the trouble with vegans; the trouble with me (aka the PETA problem, part 10,303,303,755)

Hey, vegan world!

HI!

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,

Lagusta Pauline

*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?

23 Responses to “the trouble with vegans; the trouble with me (aka the PETA problem, part 10,303,303,755)”

  1. Donna

    Hey Lagusta,
    I don’t have anything to add about celebrity endorsements but I am thinking about your China issue. First you should know that the ankle boots(I won’t call them booties again) were made in Portugal. The other pair was made in China and I know that a lot of consideration was given to this decision and ethics (of all kinds) are a major concern for the company – and I’m sure that they would be more than happy to fill you in on the details.

    Reply
  2. lagusta

    You can call them booties to me! ;)

    Thanks for the reassurance. As you can tell by the above post, I am all about knowing that running a biz means nuance…I guess I’ve just been feeling guilty that even though the designer (who I want to say again was so great!!) mentioned that some of the shoes were made in China, the AMAZING BEAUTIFUL pink heels that I am MADLY IN LOVE WITH! just sort of entered my heart before I thought to check the label.

    Ah, nothing is perfect, that’s for sure. Maybe I’ll ask Gina if she wants to chat about the ethical issues of shoe-making for this blog! Then I can continue with my original plan, which is to buy every pair of shoes she makes for the rest of both of our lives.

    Reply
    • Donna

      Great idea Lagusta – I bet that Gina would love to write something. And I can see that now you too are a fan of her shoes for life (like me – and it seems like Veronica too!)

      Reply
  3. brittany

    ok, i’m going to modify my fbk comment a bit, bc your very last point was a good one – DO IT!!! but maybe not for this issue. there’s nothing wrong with using testimonials, and famous customers have just as many good opinions as regular people. add testimonial quotes in your ads and on your website (as you’ve so wonderfully done including the BEST MOST AMAZING POEM EVER) and sometimes it’ll feature celebrity quotes and sometimes not.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      OK. Makes sense.

      In other news, I have secured an interview with Gina, designer of the Cri de Coeur shoes I’ve been feeling guilty about. She’s already laid some knowledge on me that’s fascinating. More to come!

      Reply
      • Donna

        Hope you share the results of the interview – I think a lot of people would be interested.

  4. Bruce K

    Hey Lagusta, lighten up! how did you feel when I asked you and Jacob to do a testimonial ad for me? How did you feel about me for asking? How did I feel about you for offering? Everyone felt OK, right?

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Yeah, but we’re just everyday people. Just folks! That’s the kind of stuff I like. :)

      Reply
      • Bruce K.

        Why assume that someone else might be different from
        you in this regard. I know celebs who are remarkabley everyday people just like we are. So, I guess my point is, if you don’t mind my opinion, that you should ask for the endorsement and try not to worry about the consequences, especially how someone else might perceive you. Your intentions are worthy and that’s what really matters. You have great products and personal endorsements are a powerful marketing tool you should consider using to promote your business.

      • lagusta

        OK, I pretty much agree. My problem is not with the celebrity herself, or even with celebrity endorsement (Noam Chomsky, if you wanna endorse my chocolates, please do!), but in the end I think it’s a bit tacky, in this instance, to have this particular celebrity’s name tacked onto my ad. It would seem sort of attention-getting in a way I’m not comfortable with in this instance—which doesn’t mean that if another situation comes along I won’t take it.

        In other news, Jacob bit his mouth guard in half the other night!!! So expect a call from him soon.

        Maybe I do need to lighten up—apparently there is some stress in this house lately, man oh man! :)

  5. christy

    I support your decision not to ask. I can see why it occurred to you, but i think it’s hokey. Skip it. I am all about marketing your excellence to a larger market… but since smart feminist people don’t get swayed by “pretty girls like it” advertising, i think you should ask this person to support your business in another way. I’m sure you could think of something.

    Reply
  6. leopold

    i dont think you should do it.
    dont have the time to write all the many reasons why ,cause i’m too busy running my own small business but they would all be akin to the reasons you stated.
    sometimes we have to remain smaller businesses BECAUSE of our ethics and ideals.
    you may be an amazing truffle maker but you’re an even more amazing activist and thinker. not a bad writer either :) .
    dont turn your back on your soul.
    ps- i dont always take this route, i thought you were being ridiculous about that flapper video thing.

    Reply
      • leopold

        agonized :)
        btw, what did you decide re celebrity ad?

  7. Sara

    I am so happy to buy chocolates from someone that doesn’t go the women-are-commodities/PeTA route. Not that I would boycott, but it makes me happy to know that a conventionally pretty women isn’t being used as a sales pitch, on purpose.

    Reply
    • John Siegel

      Lagusta Yearwood is a stupid female dog that called the pledge of allegiance a “silly little thing” and anti American ………
      Many of our sons and daughters fought and died so you would have the freedom to say that stupid shit about our pledge. I hope you eat shit and die and then one of those cows you love and dont eat comes along and pisses on you.

      Reply
  8. lagusta

    (That comment was a response to #4 above, from my awesome dentist!)

    Reply
  9. Jessie

    Becel introduces vegan margarine. Ingredients: canola & sunflower oils 74%, water 19%, modified palm & palm kernel oils 6%, salt 0.4%, soy lecithin 0.2%, vegetables monoglycerides 0.2%, potassium sorbate 0.1%, citric acid, alpha-tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), natural & artificial flavours, vitamin A palmitate (vitamin A), vitamin D2, beta carotene

    Linkage: http://su.pr/28Vtmu

    Mixed feelings … pros: mainstream, vegan alternative to butter … cons: palm oils constitute 6% of the ingredients, and its Becel which creeps me out.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I say BLECH. Why do we have this overwhelming need for margarine?

      Reply

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