(11 minute read)
Hello friends and farmers,
Quick announcement: Tonight was supposed to be the first Chinatown Night Market of the year. However, due to rain and expected lightning risk, it has been postponed.
Stay tuned (@ChoyCommons) for the confirmed rain date, which will likely be sometime in early June. As a reminder, and anticipation-builder, we'll be selling seedlings and East Asian veggies at our booth, and there will be tons of other cool things like sugar painting, mochi donuts, paper cutting art, egg waffles, and momos!
Meanwhile, scroll down for some thoughts on conscious consumerism, an action step to reduce plastic pollution in NY, AAPI brands to shop and things to watch, and something about socks...
🛒 I've been thinking a lot lately about capitalism, specifically as it relates to consumerism. There are two distinct definitions of consumerism, and they strike me as two sides of the same coin. The first is the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers. The second is the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods. The first is about centering consumers and their interests. The second is about consumers' obsession with accumulating material things. Each interpretation seems to feed into the other.
These ruminations on consumerism generally swirl around how we got to this point where we so easily buy things with little to no thought beyond the immediate value they provide to us, even when that value is fleeting. One particularly grotesque manifestation of this is fast fashion.
In 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from global textile production totaled 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, "more than the emissions of all international flights and maritime shipping combined." Turns out, that was roughly 2.55% of global emissions that year, and that was from the production of textiles alone. That figure doesn't include the transport of raw materials and finished garments or the disposal, incineration, and landfilling of garments at the end of their (now doubly short, compared to 20 years ago) lifecycle.
There's a great episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj on "The Ugly Truth Of Fast Fashion" that dives into the environmental impact of producing and disposing of garments. And, my favorite part, it calls out some of the bullshit greenwashing by fashion companies and their marketing tactics. Like writing "Made with recycled materials" on the tag of a clothing item, referring to the tag itself, not the garment. Or offering recycling collection bins in-store, knowing full-well that almost 90% of the collected clothes will get landfilled or incinerated, and coupling it with a discount to encourage customers to buy yet more clothes.
And it's not just fashion companies. There are some equally deceitful examples in food, wine, and beyond. But more on that another time.
So with companies in fashion and other industries actively misleading us about the true environmental implications of their products and practices, how are we as consumers supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff?
And should it even be up to the consumer in the first place? I shared previously about the plastics industry's ad campaigns aiming to shift the burden of responsibility for plastics pollution onto us, consumers.
It is the epitome of industry propaganda. The result is an entrenched mindset that has pervaded all consumer-facing industries, from fashion to food: this idea of consumer choice and empowerment, or conscious consumerism. And an alluring one at that.
We are often galvanized by compelling documentaries, think pieces, and social media posts into voting with our dollars. "We can choose the food system we want to support," the thinking goes in parts of the current food movement. Yet it ignores the fact that voting with your dollar is a privilege that not everyone has. Consider this: if we vote with our dollars, who gets the most votes? Whose votes, and therefore voices and needs, are missing or underrepresented?
In the vote-with-your-dollar framework, consumer power is heavily centralized in the hands of upper-middle-class (mostly White) individuals and families. In the realm of food, this group's attention has honed in on soil health and animal welfare over people. Meanwhile, those actually involved in agriculture, with few votes to cast, make up the majority of the world’s hungry. The alluring narrative of consumer choice gives the already privileged a disproportionate amount of power in shaping the food system while silencing the voices of those most marginalized by existing market dynamics.
What, then, as everyday consumers, are we to do?
I suppose, like with voting in elections, we must also make informed purchase decisions. Conscious consumerism with a heavy emphasis on conscious. Our very desire to consume ethically and consciously makes us vulnerable to misleading marketing in the first place. It's the nature of our capitalist markets, where profit rules all. So, I suppose, we must stay vigilant. And along with voting with our dollars, I suspect it's equally important to vote with our votes, too. And to ensure our political representatives are actually representing our interests. (One way to do that below).
I don't love the idea that it's entirely up to the consumer, though. I feel strongly that companies should also have an outsized role to play. Founders, entrepreneurs, and business owners and leaders also have a responsibility to be informed, too, not just on which decisions drive the most profit, but which ones will uplift and serve us all. And yet, it still seems somehow up to us as consumers to filter marketing hype from true intent.
Finally, those with more resources, by having a larger vote, have an equally larger responsibility to support the companies, organizations, and practices that center these values and benefit not just themselves but our communities as well. One simple manifestation of this is sliding scale pricing (something that Choy Commons will be testing out at the Chinatown Night Market).
All told, it's a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of consumers, especially when the market incentives just don't exist to do more than the minimum to earn consumers' goodwill, genuinely or not.
Often, I blame capitalism for this narrowly framed structure. I see the capitalist system as the root cause of many of the challenges, inequities, and injustices that exist today; of the general state of the world. Another factor, and I'm unsure which underlies the other, is the core of Western culture: our emphasis on and glorification of rugged individualism, a mythology interwoven into our American history and cultural artifacts, and therefore central to our modern worldview. I think we need, somehow, to shift away from the celebration of individualism, which breeds unhealthy competition and one-upmanship, and towards a more compassionate and unifying mentality of collective solidarity. That, in my view, is the path to true agency, to the elusive feeling of security.
How do we make this shift?
I haven't the first clue. Though I do think it's somewhere at the crossroads of decentralization, community and cooperative ownership, regional and community food sovereignty, and culture. So below, and in some future editions, I'll share some of the companies I feel good about supporting for these reasons. This edition starts with culture, specifically my Korean heritage and the brands that I love for keeping it alive in new forms.
🗳 But first, that action item I mentioned, to ensure our political representatives represent and protect our interests, is this (it takes just a few clicks)...
There are two new bills up for adoption in New York: the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Program for Packaging and Assembly bill and the Bigger Better Bottle Bill.
The EPR bill "would shift the financial burden of managing packaging waste from taxpayers to the producers that put packaging on the market."
This is huge. This is how we fight back against the plastics industry making it our responsibility to deal with the negative impacts of their products.
The Bigger Better Bottle Bill, "expands New York’s highly successful deposit return system to cover additional beverage containers, including teas, sports drinks, wine, and liquor. It also raises the deposit from a nickel to a dime, which will help increase collection rates, reducing litter, increase recycling of beverage bottles, and providing a much-needed boost for the communities that rely on collecting bottles as a source of income."
This one is about incentives. Without the right incentives, goals or objectives are just wishful thinking. And, for anyone else who has seen and felt for the elderly Asian grandmas and grandpas collecting bottles and cans for recycling, a common sight in NYC, this bill will help those working in the informal waste management sector by doubling their income from this work.
- Click the link above, enter your details on the page, and click Start Writing.
- A subject and message will be pre-populated for you. Edit as desired.
- Click Send Letter.
That's it! It also helps if you share the link with other New Yorkers 🗽
🛍 Shopping for culture. Here are some of the Korean-led brands that I'm loving (none of these are sponsored mentions, I just love these brands and want to amplify)...
Noona's is a Korean American female founded ice cream brand based in Brooklyn that spotlights Asian American flavors. Their founding story lays out their manifesto to reform our food culture and propel Asian American flavors into the mainstream. I'm always a fan of matcha and taro flavors, and their Toasted Rice flavor won best ice cream flavor when Noona's launched at the Hester St Fair in 2016. Find them at select H Mart locations near you (IYKYK), or they also ship nationwide. Check them out online and on socials.
Hana Makgeolli was my favorite new discovery upon moving back to the city. Makgeolli is an unfiltered rice wine/brew and Korea's oldest alcohol. It's slightly effervescent and a little creamy in the best way. It was traditionally considered a "poor farmer's drink" but is currently undergoing a renaissance thanks to artisanal and heritage-focused young brewers in Korea, and now in America, too. Hana Makgeolli, also led by a Korean female founder, is the first domestic producer of traditionally made makgeolli. Check out their tasting room in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for indoor dining and makgeolli by the glass. Or shop online for local pickup, delivery, and nationwide shipping. Also, watch them on socials for their tours and tastings and their Makings of Makgeolli home brewing classes! We took one a couple months ago and ours turned out great.
Makku is another makgeolli brand, and yet another company founded by a Korean American woman. Brewed and imported from Korea, Makku is a canned makgeolli that comes in different flavors like blueberry, mango, and lychee as well as an unflavored "original." The flavored ones are a fruity and more accessible entry point into the world of makgeolli, but I highly suggest the original and also the brews from Hana Makgeolli above when you're ready for some funk. You can buy Makku in grocery stores like Whole Foods and other retail locations or online. They're @drinksool on socials. (Sool is Korean for alcohol).
📺 What to watch this month for AAPI Heritage Month...
I haven't yet seen Everything Everywhere All at Once, but I keep hearing amazing things. That's my next watch in theaters.
Blackpink: Light Up the Sky is also on my list. I've always heard from my mom that the K-pop industry is like a factory, sending young kids who show potential to bootcamps and churning out hopeful stars. I'm looking forward to getting a glimpse into one band's story and that of its members.
I finally watched Minari, and I've never felt so seen. It felt like the writer was speaking directly to me, like the film was made for me. And I imagine, in a way, it was. Because writer director Lee Isaac Chung is also a Korean American, born ten years before me, and grew up as a boy in White America. The dialogue in the semi-autobiographical film, it hit differently than anything else I've ever watched, because the conversations felt like home. I've so much more to say on this film and on representation, but for now, suffice to say that this film made me realize how it actually feels when you can truly and fully relate to a character - a feeling, I now realize, I hadn't truly felt before.
Midnight in Asia is a series that takes you through the nightlife and subcultures of major metropolitan cities across Asia. Watch the second episode, based in Seoul, for the makgeolli renaissance I mentioned above.
A few more on my watchlist:
- Take Out on HBO Max. A six-part docuseries produced by Lisa Ling and created by a majority Asian team, Take Out shares the stories behind some of America's more than 45,000 Asian restaurants, "shining a long overdue spotlight on the contributions Asian Americans have been making to the United States since before the United States was even the United States."
- Pachinko on Apple TV+. If I'm being honest, I couldn't get into the book (though it was the audiobook and sometimes the narration voice is key). But I've heard great things about this series and am excited to watch this historical fiction based in Japanese-occupied Korea.
- Korean Cold Noodle Rhapsody on Netflix. This one is from the same team behind the other "... Rhapsody" shows I've mentioned before, this time focusing on naengmyeon, a traditional Korean cold noodle dish that is being honored and reinvented by young chefs in Korea.
😊 Delight No. 10: Socks. Hard to keep in pairs and often lost to the laundry gnomes. They're one article of clothing that seems so simple and innocuous, but for a compulsive perfectionist like me, they cause a not small amount of anxiety when it comes time to matching them up and folding them.
I hate it when I have an incomplete sock pair. What am I supposed to do with a lone sock? Do I throw it out? Do I keep it in the corner of my sock draw in the hopes of finding its match on the next laundry go round? Or do I hold onto it as a spare for when another sock inevitably becomes divorced from its mate?
And even when no socks go missing, matching each individual sock up to its pair as I fold laundry always feels so arduous and time-consuming. I hate folding laundry, so every minute spent on it feels like an eternity. Most people probably don't care about wearing mismatched socks if they're both generally the same color or pattern, but when folding laundry, I have a compulsive need to match a sock with its rightful opposite pair. And this compulsion overrides my attempts to minimize the amount of time I spend folding laundry.
I used to solve this by just buying all the same exact socks. That way, I could easily match one sock to any other one in the bunch, and get through the process faster.
Now, and the thing that has brought me delight, I've realized that I don't need to match them up at all or fold them into each other. It seem ridiculous, I know. But even with a drawer full of uniform, plain white, no-show socks, I would still separate them into pairs and fold each pair into itself. It was a force of habit, I guess. And only recently, I stepped out of that habit to realize that I could just throw all those white socks into my drawer, save a couple minutes (but to me, what feels like a couple eternities), and move on with my life.
And I'm wondering, now, what else do I do out of habit that just doesn't serve me anymore. All because of socks.
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Betting the farm,