer co-ops and they document everything and pay fair wages, blah blah. Their bags are printed with “no slavery” and they talk all about the issues on their site, and I’ve had several really reassuring phone calls about it with them. But here’s the thing: can a product like chocolate–made largely by brown people to be eaten largely by white people (the name of this book could be “Brown People Died To Bring White People Candy”)–ever be ethical?
Argh. I try to make my business my activism, but maybe nothing can be done.
I know I’m saying that now and tomorrow I will know again that some people are buying my choc who would have bought Hershey bars, but…tonight is tonight.
So that’s where I’m at. I feel better today, I’m not about to shut my business down or anything, but I am unsettled about it, for sure. So you can share my discomfort, tomorrow I’ll share some facts I’ve pulled from Bitter Chocolate that particularly struck me. But for now, here’s what Randy wrote back (which I didn’t ask his permission to print—let me know if I should take this down, yo!)
I am glad you are reading your book and using the information to improve your interaction with the world. That is in itself the right thing to be doing. I don’t think there will ever be a point when your negative impact on the planet and other people is eliminated. You will always want to do better, but never hit the zero mark. That is ok! You have to be and being makes a mess. This is not a reason to make as big a mess as you might find convenient, but it is a reason to not beat yourself up for ending up somewhere short of perfect.
Talking things over with Randy, like talking things over with Jacob, always helps. And, like Jacob and so many others in my life, Randy often points out to me the impossibility of achieving perfection. I appreciate it, but it also sort of turns me into a whining child: but I want perfection. It is, in fact, all I’ve ever wanted. And to admit to myself that it’s not possible to achieve it—in this case, to run my business in the absolute most ethical way—terrifies me. Why even try, if you’re not going to try for perfection? You’ll rarely make it, but those tiny times when you do—that feeling is why I’m alive. But, yes, to find a way to fall short without tearing your insides to shreds—there’s the rub.
Enough cheeseballery. Tomorrow: depressing choco facts.