Let's talk fire cider, cultural appropriation, stupid business moves and recipes. Like right now.
If you are brand new to the FIRE CIDER scandal that began when Shire City Herbals trademarked 'fire cider,' here is an excellent overview of main issues, who is involved and why folks are upset/active in fighting the trademark. The rest of this post will make more sense with that context as I am not going to totally run down the history, other folks have done that way better than I can. What I do want to share are some reflections and recipes. And calls to action. :) And if you are totally brand new to using vinegar, foods and herbs medicinally, here is a .pdf that offers a very quick intro to using vinegar (and honey) medicinally that I wrote for a class...it may or may not be the final edited version LOL.
Here is the latest info from FreeFireCider.com:
I knew this controversy was bothering me, but I'll admit, as time has marched on from the initial waves of shock and anger that embroiled us through 2014, I had sort of let it out of my mind. I had already signed the petition, liked the facebook page, co-donated to the cause of revoking the trademark, made my own fire cider and howled loudly about my disdain on social media outlets...I had made some basic presumptions that Shire City Herbals would not be a success in my mind and I meandered back into my daily life.
Until last week. When it became clear that Shire City is making an aggressive move to sue three herbalists for visibly organizing a path of resistance. They got served and I got pissed. The very next day I was scrolling through Instagram and on my feed was a pic from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition's account (@nutritionschool) who frequently lets graduates do 'takeovers' of their account and post their own pics. I saw a pic of Shire City Fire Cider with the grad. Now, I am a graduate of IIN, and though I have some criticisms coming out the other side of it, I think of it fondly and do not regret my education there...it was a gateway to the plants for me, though I didn't know it at the time. I boiled over, sitting at a bus stop, and began taking the situation very personally. I got all riled up in the comments under that pic where eventually Amy of Shire City chimed in, identified herself as an IIN grad (argh!) and invited me to talk since there is, according to her, so much "misinformation being spread as fact," on social media. I declined.
The following thoughts are some reactions and reflections, as well as recipes and rants. I think there are a few layers we can peel back and learn from here. Including, what a foolish business choice it is to trademark a product and not a brand anyways....
1. as they say in shark tank, "you're not a business, you're a product"
So, I love the show Shark Tank (like a crap load of other people I have discovered) because when else to you get to really see exactly how people who measure success through the creation of material wealth get to think? I mean these folks are clearly thinking about if they will make money or lose it on you. Growth, in the capitalist model, is the only way to keep making money. More than once I have seen the sharks love a product and/or the person behind the product, but decline to invest because there was not a clear growth strategy. They have said to folks, "You are a product, not a business, and for that reason I cannot invest."
And it leaves me super curious about Shire City's growth plan...I mean, they are banking their entire brand on Fire Cider. Their website is even firecider.com. Now, since they are very clearly a "commercial" business, which must grow in order to compete, how will they do so? It was unwise I think to trademark 'firecider,' and not one linked to their own brand, such as Shire Cider, so that they can carve out a brand with multiple products. One product does not make a brand. Right now they are on the losing side of a brand battle, regardless of their sales levels: since they banked solely on their cider, if they choose to grow into other products, it will dilute their potency. Where as, if they had trademarked Shire Cider or Shire City Herbals_______ (fill in the product here), they would have a clear path to growth as a company using fire cider as a base for multiple products. But, seriously, even if they fill every shelf in the nation with fire cider, I mean, there is a plateau coming. The newness to customers will fade (see why in #2 below) and I can easily, if I so desire, create a Fire Tonic that can sit cozily next to Fire Cider on the shelf and compete. I mean, duh, it doesn't have to be called fire cider to taste like and do the same thing. My packaging would be nicer too (cheap shot). So, this leaves me to think the end game for Shire City is to get bought out by a larger company and make a profit like so many 'small business' health and wellness/organic companies do. That's my long term prediction....we will see what happens.
2. you have no magic and you pissed off the growing body of magic makers.....
As my dad would sarcastically say, "Smooth move, EX-LAX." Right now there is a belief that Fire Cider is being brought to a larger audience because of the intense and dedicated efforts of Shire City Herbals. No Doubt, they have created the first national and commercially available fire cider being sold in various stores that I am aware of. So, kudos! Right? More people are getting fire cidered up and so the world is being elevated one shot glass at a time. Uh, no. There's some real problems with this logic:
First, the magic has never been in fire cider alone. That's a hugely fatal flaw/oversight on the part of Shire City. Fire Cider is something that does magical wonders in context. When someone learns to make fire cider in a class, or is taught by another herbalist or diy folk or kitchen witch, the context of what fire cider is matters. Because we talk about medicinal foods, we talk about digestion in context with the rest of the body, we are able to talk about how to tailor the cider to individual needs. The magic of fire cider comes from someone knowing how to use easy to access, often low cost foods and herbs to meet their own needs. That's what we herbalists do: we work to restore an empowered relationship with health for selves, client, student and planet. Learning about fire cider is part of the magic. Context is important. Relationship is important.
That's the magic that the Shire City folks feel at the events and farmer's markets that drive what they do. But I will say, there will be many a folk who will pick up that bottle of cider at the store, come home and take one stinky shot and never touch it again. Cause it really isn't all that great tasting without the context we put it in. I mean it is and it isn't. With our modern pallets, you have to really want to suck vinegar down in order to do it. When we place the cider in its context through teaching and blog posting and event staffing, we help folks see its magic and we place it in context. For fun, watch the look on the faces and how Dr. Oz appears to sort of overestimate how many people would actually take fire cider in this clip of "Amy's Fire Cider" (aka Shire City) on his show.
The magic happens when people understand what they are making and taking. You can't get that into a bottle. In fact, because they are legally a "nutritional supplement," they are bound by rules about what they can say and so there are some conflicting messages about how amazing and healing it is and then, like at the end of this video, apologies for 'making health claims.'
And secondly, since they can't make health claims really, they can only be called a 'nutritional supplement.' They are restricted in what they can really teach, whereas, when we teach our classes and our clients, we can actually talk about what might be happening with their bodies, and why acid, enzymes, spice and immuno-stimulating foods might support what they are concerned about. I can also help explain why taking undiluted apple cider vinegar might be great or not great for them as we don't want to treat any herbal preparations as a panacea. There are a bazillion youtube videos teaching the magic of fire cider and of course, the best and most beloved would be from Rosemary Gladstar herself. Her video is a wonderful example of how the magic is infused into the cider: through empowerment. She explains the whats, why and hows that makes the medicine accessible. Which is the true magic of the cider.
Shire City, sadly, has chosen to piss off and steal from (ok, see #3) a GROWING AUDIENCE. The amount of practicing herbalists and holistic practitioners is growing without any sign of decline. Imagine if Shire City had actually trademarked their own cider. Imagine if they gave homage to the history and legacy of herbal medicine by saying things like, "we decided to help bring our version of a recipe that herbalists across the nation/world have been making and teaching others about to a national market...." Imagine the support they might have gained? Someone like me who doesn't make it all that often (I'm hot and dry....I need juicy cool cider, LOL) would not have it in stock to offer a client and would be happy to tell someone that they can go to the local store and grab some immediately. Even if I teach them to make it, if they need it now, they would have to wait weeks for their own. Shire City, you could have had some powerful allies. You would have given us another option to offer the folks we serve. You could have brought some national visability to the validity and efficacy of local herbalists. You could have harnessed some of our magic. But you didn't. Instead, in every class where we teach about digestion, sinuses, colds, immune system, medicinal foods, kitchen medicine, etc. we now start with: "Let me tell you about this company........."
We are growing in numbers and a we continue to teach and share about fire cider as a remedy, not a product, we will educate about the tradition, not the trademarked commercial version.
3. thanks for lesson in cultural appropriation
So, here's where I want to say I have an ounce (by weight not volume) of gratitude for the Shire City scandal. For some folks, this might be a stretch, but I am willing to be honest about this. I am a white girl. I don't often have something that I value in my contemporary culture stolen from me by a dominant group. I have suffered cultural losses to capitalism and patriarchy and religious persecution....I am English and Welsh, so I have lost the traditions of one side of my blood to the conquerors on the other side of my blood. I have inherited the privilege that comes with being the culture doing the colonizing. So this Shire City thing is an opportunity for me to relate to the resistance of cultural appropriation by indigenous groups and people of color. And to get closer to the traditions that have been broken and stolen in my own bloodlines.
Many vocal herbalists and people clearly feel that the trademarking of a term used commonly in our herbal communities as belonging to the people is a violation of our assumed/shared cultural values that medicine belongs to the people. This is not a shared cultural norm in capitalist practice, which has its own set of differing values when it comes to the sharing and owning of ideas. Shire City, by becoming a huge commercial operation and national distributor of a product, has adopted the norms of the dominant capitalist model while trying to sell itself as "bringing fire cider to the people." Which in all fairness, is technically happening. It's just that they want the glory of seeming like they espouse the values of local medicine makers while profiting off the values and powers and privileges of the dominant capitalist and legal systems. They stole our shit and made it exclusively their own, lacking proper credit and preventing others from at least retaining what names they had already had.
If you are pissed about that, let me just take the opportunity to say that for indigenous and first nation peoples, and people of color, ain't nothing new about it. Let me see if I can dig through the internet and find something relevant here....
Let me be clear, I am not saying by any means that the cultural appropriations experienced by indigenous, spiritual and communities of color are EQUAL to what we are experiencing with the fire cider battle. And, we too have some issues to address as herbalists about cultural appropriation in traditional western herbalism. ( See here, and here, and here, and here, and here to start...)
My point, is that, if you have cultural identities that are part of the dominant norms (white, male, hetero, monotheistic/christian, able-bodied, cis-gender, etc.) and this fire cider thing pisses you off, you feel stolen from and restricted and angered, GOOD. Now become an ally for folks who are feeling the same damn way about the places they are being stolen from AND an ally for our 3 herbalists being sued.
Listen when folks are angry about their culture being token-ized and explore where in our own lives where we might be profiting off the ideas or offerings of another culture when they are not receiving benefit or credit for that contribution and continue to have less access to power and privilege than those benefiting from the appropriation.
So thanks Shire City, you deepened my resolve as an herbalist to continue the legacy of medicine for the people and by the people. *sips her homemade fire cider* You, Shire City, can thank whatever person or book your family members inherited their recipe from with your generous donations to the HerbBus , or the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic or the Women of Color Herb Conference...or I know a cool Indiegogo campaign you can contribute too. Or hey, figure out an earth friendly thing to do with the mark after it is strained and start a soup kitchen for folks who have little access to food. Or just keep pretending you are the only ones who have fire cider and revived it from an ancient healing well where it was almost lost to eternity without your gallant efforts. Your choice. When we do cultural exchanges, we have choice to be power-with or power-over. Shire City chose the latter.
some recipes and links!
So to the fun part. I promised a few folks I would share recipes with them and resources on how to make it. I make a cooling fire cider because I am so hot and dry already, so I'll share one that offers vinegar extractions that varies from traditional fire cider and uses rose petals,yumm.
Let's start with the Rosemary Gladstar's video for Learningherbs.com:
An amazing Pomegranate + Hibiscus Fire Cider from Chestnut Herbs:
Here's what I make because I love fire cider and cannot do something as hot and stimulating as regular fire cider:
1 Part chopped garlic
1 Part Turmeric
2 Parts Red Rose petals
1 Part Amla Berries
1 Part Astragalus Slices.
Fill 2/3 of the jar with the mixture, cover with equal parts apple cider vinegar and raw honey :)
Steep a full cycle of the moon, strain and enjoy. I love mine in carbonated water in between meals. Sometimes I add fresh elder flowers :)
Other great cooling additions include lemons, oranges, mints, violets, parsley and cilantro, cucumbers....this is the fun part!
Go make some fire cider! Have friends over and tell them about the controversy over a shot of fire cider. You really can't go wrong unless you use a metal lid on your jar because the vinegar will corrode it. So use wax paper in between the metal or a plastic lid.
You can even use these resources as cool recipe cards!
Not really a do-it-yourself type? Purchase some fire ciders (ahem...I mean tonics...) from small and/or local herbalists.
Help the herbalists who are being sued with whatever donation you might have to offer, no penny is insignificant.
Contact Shire City Herbals and tell them your thoughts (respectfully). We would love the trademark changed and the lawsuit dropped.
Add your logo in support! (I am sending mine tonight!)