There’s an immense rise in popularity with superfoods in the Western diet, like quinoa, spirulina, and chia seeds. The dark side of this is how Indian farmers, who grow these crops, are now unable to purchase these products themselves. In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen discuss how the soaring demand and price of superfoods result in the exploitation of Indian farmers. To help remedy the issue, Jason and Whitney talk about the importance of taking responsibility and using social media to spread awareness. Since it is the wellness influencers who began the trend, they should take the responsibility to educate themselves and share the information about where these crops come from. Consumers also have tremendous power to influence companies to be more transparent in their processes. If you want to participate in advocating for Indian farmers, this episode will teach you how.
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The Importance of Advocating For Indian Farmers And Spreading Awareness In The Wellness Industry
Over the many years that I have been in the food and wellness industry, there’s something I’ve been known for but also something that people have vilified me for a little bit. That’s been my use of products that would be known as superfoods or superherbs. A lot of things that are marketed in the food industry seem to have the word super attached in front of them. There’s not a super clear definition of exactly what a superfood is. Years ago, Whitney, I remember reading a definition of superfoods that seem to encapsulate a best for me, which was super nutrient-dense, highly mineralized and grown in pristine conditions that are generally heirloom.
These are foods that are not by and large mono-crop or part of giant farming corporations. You see the label of superfood and superherbs on things like goji berries, spirulina, ashwagandha and reishi mushroom. There are a lot of things under this umbrella. This all ties in and the reason I’m bringing up superfoods in particular and a lot of these herbs in these products is years ago, I remember reading an article. It’s about how Westerners were consuming so much quinoa and chia seeds that the farmers that were growing the quinoa crops and the chia seeds in South America, specifically in places like Peru, were not even able to afford or purchase those products for themselves because the demand and the price of these things were so high for Western consumer appetites.Education starts after having awareness. Click To Tweet
I remember that hitting me in a particular way of, “If the farmers who are growing the superfoods for wealthy Americans and North Americans to consume and they can’t even afford it or have access to it themselves, something about that didn’t seem right to me.” Fast forward to a few episodes ago, you brought up something that I was completely ignorant of. You had admitted you are too. You were in a Clubhouse room where there were people talking about a lot of the struggle that’s been going on with farmers in India and how there are new laws trying to be passed that are essentially going to pass a lot of the control of seed and crop over to giant corporate interests there. Indian farmers are trying to protest this. They’re trying to maintain their sovereignty, their livelihoods. There had been a lot of suicides there. It’s a hardcore situation that I wasn’t fully informed about. I knew nothing about it.
We have a list that Whitney had put together of different topics we want to talk about here on the show. Some topics we get from you, dear reader, and people like you send us suggestions for episodes. We like to read articles. We like to research and see what’s going on in the world. This brings us to the present moment where Whitney had found this article on BitchMedia.org. If you have not been to our website yet, it’s Wellevatr.com.
This article, Whitney, was interesting because not only did it educate me more on what’s happening with the struggle for Indian farmers to maintain a living wage, maintain control over their seed and crop and not have these giant megalithic corporations running the agriculture industry there. The perspective on this article was that Wellness Influencers Owe the Indian Farmers Their Solidarity. That got me. That was like, “This is fascinating.” Before I put the ball back over to you, Whitney, I want to share a little bit more in case the reader doesn’t know a little bit of the background that I didn’t know. These proposed new laws in India, if they are enacted, that Indian farmers will be much more susceptible to exploitation by private multinational corporations that will gain control and able to regulate the price of their crops.
Apparently, they would also lose the protection of something called mandis, which is a government-regulated market where farmers sell their crops for a price that they set ensuring that they have their basic income needs met. This goes into the fact that with the rise of things like yoga, especially because it’s been growing in popularity since the ’60s and ’70s, we see a lot of white practitioners who are practicing things like Ayurveda and selling things like ashwagandha, turmeric or holy basil.
I’ve certainly done the same thing. I’ve talked about for years the benefits of these things. The position of this article is when you’re profiting off things like yoga, Sanskrit, mantras, selling your beads and selling Hindu deities and superfoods that come from this culture, why are you not standing up for the people that gave you these elements of your wellness practice? This is the country where it was born but moreover, the actual farmers that are growing the ashwagandha, the holy basil and the turmeric.Wellness influencers need to take the responsibility to become more educated. Click To Tweet
This is an interesting call to think about another topic we’ve covered in the past, Whitney, which is cultural appropriation. People who are taking ancient practices from other cultures, ancient foods and ancient religions. You go to any yoga class that is chanting. They’re talking about Hindu gods and goddesses incorporating them into song. We’re talking about an appropriation, not only of the products but the religion and spirituality of India. It’s an interesting exploration on this episode of if we are co-opting religious practices, foods, science and medicine from other cultures, but when we’re not supporting them when we need it, it feels like this is dropping the ball in a way of not standing up for the people that are giving us these things.
It begs the question where I want to hand it to you, Whitney. You were doing a lot more research prior to the plight of Indian farmers but this perspective of wealthy wellness influencers profiting off of this thing and not giving them any protection back, how do you feel about it? How do you think we step up the accountability? I’m asking also for myself. The reason I say that is because I’ve promoted this stuff for years. I feel like I need to be more involved and do more things to protect these farmers and the people that are providing these superfoods that I’ve been consuming for years and teaching people about. Where are you at with all this? How do you feel we, you and I and other wellness influencers and entrepreneurs ought to step up? What do you think we can do? What should we do? What would be a good idea for us to do?
This article has a lot of great insight and tips. This is a phenomenal starting place. This is the article called Wellness Influencers Owe the Indian Farmers Their Solidarity. It’s at BitchMedia.org. One of our big aims with this show is to make it easy for you to learn more about these topics. This is something that I’m incredibly passionate about, which is stepping out of my ignorance and noticing where I can use more education and being committed to it. I’m mentioned this before but I think it’s worth reiterating again.
I have it on my to-do list every single day to learn more about racism and to take some action. That action could be sharing something on social media, which is part of the point of the article that we’re discussing. It might not be a ton, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you share something as simple as a tweet, you’re sharing an article like the one we’re referencing. You can share this show if you feel it’s helpful. You can post something on social media. You can speak about it in your own words. You could create a show of your own. All of those things are important.
What we’re doing is a step in the right direction. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but this is one of those steps I’m committed to taking. There are petitions. There are phone calls that you can make. There are groups that you can get involved with. As Jason mentioned, I feel like it was in February 2021 when I heard about what was going on with farmers. I learned about that in Clubhouse. I asked, “What can I do?” It all begins with that education, which starts after you have that awareness. I became aware. I started to become more educated. It’s part of my commitment to learning and to sharing.
One of the things I do oftentimes is after I learned something, I put out a tweet because Twitter is a great, easy place to share something. It feels a little less involved for me with my mental energy to post on Instagram. Some people find that Instagram is a better place. Facebook is great too. I participate in Facebook groups. For example, one place I go into is Parenting in a Tech World, which is an impactful Facebook group. That’s where I go to learn and see how I can support parents with understanding how tech impacts their children. There are groups for any topic you’re passionate about, going into them, letting your voice be heard but also listening, learning and sharing from those places too. If social media feels like something that you want to use to spread the word, then Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Pinterest as well and sharing articles on there. It’s finding one place where you can do something because it is a step in the right direction.We don't know what we don't care about. Click To Tweet
People do appreciate it. People will learn even if you help one person. You can have more conversations offline. Speaking of conversations, platforms like Clubhouse are great for this. If it wasn’t for that group that I happened to go into, I wouldn’t have learned. The people that started that discussion on Clubhouse deeply impacted my life. When I saw this article, I don’t remember exactly where I came across it. It could have been on Twitter, I wouldn’t be surprised or some of the other places that I seek out information, which again is the other ripple effect of using social media for good. You start to see articles that are in alignment with what you’re posting and what you’re searching for. I’m a big advocate for influencing the algorithm by liking, commenting, sharing content that you resonate with, following accounts that are generating something positive in your life. The same thing goes with TikTok. I haven’t been seen much about this on TikTok. That’s a cue to me that I could shift that by following some specific hashtags. I have to take responsibility for the information I consume.
Leading back to this article, there are a ton of great points that I would love to touch upon. I highlighted the article and so much of it is highlighted. It’s almost entirely in yellow highlights. I want to go through some of these things in bullet points to make it clearer. Highlighting is something else that you can do. Here’s another tip whether it’s an article, a book, a magazine, a blog post or a transcript like our show, highlighting that text so that you can easily consume it like you would in school. This is one of my takeaways from studying. Highlighting texts helps me take in that information. You can copy and paste that text into someplace else. You can take a screen capture of it. You can save it in a notebook. There are so many ways that you can get that information into your brain and into other people’s heads as well.
Speaking it out loud too is a helpful practice. If something like this feels overwhelming, having a conversation with someone else is great. In fact, I had a conversation with a friend about gun violence. I didn’t even realize how much I wanted to talk about it until I started the discussion. We were only going to chat for 30 minutes. It was never meant to be about gun violence, but it turned out to 1.5-hour conversation. That one-on-one chat via Zoom was impactful for me. It helped me process. It helped me see somebody else’s viewpoint. It helped us find the things that we had in common. It was like, “I’m a little bit clearer about how I feel on the subject matter and what actions I want to take.” I’m going to add gun violence to the list of things I want to research. Going back to this article, I’m going to read it out loud, which will help me and Jason and hopefully you, as the reader, take in this information.
In the beginning, the article discusses how wellness influencers specifically depend on the most on these farmer’s livelihoods. Ironically, they also seem fine basking in their relative silence. As somebody that would be categorized as a wellness influencer, I’m not fine basking in silence. It’s truly an issue of ignorance. Ignorance is my responsibility but it’s hard sometimes to know everything that’s going on in the world. It can be overwhelming. It can be exhausting. We can get burnt out on it. This is why spreading the word and having these discussions is important. If people that you know aren’t talking about it, you may never come across it in the media.
That’s one of the big points of this article is that wellness influencers are called influencers because they’re influencing other people. If you’re going to be talking about a product that you used that is coming from India, that is rooted in Ayurveda for instance, tell the full story about where that came from. However, a lot of us and I’m speaking collectively as wellness influencers, we’re not even that educated in the source of something. We have to take the responsibility to become more educated. Sometimes it helps when a company leads with that transparency. I am grateful for brands that write it on the label, put it on the box, send a piece of paper with a mailing, or put something. When you get a supplement, there’ll be a piece of paper in there that has some details about the product. I love stuff like that even though it’s a little wasteful.
You could go to their website if the website is helpful. You can research that on your own but that takes an extra step. Brands that have westernized Ayurveda need to take that extra step to educate consumers as well as influencers. I know if I’m talking about a product, I’m picking it up. Ironically, the first thing I looked at on my desk is turmeric, which is discussed here. This is an ayurvedic herb. This is from our friends at Truvani. It does have some details on it, but it says where it’s manufactured. It doesn’t say where it’s grown that I can easily see. It doesn’t say where turmeric originated from. It touts off the fact that it’s non-GMO and certified organic. It supports brain digestive and heart health. It’s vegan-friendly, gluten-free and soy-free. It’s all of those bullet points, but what needs to be added on labels like this is where it comes from. That’s part of the brand’s responsibility to do the same thing.
As a wellness influencer, Jason, you’re not in your head. I’m sure you want to chime in on this too, there’s a tendency for us to read off the label. That’s a habit that I’m not advocating for, but that is the tendency for most people to read off these bullet points. If these bullet points aren’t including information about farmers than many people, consumers included, will not know about it. Most people I found are not going to go the extra mile to learn more about the history of turmeric. I believe that Vani does have this information on her website. I’m going to look at that when you talk about this, Jason. Vani, who runs this company Truvani, is an incredibly educated person, passionate about transparency. I imagine that she has discussed this somewhere, but I will confirm while Jason is speaking.Take responsibility for the information you consume. Click To Tweet
I remember the first brand that I was aware of, Whitney, on this subject that had an incredibly deep and broad level of transparency with how they were growing their food and sourcing it is the company, One Degree Organics. I remember when we met Danny and Sondra, who run that company along with their family, from the get-go, when we are introduced to their cereals, their breads, their oatmeal, they always had a QR code on the back of the package. You could scan that would take you and introduce you to the actual farmer that grew the oats, the brown rice, the quinoa, whatever it was. There are levels of quality and transparency.
We talked about this with Max Goldberg. Max has a wonderful breadth of knowledge on, not only the standards and practices but the certifications. There are these levels of trust that get built with a company or a food product depending on what these labels and these transparencies are. If I’m given the choice and you give me the chance to buy a product that is organic, non-GMO and those things. When we’re talking about how the farmers are compensated, if it’s a fair trade for life, if it’s fair trade certified, if it has a QR code ala One Degree Organics where I can know the name of the farmer who grew the crops that are in this food, that to me is at a much deeper level.
It makes me wonder why more brands don’t do that. Is it not cost-effective? Do they think that maybe the consumer is not going to care? Do they care where these crops were grown and where these ingredients came from? That’s the nature of what we’re talking about in this episode. If we put a name and a face on the farmers that have grown the food that we’re eating, it’s like going to the farmers’ market. If you meet the people who grew the food you are purchasing, there’s a different connection. To your point, Whitney, if we buy a bottle of turmeric, holy basil, ashwagandha, goji berries and we don’t have that deeper connection, we’re not thinking about how it was grown. Are these farmers being paid fairly? What kind of conditions are they working in?
This is a huge issue not just in the food industry, but in a lot of different industries. This comes up with electric cars and talking about the lithium salts that are being mined in different countries to make the batteries, how the lithium mining is destroying a lot of natural water preserves and destroying the water supply in certain communities to get these lithium salts for electric car batteries. That’s a tangent but the point is, the more that we know, not only can we stand up for and advocate for these communities in different ways. At the end of the Bitch Media article, there are some great links like the Khalsa Aid, Save Indian Farmers, Sahaita and Save Panjab’s Farmers.
My point is education and awareness, Whitney, allows us to say, “Do I care about this enough to stand up for it and take action?” It is one thing to post on social media or repost stories. They talk about slacktivism in this article. They call it posting a few things on social. To me, if I have the ability to funnel financial reserves for legal protections in this case of the Indian farmers or ensure that I can buy products that have a story, have transparency and are fair trade-certified, then again we’re voting with our dollars and we’re putting our energy toward things that we hope are going to make a meaningful difference.
It’s a complicated subject matter because there’s no easy answer. It’s not like you can quickly fix anything. Part of this conversation is that people look to these types of products to fix their lives. There’s a lot more going on. I researched a lot about this when I was writing my eBook, The Mindful Mug because I was looking deeply into the ethics of coffee. The inspiration for making that eBook was that I understand that a lot of people are incredibly ignorant about how coffee is grown. There are so many factors involved that I get into in that book. Vani Hari, the founder of Truvani was born to Indian immigrant parents. I imagine that this subject matter is close to her heart.
It is not mentioned on her website that I could easily find and I think that’s something that can be improved. It would be helpful if it was given more credit to the origin story. The reason that it’s not is that oftentimes consumers don’t seem to care. That’s a big part of this issue as well. One of the big reasons we’re talking about here on the show is that you the reader are likely a wellness product consumer. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t care about. It’s not like we are consciously not caring. It’s that we’re ignorant about what we should care about.
One of the things that we can do is to ask companies like Truvani if they will speak up more about this. Maybe Vani has on her social media but she is active on social. I’d have to comb through of ton of articles. I imagine that Vani would address this with so much eloquence if she hasn’t already, but we have to ask her to do that. We have to show interest. A lot of the ways that companies work is it’s about consumer demands. They look for what consumers care about and they create products. They create marketing based on those things so that they can reduce the noise. I imagine Truvani, for example, isn’t getting into the whole history of turmeric because they don’t want to bog down their consumers with too much information. We need to voice that.
That’s another action step for you. You as a consumer can reach out to companies and say, “I would love for you to acknowledge the origin behind ayurvedic practices. I’d love to know where this came from. Not where it was grown, but where did it originate from.” You can ask the same thing of your yoga teachers. There’s a lot of whitewashing around that. Maybe ask them, “Can you tell me a little bit more of the story?” I used to go to a class at my yoga studio when I was going to in-person classes that were much rooted in the history of yoga. It was one of my favorite classes. My teacher would read from a book and he would tell this whole story about where these things came from and what they meant.
It was so helpful, but I have to hear that information over and over again because I couldn’t even tell you a lot of things. It’s like school. We learn the history of our country, but can you spout out those facts if you’re not regularly speaking about them or studying them, brushing up on your knowledge? It’s also similar to a language. This is one of the reasons why I encourage myself and other people to make this somehow part of your regular practice, speak these things out loud, have discussions around them, be committed to an ongoing dialogue about it and educating yourself, even if it’s for a few minutes a day. My anti-racism, I’m consistently studying, but sometimes I spend five minutes on it. I learned something. I share something and then I come back around to it to better understand it. We talk about a lot of those things here on the show. This is clearly one of them.
There’s another company I wanted to shout out for transparency. They still don’t have super clear information about the background, which is also due to the fact that it might confuse people. Gaia Herbs is another supplement company I love. I’m sure one of their products is out of reach because I love them. They’re one of my number one product lines in addition to Truvani. Gaia Herbs has been around for a lot longer than Truvani. Their product offering is much wider. I visited the Gaia Herbs farm similar to One Degree Organics, Jason. They have transparency like that. You can go on their website. You can learn about their farmers. You can learn about their actual farm. They talk about where every ingredient comes from and I appreciate that.
They do hint at some of the origin stories of their ingredients. Maybe I’d have to dig a little bit deeper into their website but it is in-depth. It’s well-designed. I know that they’ve been working on this. It’s impressive everything that they’ve done. That’s another company. Explore and if you don’t find what you want on their site, let your voice be heard. You might need to say it to a few different sources in a few different ways on a regular basis to underscore how important this is to you. It’s not always as simple as asking a company with one email, one tweet or sending it to one person. You need to do this over and over again and ask for a change. If a company is not responding, if a company is not giving you a timeline, ask them for one and then see if you can get other people involved.
You can start to become your own advocate for things like this or activists. Asking a few friends like, “Do you use this product?” If they do, “Would you be willing to help me contact this company? Here’s an email I sent out. Here’s the contact information. All you have to do is press send.” You can create those forms of activism simply on your own if somebody else is not already doing it. You’d be surprised how much of a shift can happen. An example that I see with brands is towards the end of March 2021, there’s a big focus on Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Did you hear about this, Jason? It’s big on TikTok. It’s not directly related to what I’m discussing but it is an example of a movement happening.
A guy opened up a bag of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and found dried shrimp tails in his cereal. He sent a picture to the Cinnamon Toast Crunch social media account, which was General Mills. They tried to minimize it. This guy wasn’t having it. He blew it up on social media. It’s all over Twitter. It’s all over TikTok. The company is going to have to take responsibility for this. It’s shocking the way that they tried to brush it under the rug. They tried to gaslight him, Jason, and say, “Those aren’t shrimp tails. Those must be pieces of sugar that have amalgamated.” They thought some of the cinnamon and sugar at the bottom of the bag somehow formed to look like shrimp tails.
He has all these pictures. He went through the bag of cereal and found a string and what appears to be mouse dropping. People suspect that a mouse got into this bag of cereal and potentially carried it in the trash like the shrimp tails. The quality control didn’t catch it, which is forgivable if the company took responsibility for it. He has all these receipts, as they call them, of the conversations he had where they were trying to sweep it under the rug and not take responsibility. They were trying to deny what happened. That’s an example.
If a company is not willing to be transparent and make a change, those companies can get in trouble for that. That puts a lot of power into the hands of consumers and influencers to make changes. We can speak out about this if we do it with confidence, consistency, with force and clarity. If you are creating a little movement around a change like this, more history on the origin story of certain products and how they are connected to Indian farmers, you might be able to make a change without a ton of time and effort.
I had to look up these pictures for my sheer curiosity, Whitney. Those are shrimp tails and it looks like rodent poop. It’s like a mouse and two shrimp walk into a breakfast bar. How did the mouse get in and drag shrimp and dental floss? It’s like the mouse was having some launch, decided to floss its teeth and it’s like, “I’m done. Fuck you, guys.” It’s so bizarre that’s why I’m so amused by it. There’s an article I pulled up on CNET that came up that says The Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp fiasco explained. Everything you need to know about those shrimp tails. This has a link to all of the greatest tweets about this, some hilarious tweets. Someone says normalize shrimp in breakfast cereals. This did blow up.
To your point, Whitney, it does show the power of not only leveraging social media to get a brand and a corporation’s attention about something that you’re passionately angry about. This is also so bizarre. There’s the anger and the vitriol from General Mills gaslighting this guy but also people’s replies because it’s a bizarre thread. It’s interesting as a case study. As a side note to this conversation that’s also related when we’re talking about the aspect of cultural appropriation, there’s a part of this conversation if we go back to Ayurveda and the use of a lot of these powerful products, ashwagandha, holy basil, Rhodiola, turmeric, Tribulus and Mucuna. I could list a ton of these ayurvedic herbs. They’re not to be fucked with. They’re powerful potent medicines that had been used.
Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine may have been around for 5,000 Ayurveda. One of the points in this article before I read it is that a lot of these wellness influencers are claiming to be experts in Ayurveda, claiming to be experts in traditional Chinese medicine. They haven’t gone through years of training, sometimes decades. True ayurvedic doctors, true traditional Chinese medicine doctors go through years and years of study, practice and mentorship in these ancient and cherished traditions.
One of the points of this article on Bitch Media is that there are a lot of people talking about how to use these herbs in these practices because they went to a weekend seminar or took a course. We see it a lot here in Los Angeles. There was an infamous heyday of the Erewhon tonic bar that you remember, Whitney, here and anybody who’s in LA who knows Erewhon. There was an era of Erewhon Market where you could go to the tonic bar. God bless our friends, Truth, Jay, Ronnie and a lot of the great folks that used to work there. I’m not besmirching anyone with this comment, but I always found it strange that people who had no direct training in TCM or Ayurveda would be like, “Your head hurts. You’re having gallstones here. You should try this supplement. Let me make a tonic for you.”
It always struck me as funny as people dispensing critical health advice to people who were not licensed or trained to do so. Some people might go, “Jason, that’s disempowering the mechanism of self-healing. Everyone should be their own doctor.” We see that a lot. Be your own doctor. Don’t trust scientists and doctors. Be your own doctor. Do your own research. Be well-informed. Be well-educated. My point is that people prescribing these herbs and these practices who have not been adequately trained to do so is not only potentially dangerous but it’s also, to this article’s point, insulting the very essence of these practices because they don’t provide a complete education.
It says here, “Given that ayurvedic medicine and herbal healing and science are traditional family practices, the proliferation of short courses or online teachings in Western culture, not only insults the essence of these practices but cannot by virtue of its nature ever provide a complete empowered education. These half-hearted attempts at studying other cultures are a disservice to the host origin culture and fail to address important flaws in systems of learning.” It goes on and talks about Vedic spirituality’s violent nature. That’s a whole another loophole I didn’t know about, which is one built on cast-based oppression that continues to function in South Asian society.
Inadequate research and a lack of in-depth research and engagement already prohibit wellness actors. They call them wellness actors from engaging in cultural appreciation, but it’s their lack of effort put into crediting and compensating those whose good works and deep knowledge they rely on that is the most offensive. That’s huge for me. It’s rampant, Whitney, “Take this herb. Do this thing. Buy this superfood. Take this $20 ginger shot.” Funny enough in the article they say, “Very few attempts are made to fairly credit or remunerate the workers, farmers and practitioners who produce the ghee for extortionately priced Bulletproof coffees and the ginger for $5 detox shots. With most wellness influencers having failed to ever make a single trip to India, let alone learn from non-white teachers, their failure to provide credit to those with the particular knowledge, wisdom and know-how on which they built their businesses and their social media followings are the malpractices that solidify this industry as culturally inappropriate. Claiming such knowledge as your own is a form of theft.”
It’s clear. It gives me the tingles too, Whitney because it makes me wonder how much as a chef and a wellness educator over the years that I have dropped the ball on this. I have talked a hell of a lot about goji berries, reishi, chaga, ashwagandha and all these things but have I honored the origins of those teachings? Have I honored the farmers, where these came from and educated myself enough on all of this? I haven’t. In doing this, I want to take full responsibility for my ignorance and my lack of honoring the traditions from which these practices came from. I’ve built a business in food and wellness not fully honoring and recognizing where these came from as well. As I say this, I have to hold myself accountable and call myself out on this because I’ve done the same damn thing and I want to do better.
I want to do better too. I imagine that our reader does. This is not to say that we aren’t guilty of any of these things. The intention was that we were doing more good than harm. I’m grateful these things are coming to light to give me something to reflect on. As part of that reflection, I think about why we have that tendency to share things that we’re not fully educated in. This is something that I did a lot more when I was younger when I was a newer content creator. I would read something and think that I was knowledgeable about it. It was the whole picture. Part of me knew that I didn’t know that much about it.
In the early days of my YouTube career, blogging and all of that, I was so passionate to share what I knew, what I was learning but not seeing the full picture and ignorant of the fact that I was only seeing a fraction of it. That got perpetuated because I was seeing other influencers and other so-called health and wellness experts doing the same thing. I thought this is how everybody operates. We talk about something. We do a little research. We read a description and then we educate people. Over time, I’ve been learning to acknowledge my ignorance, to share where I’m knowledgeable and where I’m not and to be transparent about this. I am continuing to be clear about who I am, what I know, what my background is, what my training is and where am I getting this information.
I’m very upfront, especially when I’m coaching that I’m not a doctor. I’m not trying to prescribe anything. I’m not going to say that ashwagandha is going to solve things. To your point, Jason, be your own doctor. I understand the intention is empowering, but I don’t have the background, the degree, the education to advise somebody on that and it could be incredibly dangerous. This is part of the reason that people take issue with someone like Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s a white woman. She’s got a lot of money. She’s got a lot of connections. She’s been able to make this whole career and build this empire. I think a lot of the work that she’s doing is important because wellness is important and she’s made it trendy.
She’s introduced a lot of interesting things to people, but sometimes that gets misconstrued as the right way to do something. There’s a tendency for it to feel like it’s based on privilege. It’s something that only people with money have access to. It’s something that is about the right way or the wrong way to do things. There’s a tendency for it to be seen as trendy or maybe not fully incorporating non-white people, people of different size bodies, or on and on. Perhaps there’s some discrimination. I haven’t dug into it to see different perspectives on it. People get upset with her work. There is a bit of a capitalistic drive for the work that people like Gwyneth Paltrow do, a drive for power and ego like, “I’m going to make so much money if I do this, if I release this book if I share these products. We can charge so much for these products.”The more that we know, the more we can advocate for exploited communities. Click To Tweet
It’s like, “Do you need to charge that much? Who are you leaving out when you charge a certain rate? Where’s that money going towards? Are you donating money? Are you caring? Are you getting involved with the activism? Are you acknowledging the roots of these things? Who’s making them? Where are they coming from?” I don’t know if there’s enough transparency around that. Unfortunately, it’s not just about Gwyneth Paltrow. For me from an energetic level, I feel like she’s an incredibly well-meaning person, but I’m ignorant of her. I have not studied that much about Gwyneth Paltrow. That’s just my view of her. She seems like a kind person that means well. She’s also surrounded by a lot of people that might be a bit money-hungry.
My guess is that it’s not just about Gwyneth. There are so many people involved in her company and her projects like on Netflix, her books. People see that opportunity to work with Gwyneth Paltrow. They see that power. They see the dollar signs. That’s oftentimes where the corruption happens. We can’t blame everything on our president because the president is not the only person involved with what’s going on in the country. There are so many other decision-makers and each of them has its agenda. There is corruption going on in there too. I’m not going to put all the blame on Gwyneth Paltrow just like I wouldn’t put all the blame on Donald Trump or Joe Biden. That’s ignorant for us to make those assumptions. I’m not going to put all the blame on Vani Hari if I don’t feel like she’s done enough. She’s got other people involved in her company and other decision-makers. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Another tip that I have is don’t be so quick to blame people and get angry at people. Why don’t you go in and try to do something productive and say, “This person has done a lot to educate us on turmeric.” Even this article says turmeric became trendy in 2008 because was of Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m grateful for it. When I think about turmeric, I don’t think about Gwyneth Paltrow but maybe she was involved with me learning more about turmeric. Maybe she’s the reason that Vani Hari made turmeric and got passionate about making it organic, well-sourced and good for the environment. Maybe we should thank her for that but there’s another level involved there where we need to start taking a deeper look at what’s going on. That comes down to our personal responsibility of educating ourselves and being activists.
Jason was talking about slacktivism or Clicktivism and the Bitch Media article references. This one is on BBC.com. It gets into the details around how online activism can be effective. We can’t be self-diluted to think that liking, sharing, retweeting or resharing something is helping out. We have to do more. That is a step in the right direction. It’s better than nothing but we need to get involved. There are many different ways to get involved with things like this. Jason mentioned how at the end of this Bitch Media article, there are links to how you can donate to organizations like Save Indian Farmers. You can get involved with their individual organizations. You can go into their GoFundMes. You can follow these people. You can read about them. This article is meant to raise awareness and point out an issue here.
I also love how the end of the article says that, “Maybe instead of starting this morning practice with a Sanskrit chant, it would be more meaningful and fulfilling to ensure one is not complicit in oppressing those who were unable to transform their ancestral and local knowledge into profit-churning empires.” I got to acknowledge. I have so much privilege. I am trying not to take that for granted. The fact that I have the money to pay for a yoga class is a privilege and the fact that I have the money to buy the sustainable yoga mat. Jason, you gave me my yoga mat as a gift. The fact that you had the money to gift me with an $80 yoga mat that is made from a sustainable company that you wanted to support, those are all privileges that we have.
It does not end there. When you think about who made these things, where did they come from and how can we support the people that aren’t getting the money, that don’t get the profits from the yoga studios, the turmeric capsules, the yoga mats or the mala beads, are we buying something to culturally appropriate it? Are we buying it because it’s trendy? Are we buying it because it looks cool? Are we buying it because we understand the deep meaning behind mala beads and what they represent? Did we buy them from a company where the money goes towards people that need the money? Are we buying it from somebody who’s turning it around fast fashion? We have to look into these things. That’s where our personal responsibility is crucial.
Amen to all of that, Whitney. At the end of the day, I feel like whenever we are spending money, we are voting. We think of voting as the general election, the presidential election, the runoffs or whatever it is but money is embodied energy. Where we put our dollars and where we put that energy has a massive ripple effect. To back up your point about a lot of these products not being accessible to people in certain income levels, that’s something that I feel super uncomfortable about. I get it. I understand people’s judgments of the wellness industry because they are spot on in a lot of ways. If people are like, “You’re online recording videos telling me to improve my health, but then you’re trying to sell me a $19 bag of goji berries. You’re trying to sell me a $5,000 sauna. You’re trying to sell me a biohacking program for $10,000.”
I get it. Those criticisms and observations are valid. They’re not only more than valid. They’re accurate. If we talk about wellness and we talk about health and wellbeing, we have to realize that a huge portion of this industry is skewed toward privileged and wealthy people. A $10,000 course, a $5,000 sauna, a $10 tonic and a $20 bag of berries, a person who is living on food stamps or a person who’s living near the poverty line, this is not even a consideration. I’ll put wellness under healthcare, Whitney. If you have money, you have access to the best care possible. You have access to the best doctors, the best surgeons, the best oncologist, the best foods and products.
That is dangerous in the sense that if the wealthy and the privileged are the only ones who have access to these things, it’s not good because we’re abandoning the concept of wellbeing for a huge portion of the human population if we make it that inaccessible. I don’t know what the solution is because you have corporations who want to profit and be in business. To your point, I wonder is it a supply and demand thing in the sense that do they need to manufacture more of it and then the prices will go down. That seems like to be a basic concept of consumerism is the more that you make the prices go down per unit because you’re dealing in volume. I don’t know if it’s that simple.
In closing, my biggest concern here is the cultural appropriation, the ignorance around where our food comes from, who grew it and distributed it. Beyond that, the exclusivity of these things to only a select few individuals who can afford it and then everyone else is left to fend for themselves as part of the bigger healthcare picture. Does that mean that the US is going to shift out of a privatized system and go toward universal health care? I would hope so. I’m not a socialist per se, but having affordable good healthcare for all citizens of a country is a good idea. It’s my opinion. Some people may disagree.
I want to sit and think about how to do this. As you and I are going to be going back to trade shows looking at these products, I’m going to be looking at them with a different kind of eye in the sense of asking a brand, “Who are you making these for?” I personally want to be more educated, do more and take more responsibility for my role in all of this and try and shift the scales toward making these products and services accessible to more people. I don’t know how I’m going to do that but the question and the curiosity are there. It’s part of a bigger conversation.
This calls for real transparency and not performative transparency from these companies. Unfortunately, based on how capitalism works, when somebody sees someone putting QR codes on their products, it’s like, “We’re transparent too. We’ll put a QR code on there. You can scan and see our farmers.” It does take a lot of education. This reminds me of an episode that we did speaking of organic with Max Goldberg. His life is dedicated to studying organic living and it takes a lot of work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, if you can dedicate five minutes a day to research something, it goes a long way. Understanding the roots of what you’re buying will raise your awareness. If you spread the word to other people, you have a conversation with other people and kindly. I know this is going to be heated. That is an art form on its own, having conversations with friends and family members about topics like this and understanding that there are a lot of people that are ignorant.
It can feel like an uphill battle in many ways it is, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. If you can donate even $1, that is making a difference. One thing that I’m working on Jason is to put aside some of my income to make a donation at least once a month for something that I’m passionate about. I’ve talked about it in other episodes. I’m working my way towards being debt-free and that will give me more freedom to put my money towards something other than paying off a balance and interest. Even now though, I want to take a look and see.
If I can donate $1, it’s truly putting my money where my mouth is. Maybe that’s buying one less thing or getting a deal on something. You can create a rule for yourself. If you find the coupon code for something, maybe it’s $1 off something that you typically are going to buy, take that $1 you saved on that product and donate it somewhere. My mom has this mentality mostly for paying off credit card debt. She says, “If you make some unexpected money, you receive an unexpected check, you get good savings on something, that’s an opportunity to pay down your debt.” What if you applied that towards donations? There are at least four different organizations that are doing work to support the farmers in India. What if you divided up some money and donate it to all of them? That makes a huge impact. You can sign petitions too.
If money’s tight, which I get, sometimes even $1 feels like a stretch. If you sign a petition, if you spread the word about a petition, if you even share a GoFundMe or donation page, it is making a difference. You can use your voice to demand action from the government. Whether it’s our government in the US, if it’s the government in other countries that are involved with issues like this, go find out what’s happening and see what action you can take. All of those actions either combined or on their own make a difference. If you want to call somebody out, my other encouragement is to not cancel them unless they’re doing something horrific but hold them accountable and kindly say, “I would love if you did XYZ. What you’re doing is great.”
Gwyneth Paltrow, if you want to use her as an example. We don’t need to cancel her in my opinion, out of ignorance. I don’t know if she’s done anything cancel-worthy. What if instead, we encouraged her to add something more to her website to support someone specifically? Doing that is more beneficial because people tend to react more openly and we do, too. To your point, Jason, we’ve had emails from people that said, “We’ve noticed you haven’t represented this type of person on your show. We’ve noticed the way that you speak is not inclusive.” We take all of that into consideration and we’re working on it. It might not be super fast. Using the pronouns is something that I still need to work on, but I’m chipping away at it.
Give people time and grace because it’s a lot to take on, but don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. That same goes for us. As I’m thinking about this, Jason, I would love to have someone else of Indian heritage on our show. Vani might be the only person off the top of my head. We’re working on diversity in terms of our show guests but I don’t know how far we’ve gone so far. I would love to have different types of people on our show that can talk about this with more education. We’ll look into that as well. I appreciate you, the reader, for coming on this journey with us, for exploring this, for being open-minded, for being willing to take some action and examine your participation in this as well, take a look at the whole world and how it plays a role in this. It’s a lot.
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- Wellness Influencers Owe Indian Farmers Their Solidarity
- On Veganism and Cultural Appropriation: A Question of Awareness, Sensitivity and Intent – Previous episode
- Parenting in a Tech World – Facebook group
- One Degree Organics
- Organic Living: An Inside Look with Max Goldberg – Previous episode
- Khalsa Aid
- Save Indian Farmers
- Save Panjab’s Farmers
- The Mindful Mug
- Gaia Herbs
- The Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shrimp Fiasco Explained
- The Subtle Ways That Clicktivism Shapes The World
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