If you’re at all familiar with Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood, you know that it’s 1) predominantly Mexican, and 2) gentrifying with the quickness. Like, small family businesses transforming into artisanal kombucha-infused paleta stands level gentrification.
That change and the people it’s impacting are at the forefront of a new web series executive produced by America Ferrera. “Gente-Fied” follows seven people as they live and love and laugh and argue with this one Guatemalan dude in Boyle Heights. Director Marvin Lemus, who co-wrote “Gente-Fied” with Linda Yvette Chavez, went into this with the goal of creating a series that offers something different from Hollywood’s portrayals of us, as you know, This One Dude, Every Time.
The show describes its cast as a mix of “young Latinxs with bi-cultural tastes, hustling to create spaces in their community that celebrate their Chicanx identities” and “old-school paisanos and business owners trying to make sense of the changes that are threatening their livelihoods.” Each episode will be from the point of view of a different cast member as they make their way through the neighborhood. Check ’em out:
As a kid growing up in a Latino household, pretty much everyone had a giant molcajete for grinding up spices and making salsas, or a tortilladora for whipping up homemade tacos and quesadillas. And as staple of pretty much any Latina home, they weren’t that expensive either.
Well, one online company has taken all of that and flipped it upside down to try and make a very hefty profit by bringing ‘artisan crafted’ products into people’s homes – helping them experience a ‘cultural journey.’
The store’s outrageous prices for such traditional kitchen items is generating tons of criticism alone from people calling them ‘culture vultures’ and accusing them of gentrifying Latino cooking and cultural appropriation.
Verve Culture is being called a ‘culture vulture’ for taking traditional Latino cooking tools and selling them at insanely high prices.
Verve Culture – an online store dedicated to bringing “you on a cultural journey” – is facing a series of complaints after profiting from traditional cultural products. The company sells typical products in the preparation of three traditional cuisines at very high prices: Mexican, Moroccan, and Thai.
In the case of traditional Mexican products, the company sells orange and lemon juices; accessories for making chocolate, blown glasses, and molcajetes. And at insanely high prices: a molcajete for $60, a tortilla press for $60, a Mexican chocolate set for $80, and a “Mexican hand juicer” for $15.
The company is obviously profiting off of traditional products of a culture that is too often denigrated – or on the other end of the spectrum, fetishized. Brands are no stranger to appropriating traditional cultural items to boost sales but this particular instance seems to have hit a major nerve with shoppers.
Like, for real?! A molcajete for $60 USD?!
Among some of the most outrageous priced items is a molcajete and tortillero set that goes for $60 USD. That’s literally 20 times more expensive than it should cost.
As someone who lives in Ciudad de México, and who does their shopping at local tianguis and mercados, I have literally bought the exact same set Verve Culture is selling. I paid $60 pesos for the set – not $60 USD – or about $3 USD.
Selling items like this at such inflated prices means Verve Culture is profiting off of the cultural and gastronomic identity of an entire country. So it’s no surprise that Mexican Twitter lit up in shock and anger.
The reaction on Twitter was swift and full of outrage.
A Tweet showing off the outrageously priced products and accusing the brand of “gentrifying Mexican kitchen cookware” already has 36,000 likes and almost 20,000 retweets.
Among some of the comments include one Twitter user who said “Take your site down. This is an insult to Mexican culture along with all the other cultures you’re profiting off. Our culture is not your home decor!”
Another user tweeted, “…not of them is brown so it should really be named stolen culture because they’re selling fancy versions of things traditional to Mexican culture. Having one is fine, profiting off of a minority or their culture is not fine.”
While at least one person pointed out that the people who craft these items have long been taken advantage of. In a tweet, she said “Culturally we’ve been taught that our incredible craft and culture are worth close to nothing for years now, I really wish we could just collectively erase this mindset but at this point it’s so deeply rooted that thinking differently even feels “wrong” most times.”
Many pointed out that if you want to respect a culture’s food, support actual locals and artesanos.
Shopping online from three women who are not from the communities they’re profiting off of, is now way to support that community. That should be common sense but that site seems to have many customers.
As one Twitter user pointed out, if you really want to support local trabajadores, you should be buying directly from them. Shop in your local flea markets, your Latinx-owned shops and markets, this is how you’ll best help artisans.
The company’s $60 tortilla press was even featured in a Buzzfeed article earlier this year.
In the article, the author points out that the “tortilla press is made in Mexico from old Singer sewing machines and other recycled irons! The cast iron should last you, basically, forever so it’s definitely worth your money.”
That’s all great but where is that money going? How much of the $60 is the Mexican, Moroccan, Thai artisan actually earning from Verve Culture’s sales?
So what is Verve Culture and what do they have to say about all of this?
According to their website, Verve Culture is “a women-run business spanning three generational groups from Baby Boomer, Gen X, to Millennial.” As founders, Jules and Jacquie are a mother and daughter team who have worked together for 27 years.
In the company’s about section, they go on to say, “We are in constant pursuit of life traveled fully.”
“Our vision is to explore the cultural richness of artisans and communities around the world – to educate and inspire, while honoring the traditions and heritage of their work.”
Despite these claims, Twitter has been loud and clear in its message: stop profiting off the backs of already underpaid and overworked artisans from around the world.
In 2019, comedian and actor Kevin Hart received a torrential downpour of heat from fans after a series of homophobic tweets and jokes he’d made in the past had been recovered and publicized. As a result, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ousted him from his position as host of the Oscars that year and fans demanded that he issue a mea culpa. After a day, Hart tweeted an apology to the LGBTQ community but later announced that he was reconsidering stepping down as host after comedian Ellen DeGeneres expressed support for Hart to do so. At the time, DeGeneres defended Hart and called the Academy to rally for Hart to be able to host again.
Around that time, DeGeneres also hosted Hart on her show and urged him to ignore the backlash he’d received. At the time, DeGeneres dismissed his critics as “haters.”
Now it seems that Hart feels that it’s his turn to defend DeGeneres.
In the wake of allegations and criticism about the show’s toxic workplace culture as well as DeGeneres’s role in facilitating it, Hart took to Instagram on Tuesday to say that he will love the comedian “for life.”
“It’s crazy to see my friend go thru what she’s going thru publicly,” the actor wrote in a post featuring the two stars smiling together on her show. “I have known Ellen for years and I can honestly say that she’s one of the dopest people on the f—— planet. She has treated my family and team with love and respect from day 1.”
“The internet has become a crazy world of negativity… we are falling in love with people’s downfall. It’s honestly sad..” Hart continued. “When did we get here? I stand by the ones I know and that I love. Looking forward to future where we are back to loving one another… this hate s*** has to stop. Hopefully, it goes out of style soon…”
Hart finished his post writing that he does not mean “to disregard the feelings of others and their experiences.”
Hart continued writing that the point of his message is “simply to show what my experiences have been with my friend. Love you for life Ellen.”
Last week, DeGeneres addressed allegations about her show and apologized. “My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that,” she explained. “Alongside Warner Bros, we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”