14 May, 2019
Tribute or appropriation? Navigating Cultural Trademarks and Complicated Spirits
No matter what the peacekeeping bartender says: Politics has its place in the bar.
The economy, social mores and secular traditions come together in glass. After all, rum is inextricably linked to the Caribbean and mezcal and tequila in Mexico. If European trade routes did not exist, fortified wines probably would not do it either.
As people and societies evolve, the property of a certain style or category sometimes falls into a gray area. Tiki, for example, began as a post-war white American fantasia of transpacific cultures. Today, his themes are at the crossroads of inspiration, tributes and ownership, depending on who you ask for them.
Things get complicated when business owners take advantage of the history or culture of communities to which they do not belong. The dynamics change when brands are supported by people from select demographic groups and their products reflect the culture of marginalized people.
Here we look at some cases where things have become sticky – and others where the pros of minds have quite understood.
Four white Belgians enter an Albuquerque bar, drink a few drinks with Native Americans and then, almost ten years later, back in Belgium, decide to launch a brand of spirits inspired by this experience. They call it Apache Gin.
Zero Amerindian was involved in the creation of Apache, and gin did not benefit any Native American tribe or organization. Marketing efforts have included things like an Instagram post now removed, dressed in headdresses. (Fortunately, we kept the receipt.)
Once the American bar community got wind of Apache Gin and its blatant appropriation of Native American culture, many people tried to call them through various channels (Instagram comments, emails, etc.) . They were welcomed at best by the silence of the radio; others were blocked.
It's one thing for a brand or company to commit this type of offense, but it's another when they refuse to listen to people who really feel the effect of their actions. This type of behavior can be deeply detrimental to marginalized communities.
When I contacted the Apache Gin team to comment on this story, I received this answer:
"Our product is not the subject of active promotion, no point of sale and you may not even ask on our online store to shop our bottle [sic] in the United States. We therefore feel that we are not hurting anyone because in our domestic market [sic] similar sentiments about the use of such a brand do not exist.
"The only way our brand is going to cause harm is if you and your friends continue to make a [hurricane] in a glass of water. (=> if you stop talking about Apache Gin in the United States, no Apache tribe member will be hurt)
Sincerely, Thomas Van Acker "
Does Apache Gin understand their wrongdoing? Not clear. Do they care? Definitely not. (Are they really good at gazlighting? Yeah.).
"Aboriginal culture is not just a name, a jewel, or a feather," says Morgan Crisp, president and co-owner of Seven Clans Brewing, a company owned by a majority of Aboriginal women in Cherokee, Carolina North. what you see on the outside is just that: an exoskeleton. All the good things – values, spirituality, stewardship, history, community – underlie the outward symbols that many non-natives today recognize as "indigenous".
"Used inappropriately, it simply devalues our culture and the people of that culture. Brands that appropriate culture in this way today seem to lack understanding and / or compassion, "she added.
So, how could the guys behind Apache Gin handle this kind of situation – apart from not launching a brand that was obviously insensitive at first?
"The least they can do is listen," Crisp says. "A favorable response depends on their ability to understand why their brand image has a negative impact. I do not think it's appropriate for a brand to profit from a marginalized culture without the person (s) represented in that culture owning or compensating. "
Rum is not exactly synonymous with Belize, but Copal Tree Lodge, a luxury eco-resort located in Punta Gorda, has recently been associated with a distillery to make Copalli rum.
At first glance, a person with a culturally sensitive lens could raise eyebrows at a five-star, mostly white-owned hotel business operating in a small Central American country with incredibly high rates of unemployment and poverty. . However, this is a company that does its best to help its local community.
Copalli Rum Distillery is a zero impact operation. Its two certified organic rums from a single estate are made from sugar cane, canopy water and yeast from the Copal Tree Rainforest farm in southern Belize. The distillation process is "powered by a sustainable renewable biomass and allows the complete conversion of production waste into agricultural inputs", according to a representative of the brand.
In addition, Copal Tree Lodge has a 22,000-acre forest reserve that has promoted the preservation of the land as well as the conservation programs of the sea over the past 20 years. Society as a whole has become the largest employer in southern Belize.
It does not stop there. The president and distillery master of Copal Tree Distillery, Ed Tiedge, notes that in Belize, free public education ends at the 8th grade. People living below the poverty line (around 43% of the population) are often unable to continue beyond this threshold and, for societal reasons, girls tend to be particularly affected by this situation. .
Starting in 2019, Copal Tree began to "provide educational grants to these area children [particularly girls] to enable them to continue their education until high school," says Tiedge.
It is too early to see the results of this particular program, as it is still in its infancy in implementation, but the intent is at least there. We look forward to following this progress and hope to set an example for other internationally owned tourism and hospitality companies.
GEM & BOLT
Cultural appropriation is not as obvious as that of Apache Gin. Others, like GEM & BOLT mezcal, are dangerously vague.
The company's website is a mystery hidden in an intentionally enigmatic marketing language. He describes his two white founders, "the artists-alchemists duo Adrinadrina and Elliott Coon", as "bohemian smuggler girls" of the Virginia mountains. Abstract slogans include chestnuts such as "life is an altar", "everything is theater" and "energy is immortal".
Similarly, the images scratch the head. An image on a tab, "The altar", represents a white woman running naked in a field of agaves. Various videos and photos across the site show whites wearing headdresses, candy skull face paint and whole wolf skins.
What makes it uncomfortable is that GEM & BOLT does not seem to include the culture on which it has built a brand and a revenue stream. He claims to be a "pure spirit", which means nothing in fact, but he is disturbingly reminiscent of other insensitive brands in culture. Does this imply that other agave alcohols, distilled by people in Mexico for centuries, are dirty? It smells of white saviorism. It transposes the use of "fair, organic and sustainable agave" into a better plot for the body, denigrating the culture it claims in the process.
The company's website also claims to employ a "fourth generation master distiller in Oaxaca". He is neither named nor illustrated on the site. Why is such a key player not represented, despite the fact that his two white founders are being promoted endlessly on the site and in the press? (After looking elsewhere on the Internet, I found his name, Ignacio Martinez.)
During my research on this article, I sent an e-mail to GEM & BOLT asking him to comment. I also asked about a tab that I had seen on the GEM & BOLT website, titled "Warrior Generation." He was referring to a plan to develop programming designed to give back to the community in one way or another. This tab has since disappeared and my request for comment has remained unanswered. What does this tell us about this company, its two white founding women and their responsibility?
Sombra Mezcal, founded in 2006 by winegrower and master sommelier Richard Betts with general manager John Sean Fagan, constitutes a perfect comparison with the GEM & BOLT business. Both were committed to creating an environmentally sustainable brand that would benefit the local Aboriginal population.
The construction of the distillery was supervised by Martha Cardoso, civil engineer from Oaxaca, and the juice was distilled by José Pablo Raña Zorrilla, from Mexico City. (As with GEM & BOLT, none of these people are found anywhere on the website, but in this case, no team members are online.)
Sombra's production incorporates a number of sustainability-related processes, such as rainwater harvesting and reuse, composting of waste materials for local farmers, and energy production from solar panels. The by-products are transformed into adobe bricks used in the construction of homes for families affected by earthquakes in the Sierra Mixe district of Oaxaca and for the reconstruction of a cemetery wall. Sombra is also a 1% member for the planet, through which it donates 1% of its sales to local environmental charities and educational initiatives in Oaxaca. According to an article by Dan Q. Dao of Munchies, 77% of the company's employees are Aboriginal.
His recent mezcal Ensamble, in limited edition, was composed of rare agaves Tepeztate and Tobalá (the latter is particularly valuable). To compensate for the 673 mature plants of Tobalá harvested by Sombra, the company has planted 20 000 in their place; they will be replanted in nature after two years of maturation. Sombra Mezcal is a great example of what it means to launch a culturally friendly brand and give back much more than it needs.
When the community speaks, the industry must listen
Could companies like GEM & BOLT learn from Sombra? (Certainly, but will they?) And what will it take for Apache Gins in the world to change?
"A brand called to adopt this type of behavior is actually only one choice: to involve some of the culture that it is appropriate at the level of equity, or completely renamed, "says Jackie Summers, entrepreneur, author and creator of Sorel Liqueur, and advocate for the liquor industry. "And if they really want to honor the culture, give financial support to people from that culture to put their own brands in the forefront."
The examples we have explored in this story are only a fraction of the whole. Offenses are offenses, whether subtle micro-attacks of the "pure spirit" type or flagrant disregard for those who express their discomfort with a culturally indifferent brand image. And there is a myriad of plans for brands that aim to honor and, at best, actively benefit the crops they claim.
If we as consumers know what to watch for and call off offenders when we see them, we may collectively begin to level the playing field – and ultimately, make a difference. industry a better place for all.