Bill Penzey’s Spices Ain’t Nices
When I lived in Philadelphia, I used to shop at a Penzeys Spices shop in my neighborhood. I was especially fond of their Bavarian spice blend. Penzeys says the spice blend comes from, or is at least inspired by, the cooking of owner Bill Penzey Jr.’s grandmother. Nothing tastes better on pork loin or roasted turkey than that stuff. Just the other day I told my wife that I wanted to get some more of it for the holidays, and — not kidding about this — I was planning to go to the Penzeys website and order some by mail.
But: a reader just forwarded the latest e-mail newsletter from Bill Penzey Jr.. I had a vague sense that he was some kind of genial Ben & Jerry’s progressive, but I did not realize until reading this, then spending a bit of time googling, that he’s also a jerk. Here’s what he sent to his customers:
Racism Update: At Penzeys we believe it’s not the use of tools that set us on a different path from the rest of the animal world; what has set humanity in motion is cooking. In our nearly a million years gathered together around the fire, cooking shaped our bodies and transformed our minds. Cooking unlocked our potential and gave birth to reason, to religion, and to politics and government. The kindness of tens of thousands of generations of cooks created our humanity, but racism, sexism, and homophobia can all very quickly unravel all the goodness cooking puts out into the world. As the voice of cooks, we will never sit idly by while that happens.
You may have read Tuesday Night’s email. In it I said: “The open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election is now unleashing a wave of ugliness unseen in this country for decades. The American people are taking notice. Let’s commit to giving the people a better choice. Our kindness really is our strength.”
Since I ask you to read my emails, I feel it’s only right that I read each of your replies. In sifting through those replies it was clear that, though not intended, a good number of people seemed to sincerely believe that in my statement I was calling all Republicans racists. In the emails of those Republicans who voted for someone other than the party’s nominee, I sensed genuine pain at having the strength of character to not go along with what was happening, but nonetheless be grouped in with those who were. I apologize for writing something that caused you pain; that is not the person I want to be. You are your party’s future, and you deserve my admiration and respect, and your country’s as well.
For the rest of you, you just voted for an openly racist candidate for the presidency of the United States of America. In your defense, most of you did so without thinking of the consequences of your candidate’s racism, because for most of you the heartbreaking destruction racism causes has never been anything you or your loved ones have had to experience. But the thing is elections have their consequences. This is no longer sixty years ago. Whether any of us like it or not, for the next four years the 80% of this country who did not just vote for an openly racist candidate are going to treat you like you are the kind of person who would vote for an openly racist candidate.
You can get angry at everyone else for treating you like you just did the thing you just did, or you can take responsibility for your actions and begin to make amends. If you are lucky and younger family members are still coming over for Thanksgiving, before it’s too late, take a moment and honestly think about how your actions must look through their eyes. Simply saying “I never thought he’d win” might be enough. But if you have the means, leaving a receipt from a sizable donation to the ACLU or the SPLC accidentally laying around where you carve the turkey, might go over even better.
Or, just do what you do best and volunteer. Through our customers’ support, we’ve given away a lot of our Penzeys Pepper, the Pepper with heart. More often than not, those we meet cooking and serving food to feed those in need are Republicans. You really are a good bunch, but you just committed the biggest act of racism in American history since Wallace stood in the schoolhouse doorway 53 years ago. Make this right. Take ownership for what you have done and begin the pathway forward.
Thanks for reading,
Got that? Most of the people Bill Penzey meets serving food to the poor and hungry are Republicans, but a lot of them voted for Trump, and they’re going to have to prove their moral worth to ol’ Bill before he will give them a pass.
Well. I’m a conservative who did not vote for Trump, but I don’t want any part of Bill Penzey’s sanctimony and condescension. I’m not a big one for boycotts, and it doesn’t bother me one bit if a merchant holds political opinions opposed to my own, and advocates for his or her candidate or issue. That’s what America is about. But I’m not about to spend a solitary sou, farthing, or pfennig in the store of a merchant who has such open contempt for people like me. No, I didn’t vote for Trump, but as far as I’m concerned, I would like for Bill Penzey to assume that I did. I know lots of good men and women who voted for Trump, and the idea that Bill Penzey despises them puts me off of his business for good.
There’s a happy ending here. While looking around online to see what Bill Penzey’s problem is, I discovered that his sister Patty Erd and her husband Tom run a competing (but much smaller) spice business, called The Spice House. Bill Penzey Sr. and his wife started the business in the 1950s, and Patty inherited it. Bill Jr, her younger brother, started his own catalog company, Penzeys. I have no idea what the Erds’ politics are — far as I know, they could be commies, or they could be Trumpkins — but they don’t seem to make a habit of getting on their high horse and insulting their customers. Even better, they make a Bavarian seasoning!
I buy all of my spices at my local spice shop, but they have nothing in stock like the Bavarian blend. I have just ordered some from The Spice Shop for my Thanksgiving turkey — and if you’re looking for something different and delicious to try this year, I recommend the same to you.
This Bill Penzey reminds me of the proprietor of a neighborhood coffee shop on Court Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, when we lived there in the late 1990s. Cobble Hill is very much a liberal place, and the kind of neighborhood where people want to support the local guy, but this shop owner was so over the top obnoxious in his left-wing politics that he drove people away. You didn’t want to go there, because the guy couldn’t stand kids, and you felt that he was constantly hovering over you judging you for failing to live up to his extremely particular standards. When Starbucks opened down the street, that was the end of him, if only because Starbucks was happy to welcome moms with strollers, and you could sit and have your cup of coffee without being judged.
UPDATE: The Spice House folks have kindly written to invite this blog’s readers to become new customers. If you’ve never ordered from The Spice House before, use the promo code NOPOLITICS to get free shipping on your first order. Isn’t that great?