19300 W. Janacek Court
PO Box 924
Brookfield, WI 53008-0924
Toll Free 800-741-7787
Over the years our spice business has grown. While our roots are firmly planted in the greater Milwaukee area, we now have stores in most states and do business in countries around the globe. Penzeys truly is a community of the kindness of cooking, but we also understand our community is the coming together of many smaller communities with different approaches and different customs. When, as only natural, conflicts arise, we’ve come to find the best way forward is to embrace the spirit of cooking and look for the path of kindness.
Right now Mukwonago is at the center of a conflict that is difficult to understand and for whatever reason has never really been adequately or clearly explained. It’s not a conflict of our making or of our choice, but if somehow we could find a solution, there sure would be a lot more happiness all around. From a lifetime spent around cooks, I’ve come to believe if we are willing to take a moment to more fully understand how a conflict came to be, there is a good chance with greater understanding we will be able to look into our hearts and find a path forward.
In my early days of starting the business I was pretty sure I needed to split my time between Milwaukee and New York. While there the NYTimes had a story about silly names of professional sports teams. They decided one of the silliest names in sports was The Green Bay Packers. The article asked, “What do they pack?”
That week when I ran into people who knew where I was from they would mockingly ask, with what could best be described as a smirk, “The Packers, what do they pack?” Seems that area is chock-full of Giants fans. To their credit when I explained that Packers pack meat, that Packers is the polite way of saying slaughterhouse workers, every one of those Giants fans were big enough to admit that Packers is actually a pretty good name for a sports team. Best name in the NFL, I would tell them.
No one names their sports team the bead crafters, the poets or the flute makers. Peaceful pursuits are not what sports team naming is all about; the reality is pretty much the opposite. Though I believe those who chose to name so many of our area school teams for Native Americans were doing so to honor them for their strength, courage and bravery, today we know the reality and the history of that image is not so simple or so straightforward.
America has its special place among nations because of what we have done right. Spices have taken me around the world many times and I can say from firsthand experience the world sees us as leaders because we really have done good and we’ve honestly made this world a better place. A big part of why we are able to get things right as often as we do, is that unlike most other nations we are also capable of admitting when we get things wrong. It is not easy for us, the process is slow and painful, but as hard as it may be to believe, we do a better job admitting our errors than any other country out there, and it gives us a tremendous advantage.
America’s actions towards the Native Americans is one of those spots where it is pretty easy to see we did not get it right. Though much of our past is about truth, kindness and advancing equality, our history with the Native Americans sadly is one of violence, broken promises and covering up the truth with lies. Through violence we forced good people from their homelands, “resettling” them to less-desired locations. Later when it was decided that even these less-desired locations had some value, we violated the law of our treaties and resettled them once again, often with tremendous loss of life and great suffering. For this we labeled them “Indian givers.”
But even worse than blaming them for our inability to keep our word is the much bigger lie at the very heart of this issue, which is how we blamed them for the violence visited upon them. Though we were the ones who set it all in motion, the ones who could not live together in peace, we called them uncivilized. We created the lie that labeled them the warriors and the raiders and the savages simply as the cover-up to make our crimes appear justified. It is this lie - this injustice - and all the pain it has caused that is at the heart of the sports team naming issue.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time on reservations in recent years. The kindness I have met has been outstanding, the compassion and the willingness to forgive is quite remarkable. Still this issue is not going away. You can’t forgive something that is still happening. We’ve caused too much pain here. As long as the stereotypes we create attempt to justify the way their ancestors were treated, the protests won’t stop. As a father myself I have to agree that as long as the caricatures we create work to deny their children the same access to opportunity our children enjoy, their protests really shouldn’t stop.
In many ways the kindness I have found on reservations has been very much like the kindness I experienced in your community. You really do have much in common with our Native American families. After my time in New York, coming back to the Milwaukee area and exploring spots to live I discovered I needed what you have and found a place on Oakdale and 43. I shopped for all my groceries at your Sentry. When we found the newborn kittens whose mother had died in that abandoned warehouse the folks at the Big Animal Vet on ES gave us what we needed to keep the kittens alive for free. They knew we did not have much money and they simply wanted to help.
From my many experiences I can truly say that the kindness of the people of Mukwonago is something very special. During the startup years for Penzeys Spices what you are played a big part in putting us on the path to what we have become. I know for you this issue really is about tradition and honoring those who came before. But sometimes with greater understanding comes the knowledge that the path kindness best follows is a brand new road.
The reason I’m writing is that in recent weeks this issue has started to change and take on a larger role in our community and in our state. What this issue is now becoming no longer honors our values or the spirit of the wishes of those who built our homes and schools. Look to the Journal Sentinel comments section, the AM radio waves or even our state Capitol and you will find people who do not know you at all but see your actions as somehow giving permission and even encouraging the very worst of human behaviors. I fear that not all fires create warmth and what is now happening is not about bringing kindness to those around us.
I’ve canoed the Fox. Once you get away from the bridges you can’t help but get the sense that the river and its banks have been just this way for a very-very long time. I’ve felt that connection to those who traveled the river long ago. I’m sure the builders of our schools, who lived their lives far more in touch with the land, would’ve felt an even closer bond with the Native Americans who were here before us. I understand the kindness of their wish to honor the native people. They could not know that the way they chose to honor Native Americans would bring with it hurt and pain and suffering, but we know and we have the ability to make a difference.
Maybe it is time to truly honor the wishes of all those who came before us. Maybe it is time to save the use of Native American names for our parks and places where we preserve nature to pass onto future generations. Maybe it is time to teach their honest history in our schools and to tell their stories of love and kindness in our libraries.
I guess I could say that it would be nice if we were all the same and did not have to deal with these types of issues, but I don’t believe it. Reaching out - connecting - finding new ways to share our values is where all the fun of being humans really lives. Please give thought to these new ways. This issue will never go away by itself.
There is much to be said for, in a moment of kindness, choosing the path of happiness and putting all the hurt behind us. All kinds of ancestors would smile down upon us. Either way, enjoy these seasonings. You were there when I needed you and you are a big part of what we have become. The least I can do is pass along some good spices.