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Bill Penzey’s Spices Ain’t Nices

You can buy Penzey family spices, without the self-righteousness

You can buy Penzey family spices, without the self-righteousness

When I lived in Philadelphia, I used to shop at a Penzeys Spices [1] shop in my neighborhood. I was especially fond of their Bavarian spice blend [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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,

[email protected]

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 [5]. 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!  [6]

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 [6] 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 [5] before, use the promo code NOPOLITICS to get free shipping on your first order. Isn’t that great?

214 Comments (Open | Close)

214 Comments To "Bill Penzey’s Spices Ain’t Nices"

#1 Comment By RHODA KAPUGI On January 7, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

I love Penzey’s the spices and the politics!

#2 Comment By Erin Smith On January 9, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

Mr. Dreher,
Thank you!!! I am so happy to find an alternative and hopefully reliable spice company minus the political price to pay for it! If nothing else, thank you for your perception and generosity in sharing this information. Those of us out here in “regular” America really don’t want to pick any fights. We just love our country and want to live in peace. Thank you so much!

#3 Comment By Ann Hope On January 10, 2018 @ 11:12 am

The Spice House spices are just as good and without the side of condescending, sneering politics. I quit Penzeys years ago.

#4 Comment By Janice On January 15, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

Hmmmm … I have to admit that I was a little perplexed with all of Bill’s emails over the last year… my thought was that I’d hate for Penzys to lose business over their politics. But Wait…..
It’s MLK day and I’m off to introduce some friends I’m lunching with to a Penzys store (we are fortunate to have one locally)!! Unless you live in a bunker … I’m going to guess you’re familiar with the trump events from the last couple of days.
Bill… voice your politics and be proud of them!! Those who voted for trump knew his racial views, he wore it on his sleeve. It’s an ugly topic but those who voted for him who dont think they are racist should dig deep … you’ve got it in you. And if you are interested in healing it, you need to first recognize where u stand. I was so amused when Paul Ryan said he has great friends who are doctors who are Hatians …. Dig Just a Little, Paul = it’s in you.
Bill knew the risks of voicing his political opinion … the republican politicians know the risks of voicing their political position … which I guess is why they can’t and won’t denounce the obvious, or much like some people commenting here, are also not in touch with who they are.
You might not be able to see your racist selves but everyone else around you can. And those who are affected daily by racism because of the various colors of their skin, they are even more keenly aware of who the racists are. Don’t believe that just because you have a couple “of friends” you are off the hook.

#5 Comment By cheryl silha On January 16, 2018 @ 6:09 pm

Politics does NOT belong in a store that simply sells spices. I will never go back into a Penzeys. I will take the alternative thank you.

#6 Comment By Maurice On January 21, 2018 @ 6:18 pm

Trump has been an unmitigated disaster, and you are still playing this song?

[NFR: This blog was posted on November 18, 2016. Please, dear, try to keep up. Even so, I absolutely stand by this most, even as I agree that Trump has been a bad president. Trump’s poor governance and obnoxiousness does not legitimate Bill Penzey’s being an ass who insults his customers. — RD]

#7 Comment By Chris Sharp Sr. On January 25, 2018 @ 9:45 am

While I agree that Mr. Penzey’s approach may be a bit “over the top” with regard to approach and method, this IS AMERICA and he fully has the right to speak his mind in such a fashion, just as you have the right to purchase or not purchase his products. However,I feel what is more important is the “nerve” Penzey struck with his statements regarding the fact that many people who voted for Trump either overlooked or failed to realize the long term effect of their actions. (Including some high ranking members of the Republican Party!) Having said that, I am reminded of an old adage that states “It is never to late to do the right thing”, which I believe is the message that Mr. Penzey is trying to convey. Bravo Mr. Penzey! If you keep shooting yourself in the foot, stop reloading the gun!

[NFR: I did not vote for Trump. I don’t want to be yelled at by virtue-signaling merchants, either right-wing or left-wing. I quit buying from Penzeys because of it. — RD]

#8 Comment By diana On February 1, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

the spice house and savory spice are even better and not haters. i was a faithful customer at store in houston heights, just can’t do it!

#9 Comment By Robert On February 2, 2018 @ 12:36 pm

Hilarious! Many times I’ve heard that religion and politics don’t mix, but I didn’t realize spices and politics are taboo! Keep the ignorant comments coming! I hope Bill Penzey keeps shining a light of truth on the people hiding in the shadows of racism.

[NFR: Maybe he’ll sprinkle some garamasala on them. That’ll fix everything. — RD]

#10 Comment By Linda Ayres On February 8, 2018 @ 9:15 pm

I was a loyal customer of Penzey’s for years. After his political rant, I vowed I would never give his company another dime. I was online looking for another quality spice company and came across this informative article. I will give The Spice House a try. Thanks!

#11 Comment By Carole Weigel On February 12, 2018 @ 8:15 pm

FYI Linda Ayers, spice house and Penzyys are owned by member of the same family. I would not deal with either.

#12 Comment By Linda Ayres On February 18, 2018 @ 9:02 pm

It’s amazing to me the amount of ignorance and hate in so many of the comments here. Bill Penzey is absolutely entitled to his own opinion, as are each one of us. What good does it do to make fun of, run down, or dismiss someone just because they don’t agree with us? The fastest way to start a heated argument is to discuss religion or politics. The “we’re right – you’re wrong, we’re smart – you’re stupid” mentality. We all have reasons for our beliefs and why we believe them. So please, Bill Penzey and everyone else,just state your opinions and leave out the personal judgement.

#13 Comment By vicki On February 19, 2018 @ 1:10 am

i will never ever eat another penzey spice again.

#14 Comment By Kathleen Crooks Carlson On February 20, 2018 @ 12:21 am

The Spice House closed permanently on January 30th…I will miss it because it was/is about 1/2 a mile from my home…but I admire Bill Jr. for his political courage…so many voted for Trump because supposedly “he tells it like it is”, which actually means he’s lying to you…unlike Trump, Bill may sometimes be a bit less tactful than you’d like, but he does “tell it like it is”…for real. I have shopped at both stores, and will have no intellectual, moral, or tempermental problem switching all my business to one of Bill (Jr.)’s stores…his father and mother
would be proud of him!!