CN: Slurs; rape jokes; racist and sexist langage and images (mostly in links)
It’s no secret that the artisanal food and beverage criticism field is a pretty privileged bunch. After all, to get into it you have to have disposable income, no ailments or conditions that would preclude imbibing a significant amount of alcohol or eating a wide range of foods, and spare time to devote to your blog––or, if you’re lucky, modestly paid freelance gig (while food and beverage writing is some of the most fun work in journalism, staff positions on this beat are increasingly rare).
So we tend to be a pretty white, middle-or-upper-class-born, able-bodied group––just like the vast majority of people making these products. Much has been written and ranted, including by me, about the homogeneity of the craft beer industry, which is slowly building its female demographic but lacking grotesquely in racial diversity, at least in the U.S. Wine production and sales, likewise, is a white boys’ club, though some South African professionals and consumers are changing that. Craft distilling? In my (admittedly more limited) experience, it’s the worst offender. I walked into a prominent craft spirits event this spring and didn’t meet a single distiller from the entire Midwest who wasn’t a white man between the ages of 25 and 50.
There’s plenty of work to be done here. I think most of us have recognized that it’s a problem; the background of “why” is for another post, but it’s the baby steps I want to talk about today. I’m picking on the craft beverage industry because I think we’re better than this: from brewers who donate their spent grain to local farms, to worker-owned winery cooperatives, it’s a socially conscious group, in my experience, and it includes some of the best people I’ve ever known.
Yet I see examples of exclusive language and behavior in these industries constantly, and it often goes unchecked––because the business in question isn’t losing customers. If the vast majority of craft drinkers aren’t affected by a potentially offensive label or term or attitude, the businesses perpetuating these problems won’t be encouraged to change.
When your organization isn’t diverse, the first question you need to ask is this:
Are we the kind of group that people from our underrepresented demographics would even want to join?
With that in mind, can we––producers, writers, consumers––stop with the following? (This is by no means an exhaustive list; just examples I came up with on the fly.)
1. Racist beer names and labels.
Really, Brewkettle? “White Rajah: Taming the Savage Hop”? (The artwork… oh boy.) I’m embarrassed to have ever bought one of your products. And Clown Shoes, “Brown Angel” with that image? You need to stop. And maybe try to avoid Nazi symbolism, Central Waters and Local Option.
2. Sexist beer names and labels.
There are too many to count, but Melissa Cole’s rant is a good start. And again, Clown Shoes, with their “Tramp Stamp” Belgian IPA, and there’s Tyranena with their “Hop Whore” imperial IPA (“Oh, what a body,” the description reads). Let’s not forget Pecan Street’s “Screw Loose Blonde” (thanks to Courtney for tipping me off to that one) or rape jokes and suggestions in beer names.
3. Misogyny in analogies and comparisons.
At this point it’s so cliche it’s just lazy, but people do it anyway: this wine is “the woman you take home to your mother” while that one is “the girl you screw in the back of the limo.” This wine is a “femme fatale” but that one is Pam Anderson. I was totally guilty of this when I first got into wine, but I started to get really uncomfortable with sexual comparisons to wines as I noticed how misogynistic they always seemed to be. How come you never hear that a wine is “the Mark Ruffalo of cabernet” or even “the Shane-from-The-L-Word of sangiovese”? Because wine language is dominantly male and heteronormative. I’m not saying strike sexual analogy from the record––sex is a part of life for many people and, from its sensory features to its anecdotal assets, it’s ripe for comparison––but let’s be a bit more creative, shall we?
4. Assuming that a brewery, urban winery, or distillery is the sole indicator of a neighborhood’s worth.
There’s a reason that when people talk about gentrification, bars are usually mentioned, for better and for worse. Access to interesting alcohol brings foot and bike traffic to neighborhoods, but it is not the be-all, end-all of community development. The least gentrifiers can do is ensure that neighborhood services, community centers, schools, and other public spaces are as available, safe, and well supported as watering holes, and that their favorite establishments are providing jobs to those who need them most. Otherwise, that neighborhood “renaissance” is just colonialism all over again. Speaking of #1.