This week, I made my own Fire Cider based on Rosemary’s recipe, I’ve make other versions before when I was feeling ill, and I’m taking the opportunity to raise awareness of this simple healing recipe and get it into more hands. Really that’s one of the best things that this conflict has done.
In the last few days there has been an uproar in the herbalism community. While you might not think that could possibly be very loud, consider that the uproar overflowed into the Permaculture, healthy lifestyle, and organic foods sectors as well and that it might be an indicator of greater system change.
Some basics before I jump into what I think is behind what’s going on AND potential implications for the future based on how this situation plays out.
Shire City Herbals owns a trademark for the term Fire Cider.
Said term was coined in the 70’s by Rosemary Gladstar, and has been published in several of her books. While the preparation is older, according to Rosemary, the term nowadays has come to refer to an herbal preparation that is good for colds and flus. Fire cider is a recipe that is as individual as handwriting but shares an overall function that is the same as all preparations with that common name. Like bread. Or bitters.
Moving on, the contentious action seems to be that Shire City Herbals contacted Etsy and enforced their trademark thereby shutting down the sales of Fire Cider by small herbalists. (It’s all over the internet, but I don’t feel like contacting Etsy myself for confirmation thus the “seems to be.” Here’s a blog that sent me on a search for more information.)
While the blame may lie with the Trademark board for allowing the application to stand. Or Shire City for applying for a trademark that no one should own. It doesn’t matter to me. What’s past is past.
Although it isn’t past since Shire City Herbals is currently stumbling through dealing with a lot of hate mail, and the backlash of this to their business. As of 2/5/14 over 5,800 herbalists are petitioning the revocation of the trademark, and nothing has been settled.
The problem from what I understand is Shire City Herbals said they trademarked the term to avoid big herba (my term) competition and never intended to enforce it on small companies. But the outrage is coming up because people are reporting that this is not the case and that small business people are the ones who’ve been affected.
By the way the ‘they’ here is a group of three entrepreneurs from Western MA. They aren’t a big corporation. They are human. Humans sometimes make mistakes.
I’m seeing a lack of accountability for promises, and a penchant for bullying in the Fire Cider situation. Being that the people offended are a customer base Shire City Herbals might think again. Because it doesn’t matter if the legal system is on your side if you lose your entire customer base and alienate others who might have become customers. You’re business will fail because people won’t buy your product.
People who are into health and the use of traditional medicinals are not mainstream. They are used to doing what feels right to them. This is a group that is more likely to hold a company accountable to what is moral.
I think what is needed is some radical honesty on the part of Shire City Herbals. A kick in the butt for their mistake is enough. But they’ve gotten that and possibly more. Enough with the punishment. It is time to right the wrongs of the system itself. And here’s where this muddled mess gets messier.
Think about the disenfranchised nature of much of our current food system in the United States. Citizens have been crying out for more organic food, the labeling of GMO’s, that seeds should not be patented, to stop polluting the gene pool for years. Only very small changes have been made because our current government is in the pocket of the lobbyists who are paid by the companies doing the damage.
While the aforementioned arguments have been constantly shut down at the national level this trademark issue has fewer guns behind it. Shire City Herbals probably can’t hire lawyers to the point of making its opposition back down and thus we are potentially in for a fair fight. Or at least a justice process that doesn’t take someone’s wallet into account. But then again part of the problem in this situation may actually be at the top of the food chain. In this case, our trademark office approving something that potentially shouldn’t have been approved, or in other cases the patenting of seeds which perhaps shouldn’t’ be patentable (I’d love to hear some lawyerly commentary on these topics.)
If you agree that these antiquated government policies that are not in line with where our country would like to be ethically, and morally then please take a deep breath and consider that this is mammoth is possibly the last of it’s species.
Arguments over trademarks have happened before (see Eat More Kale) showing you that people tend to get behind and support the little guy. It’s probably our memory of David vs. Goliath that leads us to it.
But perhaps the problem is that of ownership. Who really owns a term or concepts anyway? Who owns a seed? While in permaculture we see that the more diversity the better for the whole our legal system seems to err on the side of individual versus collective ownership, an idea, like the mammoth whose time has passed if we would like to live in a healthy system.
These are much greater cultural questions at hand than is it ok for Shire City Herbals to own the term Fire Cider, however they just may be caught on the mammoth’s back in this battle. I do feel though that the tide of our culture is turning quickly and we will see more and more changes at the small and local level making it impossible for disenfranchisement to continue.
May all beings be happy and free.