Hey, vegan world!
Two things about you, then one about me:
1) Stop using palm oil-saturated Earth Balance, OK? JUST STOP. You’re killing us all. Why do I need to keep repeating myself? Even if a “sustainable” palm oil gains traction, you’ll still be cutting down trees to get to their oily insides. (Whereas coconut oil comes from…well, you know where. Not tree insides!)
2) When one buys things from small lovely friendly vegan businesses, and the lovely designers of said lovelinesses tell one that said things are made in China, could we also maybe talk a bit about how they are made, you know, ethically in China? I was too polite to ask, and now have lain awake in bed three nights in a row wishing I’d asked. Because you seemed so nice! Maybe you’ve been to the factory and it’s all eco-friendly and it’s, like, a worker-owned co-op and you pay for carbon offsets to counteract the shipping and and and….and I don’t even have the balls to email and ask you this now, because I know how being a small business owner is: REALLY FUCKING HARD. You live and die by how satisfied your customers are, I know this. And I am satisfied! And I don’t want to start anything or be mean or not supportive of the cause of styley vegan things made by women-owned companies, but…I keep lying in bed thinking about it.
And now onto my own ethical quandary:
Just as I was contemplating taking out an ad in every ever-so-slightly “alternative” feminist’s favorite magazine, one with which I have a long, wide, deep relationship, I got a little tip that someone I know, someone whom I happen to know likes the Bonbons, is going to be on the cover very soon. Someone very nice, who couldn’t be more gracious and lovely and who I am not talking trash about or hatin’ on or blaming for anything. Let me be clear about that right from the start.
So everyone in my life was all, hey, — and — are going to be on the cover of —! You should ask her for a quote about the chocolates to put in your ad!
And this teeny simple thing has basically been running through my head for two days and I’m just sitting on the shelf about it, sort of going crazy. I’m not going to do it. I decided this and went, as one does, to Facebook to make the proclamation:
My heart is pure. I will not ask the truffle customer who’s going to be on the cover of the magazine I am taking an ad out in if she will give me a quote about the chocos for the ad. I just can’t be that person. Oh…..ick. I’ve got those old capitalist blues again.
And then here’s what some smarties said:
- “There is no shame in being That Person, because you could never be That Person, even if you ask (which I think you most definitely should!).”
- “There is not shame in networking, so long as it’s person to person, with real connections made. I am as anti-capitalist as they come, but if a personal connection is made, and a request proffered, in total sincerity, what is the harm in that?”
- “Besides, even in an anti-capitalist society, even if you go so far as syndicalist, you still need to sell your wares, no?”
And I said:
- “Oh…I see harm. First of all, I just hate asking people for stuff like that. Second, do you buy things because celebrities say they like them? Do I really want those kind of customers? Third, isn’t it massively cheesey to have a quote from someone in an ad in a magazine that features them? It makes my insides feel too wiggly. Oh god, I am the kind of business person who makes decisions based on if my insides feel wiggly. Lord, help me.”
And then other smarties said:
- “But the real question is…who is it??!”
- “Understood about hating to ask people for stuff, and the ickyness that entails. Second, I would not consider you a “celebrity.” I’m sure you don’t either, and that’s my point. You are an established proprietor in your community, and trusted at that, I would assume (correct me if I’m wrong, :p). Third, I’d argue, again, that if you’ve made a connection, a personal connection, with the person making the “quote,” then it isn’t out of bounds to ask them to say something nice about your business. This isn’t about you, necessarily, it’s the business that you own that you want to see succeed, and the people that you want to affect through it. Therefore, person-to-person marketing is not a bad thing at all. I understand the “wiggliness” of it all, but being someone who has only seen your business through Facebook, and only that because of a recommendation of a mutual friend, I say, “go for it!” I understand the last paragraph may weaken my argument, but I don’t think it does, actually. I’ve given this some thought before I responded.
- “I think you should ask – first of all, your chocolates are the best ever anywhere! The person is a customer of yours, so she must obviously love them too. I don’t know if people buy just because a celebrity says something but it does get attention – and attention to a highly ethical and wonderful business like yours is a GOOD thing!”
And I said, in my typical long-winded way:
- “Here’s the thing. I am very wary of going the PETA route of justifying any tactic because the cause it’s trying to promote is just, therefore any way of “getting the word out” about it is just. PETA uses mostly skinny, mostly white women as disposable objects, and though we share the same goals, I can’t support them because for me, the means are always the ends.In this case, yes, it’s all complicated by the fact that the ends are making $ for my (lovely, sustainable, vegan, etc, but still) business, but I have to still abide by the same ethical code I adopted in my old activist days: if you disagree with the tactic, you won’t get results you agree with.If I disagree with a culture that says that popular white skinny rich women (as this celebrity happens to be) have greater influence over purchases, since attaching their name to something automatically makes it cool, then I can’t use that same tactic to bring in business. It would catch people’s eyes….but which people? People who are influenced by rich white skinny celebrities.
You’ll probably say that by running my business this way I’m limiting myself, and I’ll say that you’re right. I’ll say that I don’t want my chocolates in Whole Foods, I don’t want them in supermarkets, I don’t want exponential growth. I want to pinpoint my advertising to find the exact right customers, and keep them forever because of the quality product I’m selling. I want to stay small. And free. And able to sleep at night.
(Basically that was a pep talk to myself. It worked….I think.)”
And then I called up my pal Ken from the HV Seed Library to talk (hey, gardeners, are you reading their blog as you plan your garden? It’s so great!!!). And Ken is one of the smartest, kindest, most gentle and leading-with-my-heart-type people I’ve ever known, and we hashed it all out.
How great to talk to other small business owners! Because Ken & Doug had their seed packets designed by the lovely twins Megan and Sarah who also designed my boxes, I always feel like our businesses are sort of cousins (is that weird?).
Ken and I talked about the dangers of preaching only to the choir*, and how little the mainstream world understands about that food comes from seeds, that little African children who are not paid and are forced to work make mainstream chocolate bars, and that yes, if this particular opportunity doesn’t pass my particular smell test then I shouldn’t do it, but that we can’t put ourselves in these little ethical boxes that prevent us from taking a single step, that we have to move forward with our hearts and our brains and our revolutionary politics.
It was a very good, very inspiring talk. Ken and Doug’s business has sort of exploded, publicity-wise, lately (proving to my hard old heart that [coco]cream does often rise to the top!), and it’s been interesting for me to see them navigate those rocky waters.
Man, I don’t know.
Stumbling and shambling and ranting and oversharing, I’m pushing my way through to a business that keeps my dreams of a better world—on all fronts—alive. And I need to remember that that’s what counts.
What do you think, O darling blogreaders/pals/customers/frenemies of mine?
Off to make the donuts vulvas,
*Here’s my worst business trait: I’m always asking myself, “Would I buy it?” Which is weird not only because I don’t actually like chocolate, but also because…well, just exactly how many customers do I want to have? But it’s something good writers do—they write what they want to read and hope they find an audience of like-minded people.
So I vowed years and years ago never to do anything that wouldn’t appeal to me. I read the ads of this magazine, I have for a decade or so. I look up a ton of the companies who take out ads. And I know that if I came across a new ad with a big banner saying “[cover girl] says: ‘I love Lagusta’s Luscious chocolates!'” I’d roll my eyes and turn the page to the porno story in the back of the magazine, not run to my computer. It’s just kind of tacky to me, you know?