Below are some of the most commonly used food ingredients and practices that are allowed in the United States, but banned elsewhere.
Banned Ingredients #1 — Dough Conditioners
Dough conditioners, such as potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide are chemicals used to improve the strength and texture of bread dough. Dough conditioners are often found in white breads, rolls, and “egg breads.” However, they are possible human carcinogens (potassium bromate is classified as a category 2B carcinogen). And exposure to them is known to cause respiratory sensitivity, such as asthma or other breathing difficulty. As such, potassium bromate is banned in China, India, Brazil, the European Union, and Canada. And azodicarbonamide is banned in Australia and Europe.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) was originally patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant. But now, BVO can be found in certain colorful sports drinks and citrus-flavored sodas as an emulsifier. Studies have shown that BVO isn’t harmless. It actually accumulates in human tissue, as well as breast milk, and can cause memory loss over time. Bromine toxicity can lead to skin rashes, appetite loss, and heart problems, as well as major organ damage and birth defects. Bromine also competes with iodine for receptor sites in the body, which can increase risk for iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease, and even certain cancers. And although BVO has been banned in countries like Japan, it’s been used in food and beverages in American since 1977 when it was approved by the FDA.
Banned Ingredients #3 — Propylparaben
In the United States, propylparaben is used as a preservative in tortillas, muffins, trail mix, pies, sausage rolls, and more. Research has found that it can affect sex hormones and sperm counts in young rats. Cornell University research had also indicated that exposure to parabens may be linked to breast cancer. Environmental Working Group senior scientist Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., tells us, “It is of great concern to us that the use of an endocrine-disrupting chemical in our food is considered safe by our own government… Studies show that chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to developmental and reproductive problems.” Propylparaben is totally legal in the U.S., but in 2006 the European Food Safety Authority banned the use of propylparaben in food. And in 2015, the EU went further – also banning propylparaben from cosmetic products.
Banned Ingredients #4 — BHA and BHT
BHA and BHT are popular man-made antioxidants used in dry mixes, cereals, and dehydrated potato products to preserve them and increase shelf life. They’re also found in product packaging. These are possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors — meaning that they can alter the normal function of your hormones and lead to disease. BHA and BHT are banned for use in food and beverages by the United Kingdom, European Union, Japan, and other countries.
Banned Ingredients #5 — Synthetic Food Dyes
Food manufacturers use synthetic food dyes, such as blue 2, yellow 5, and red 40, to enhance the coloring of certain foods and ingredients to make them more appealing to consumers. Some foods that contain food dyes include beverages (like juices, sports drinks, and sodas), candy, and glazes used in baked goods and sweets. They’re even used in silly things like making mustard more yellow, salmon more pink, and jarred pickles the perfect shade of yellow-green. And don’t even get me started on maraschino cherries!
Research has linked consumption of synthetic dyes to an increased risk for numerous conditions, like tumors and hyperactivity in children. What’s even more infuriating is that the U.S. used to use natural food dyes until the mid-19th century. But then, food manufacturers realized it was much cheaper to use chemicals, which turned food even brighter colors.
Synthetic food dyes are banned in Europe and Australia, where more natural coloring compounds are used. For example, in most of the world, Fanta contains actual fruit juice and is dyed naturally. But Americans enjoy Fanta colored with petroleum-derived artificial dyes like red 40 and yellow 6.
Banned Ingredients #6 — GMOs
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been around since the 1980s. But they have become a controversial topic — and for good reason. While they’re widespread in the U.S. — with most U.S. soy, sugar beets, corn, canola, cotton, and alfalfa being GMO crops — many European countries have banned or regulated them due to public safety concerns.
One common genetic manipulation involves altering DNA in certain crops to make them resistant to herbicides. One of the most common herbicides used in conjunction with these GMOs is glyphosate, the primary active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. Glyphosate consumption is linked to cancer. In fact, several people have won cases that allege glyphosate caused their cancer. Bayer, the manufacturer of Roundup, is currently fighting cancer lawsuits that involve over 13,000 people. As of June 2019, there were bans or major restrictions on use of glyphosate in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.
Banned Ingredients #7 — Roxarsone
The arsenic-based drug roxarsone, was routinely used in chicken in the U.S. until July 2011, when Pfizer decided to stop selling it. However, there is no actual ban on the use of arsenic in the raising of chickens for food. Roxarsone was used to increase the pink coloring of raw chicken meat, to speed the growth of the birds before slaughter, and to prevent parasites in the chicken’s stomach. Research shows chronic exposure to arsenic can lead to anemia, skin lesions, kidney damage. It can also increase the risk for certain cancers, miscarriage, and birth defects. The European Union banned the use of arsenic-based drugs, while many chicken products in the U.S. still contain it.
Banned Ingredients #8 — Ractopamine
In the U.S., ractopamine is a muscle enhancer for pigs, cows, and turkeys. And, like other harmful substances used during the raising of animals, it doesn’t just go away when the animal is slaughtered. Some of it is still left in the meat you buy. Ractopamine is banned in 122 countries including Russia, mainland China, Taiwan, and many countries across Europe. This is because it’s been linked to reproductive and cardiovascular damage in humans, as well as chromosomal and behavioral changes.
Herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides are widely used on crops in the U.S. food system to keep them free of bugs and diseases. Meanwhile, other countries see (and act on) the danger they pose to humans. Of the 374 active ingredients authorized for agricultural use in the U.S. in 2016, the European Union banned 72 of them. Wow.
Banned Ingredients #10 — Olestra
Olestra, or Olean, is a cholesterol-free fat substitute created by Procter & Gamble. The FDA approved it for use in foods in the 1990s and it’s still used in certain potato chips and french fries. But Olestra may cause extremely unpleasant digestive reactions, like diarrhea and leaky bowels. Consuming a lot of it can also lead to deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K, as well as carotenoids. Both Canada and the United Kingdom have banned the ingredient.
Banned Ingredients #11 — Synthetic Hormones
Synthetic hormones, such as rBGH and rBST, are widely used in the U.S. dairy industry. The primary reason for this is to increase milk production in dairy cows. However, rBGH increases IGF-1 levels in humans and may increase the risk of developing cancer. Additionally, cows treated with rBGH are more likely to develop mastitis, an udder infection, requiring treatment with antibiotics. Canada, the EU, and other countries have banned these compounds.
What You Can Do
The question you might be asking right now is, what can I do to protect myself from these banned ingredients? While we can’t immediately control what food companies put in their products, we don’t have to eat them. And there are steps you can take to make healthier, safer food choices, wherever you live.
Here are some things you can do to make sure the food you eat is as safe as possible:
Read all food labels carefully. Get familiar with these banned ingredients and their alternative names, and look for them on packaged foods.
Eat minimally processed or, even better, whole, organic foods as much as possible. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains won’t have the long list of ingredients that packaged and processed foods often do.
Cook at home as much as you can. This way, you have more control over the food you’re eating. You know exactly what ingredients are being used, and can decide to eat foods that best align with your values as much as possible.
Sign petitions. This is a great way to get involved in public policy, and you don’t even have to leave your house. One of my favorite places to find and sign petitions is the Center for Food Safety website.
The good news is, you don’t have to wait for the U.S. FDA or USDA to change policy for you to make informed choices about what you eat and feed to your family. Every bite you take is a chance to take a stand for a safer and healthier life.
As much as we would like to believe that everything on store shelves is delicious, good for us, and safe, the truth is not always so reassuring. In fact, the food supply in the U.S. (and many other nations, too) is full of chemical flavorings, additives, colorings, and other ingredients that you may not want to put in your body. Before we start naming names, let’s explore how the U.S. government could let this happen.
For starters, the FDA states that food companies can market new chemicals and food additives WITHOUT FDA oversight or approval, so long as “the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe… ”
This is known as the GRAS system, and it might sound all well and good. But what makes someone a “qualified expert”? And how are they able to determine which chemicals food companies can add to the food we feed our children? It turns out that these companies often convene their own “expert” panels to decide whether the ingredient will pose harm. And many of these panels contain scientists with financial ties to all manner of industries – even including the tobacco industry (“experts” who may have, at one time, recommended that cigarettes were safe!). Based on the panel’s recommendations, companies then decide whether or not to share the results of the assessment with the FDA. They don’t even have to do so!
Most of the chemicals on the GRAS list have never had long-term testing on humans, and therefore can’t possibly be guaranteed safe. And some of them don’t stand up to the test of time, either. For example, BHA is “generally recognized as safe” – despite the fact that the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program concluded that BHA can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
And then there are artificial trans fats, which have historically been on the GRAS list and added to foods like frozen pizza, peanut butter, packaged snack foods, vegetable shortenings, and ready-to-use frostings to improve their flavor, texture, and shelf life. Unfortunately, we later learned that trans fats were causing upwards of 500,000 deaths per year from associated heart disease.
In 2015, the FDA finally decided that trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, were unsafe, giving food manufacturers a few years to remove them from the food supply. Since the ban took place, many food companies have replaced trans fats with ingredients like palm oil instead, which comes with its own set of concerns.
Donald Trump has called Jeffrey Epstein, pedophile and sex trafficker, a “terrific guy” and “a lot of fun to be with.” Epstein has been invited multiple times to the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Epstein’s personal address book, leaked in 2009, contained 14 phone numbers for Trump and members of his staff
For the better part of two decades starting in the late 1980s, Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump swam in the same social pool. They were neighbors in Florida. They jetted from LaGuardia to Palm Beach together. They partied at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and dined at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion.
After Epstein’s arrest on sex trafficking charges, many who socialized with him — including Trump — were eager to have it known that they never much liked the man, or weren’t really friends, or barely even knew him.
Donald Trump once hosted a party with a guest list made up of just himself, Jeffrey Epstein, and “28 girls,” according to The New York Times, and ignored an organizer’s warning about Epstein’s conduct. The “calendar girl” event is reported to have taken place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in 1992. George Houraney, who ran American Dream Enterprise, claimed in an interview that he organized the event after a request from Trump. “I arranged to have some contestants fly in,” said Houraney. “At the very first party, I said, ‘Who’s coming tonight? I have 28 girls coming.’ It was him and Epstein.” Houraney added that he warned Trump about his friend’s conduct, recalling: “I said, ‘Look, Donald, I know Jeff really well, I can’t have him going after younger girls.’… He said, ‘Look I’m putting my name on this. I wouldn’t put my name on it and have a scandal.’”
The Times report also claims Epstein has told people since the election that he was the one who introduced the president to his third wife, first lady Melania Trump. The White House didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.
Epstein liked to tell people that he’s a loner, a man who’s never touched alcohol or drugs, and one whose nightlife is far from energetic. And yet if you talk to Donald Trump, a different Epstein emerges. “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
In late April 2016, rumors began to circulate online holding that Republican presidential Donald Trump had either been sued over, or arrested for, raping a teenaged girl. One of the earliest versions of the rumor was published on 2 May 2016 by the Winning Democrats web site, which reported that woman using the name Katie Johnson had named Trump and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in a $100 million lawsuit, accusing them of having solicited sex acts from her at sex parties held at the Manhattan homes of Epstein and Trump back in 1994 (when Johnson was just 13 years old):
The first major scandal to hit the Trump campaign came from a lawsuit stemming from the infamous sex parties held by billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. The woman named in the suit is Katie Johnson, who says Trump took her virginity in 1994 when she was only 13 and being held by Epstein as a slave.
Johnson says in the complaint that Trump and Epstein threatened her and her family with bodily harm if she didn’t comply with all of their disgusting demands. A copy of the California lawsuit (filed on 26 April 2016) shared via the Scribd web site outlined the allegations, which included the accusation that Trump and Epstein had (over 20 years earlier) “sexually and physically” abused the then 13-year-old plaintiff and forced her “to engage in various perverted and depraved sex acts” — including being “forced to manually stimulate Defendant Trump with the use of her hand upon Defendant Trump’s erect penis until he reached sexual orgasm,” and being “forced to engage in an unnatural lesbian sex act with her fellow minor and sex slave, Maria Doe, age 12, for the sexual enjoyment of Defendant Trump” — after luring her to a “series of underage sex parties” by promising her “money and a modeling career”:
A federal lawsuit filed in New York accuses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump of repeatedly raping a 13-year-old girl more than 20 years ago, at several Upper East Side parties hosted by convicted sex offender and notorious billionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein.
The suit, first reported by the Real Deal, accuses Trump and Epstein of luring the anonymous plaintiff and other young women to four parties at Epstein’s so-called Wexner Mansion at 9 East 71st Street. Epstein allegedly lured the plaintiff, identified in the suit only as Jane Doe, with promises of a modeling career and cash.
Another anonymous woman, identified in additional testimony as Tiffany Doe, corroborates Jane’s allegations, testifying that she met Epstein at Port Authority, where he hired her to recruit other young girls for his parties. Trump had known Epstein for seven years in 1994 when he attended the parties at Wexner, according to the suit. He also allegedly knew that the plaintiff was 13 years old.
Jane Doe filed a similar suit in California in April, under the name Katie Johnson, also accusing Trump and Epstein of rape. That suit was dismissed on the grounds of improper paperwork — the address affiliated with her name was found to be abandoned. Today’s suit confirms that the plaintiffs are one and the same.
The online outlet that first reported the second filing in New York explained that the lawsuit might be allowed to proceed even though the statute of limitations for bringing suit has expired, because (according to plaintiff’s lawyer) the plaintiff lacked the “freedom of will to institute suit earlier in time” due to her having been threatened by Trump:
It should be noted that anyone can file a civil complaint in federal court. The statute of limitations in New York for civil rape cases is five years, but [the] complaint argues that the time limit should be waived, noting that the plaintiff was too frightened to report the abuse because Trump had threatened that if she did “her family would be physically harmed if not killed.”
“Both defendants let plaintiff know that each was a very wealthy, powerful man and indicated that they had the power, ability and means to carry out their threats,” the complaint claims.
A copy of the New York-based suit was also uploaded to Scribd, and in the second filing (which asked for no specific amount of monetary damages) the plaintiff was represented by Thomas Francis Meagher, a New Jersey patent lawyer who learned of her allegations via an article published on the GossipExtra web site advertising that she was “shopping for an attorney.” In a statement attached to her filing, the plaintiff (aka “Jane Doe”) asserted:
I traveled by bus to New York City in June 1994 in the hope of starting a modeling career. I went to several modeling agencies but was told that I needed to put together a modeling portfolio before I would be considered. I then went to the Port Authority in New York City to start to make my way back home. There I met a woman who introduced herself to me as Tiffany. She told me about the parties and said that, if I would join her at the parties, I would be introduced to people who could get me into the modeling profession. Tiffany also told me I would be paid for attending.
The parties were held at a New York City residence that was being used by Defendant Jeffrey Epstein. Each of the parties had other minor females and a number of guests of Mr. Epstein, including Defendant Donald Trump at four of the parties I attended. I understood that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein knew I was 13 years old.
Defendant Trump had sexual contact with me at four different parties in the summer of 1994. On the fourth and fnial sexual encounter with Defendant Trump, Defendant Trump tied me to a bed, exposed himself to me, and then proceeded to forcibly rape me. During the course of this savage sexual attack, I loudly pleaded with Defendant Trump to stop but he did not. Defendant Trump responded to my pleas by violently striking me in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted,
Immediately following this rape, Defendant Trump threatened me that, were I ever to reveal any of the details of Defendant Trump’s sexual and physical abuse of me, my family and I wold be physically harmed if not killed.
The filing also included a statement from “Tiffany Doe” (i.e., the woman referenced in plaintiff’s statement above who brought her to the parties) attesting that:
I personally witnessed four sexual encounters that the Plaintiff was forced to have with Mr. Trump during this period, including the fourth of these encounters where Mr. Trump forcibly raped her despite her pleas to stop.
I personally witnessed the one occasion where Mr. Trump forced the Plaintiff and a 12-year-old female named Maria [to] perform oral sex on Mr. Trump and witnessed his physical abuse of both minors when they finished the act.
It was my job to personally witness and supervise encounters between the underage girls that Mr. Epstein hired and his guests.
A video reportedly featuring “Katie Johnson” (her identity hidden through the use of facial pixillation, a long blonde wig, and an electronic voice distorter) appeared online, in which she graphically described giving Donald Trump a hand job and being raped by him:
What Happened to the 20 Women Who Accused Trump of Sexual Misconduct
This post was originally published in November 2017. It has been updated with additional harassment claims and public statements from Trump’s accusers.
As more and more powerful public figures have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse over the past year and a half, there’s one person whose alleged sexual misconduct seems simultaneously ever present, and yet grossly overlooked.
Some have argued that there would be no #MeToo movement if Donald Trump had not been elected, despite being accused of various forms of misconduct, from groping to rape. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October 2017 some of Trump’s accusers said they were happy sexual harassment was finally being discussed more openly, while others were dismayed that their own stories seemed to have little impact.
A defamation suit filed by Summer Zervos, which is still winding its way through the courts, opened up the possibility that Trump’s accusers will get their day in court. Some of the women have continued speaking out, hoping that away from the chaos of the election, people might be more willing to listen to their accounts. Meanwhile, new accusers have come forward. On Monday a staffer on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign filed a lawsuit claiming that he kissed her without her consent while they were on the campaign trail.
For now, Trump seems entirely unfazed by the allegations hanging over him. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has said that it is the White House’s official position that every single one of the women is lying, and Trump has not shied away from condemning other men accused of sexual misconduct (if they’re Democrats).
Here’s a reminder of what behavior the president has been accused of, organized by when the alleged incident occurred. It includes, when available, an update on how the women have continued trying to make their stories heard.
Jessica Leeds (early 1980s)
The allegation: Leeds said Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt when she was seated next to him in first class on a flight in the early 1980s. “He was like an octopus,” she said. “His hands were everywhere.”
Afterward, she fled to the back of the plane. “It was an assault,” she said.
After Leeds went public, Trump mocked her at a campaign rally, suggesting she wasn’t attractive enough to sexually harass. “Yeah, I’m gonna go after — believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” he said.
Since then: “It is hard to reconcile that Harvey Weinstein could be brought down with this, and [President] Trump just continues to be the Teflon Don,” Leeds told the Washington Post a year after she first came forward.
In December 2017, Leeds and several other Trump accusers held a press conference and appeared on Megyn Kelly Today. She recalled that she encountered Trump at a fundraising gala in New York three years after the airplane incident. “And he says, ‘I remember you, you were that [she does air quotes] woman from the airplane.’ He called me the worst name ever.” She confirmed to Kelly that the word was “cunt.”TODAY✔@TODAYshow
WATCH: “He called me the worst name ever.” Jessica Leeds recalls meeting Trump a few years after alleged groping incident on plane
Leeds also said she would be interested in providing a deposition in the Zervos defamation suit. “I would do it — I’m not afraid,” Leeds said.
Ivana Trump (1989)
The allegation: In her 1990 divorce deposition, Ivana Trump accused her soon-to-be ex-husband of raping her in a fit of rage the previous year. Harry Hurt III obtained the papers, and described Ivana’s account in his 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump. According to Hurt, Ivana said her husband raped her after a doctor she recommended gave him an unexpectedly painful “scalp reduction” operation to eliminate a bald spot. Hurt said Ivana described her husband yanking out a handful of her hair, holding her hands back, and tearing her clothing.
“Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than 16 months. Ivana is terrified … It is a violent assault,” Hurt wrote. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.’”
Kristin Anderson (early 1990s)
The allegation: Anderson claimed that while she was out at a New York club with friends in the early 1990s, someone slid his hand under her miniskirt and touched her vagina through her underwear. She turned around a recognized him as Donald Trump.
“It wasn’t a sexual come-on. I don’t know why he did it. It was like just to prove that he could do it and nothing would happen,” Anderson said. “There was zero conversation. We didn’t even really look at each other. It was very random, very nonchalant on his part.”
Since then: Anderson is mentioned in the Zervos lawsuit, but has not discussed her claim publicly since the election.
Jill Harth (1993)
The allegation: Harth claimed that Trump made repeated unwanted sexual advances as she and her romantic partner at the time, George Houraney, pursued a business relationship with the mogul in the early 1990s. She said that on January 24, 1993, at Mar-a-Lago, Trump offered her a tour of the estate, then pulled her into his daughter Ivanka’s empty bedroom.
“He pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress again,” Harth said, “and I had to physically say: ‘What are you doing? Stop it.’ It was a shocking thing to have him do this because he knew I was with George, he knew they were in the next room. And how could he be doing this when I’m there for business?”
In 1997 Harth and Houraney sued Trump for breach of contract, and she filed a separate sexual-harassment suit, accusing him of “attempted rape.” They reached a confidential settlement in the contract suit, and as part of the agreement Harth withdrew her suit.
Since then: Harth repeatedly defended her attorney, Lisa Bloom, after she was criticized for guiding Weinstein through his disastrous response to his sexual-misconduct allegations. Bloom set up a GoFundMe for her client, which has only raised $2,582 of its $10,000 goal.
Harth tweeted about Trump several times, then said in October that she would stop discussing him online. Harth said she might write a book someday, as she felt the “press has distorted facts pitifully.”Jill Harth@jillharthReplying to @LisaBloom
Lisa Boyne (mid-1990s)
The allegation: Lisa Boyne said a mutual friend invited her to dinner with Trump in the mid-1990s. She claims she was picked up in Trump’s limousine, and during the ride he made disparaging comments about women he’d slept with or wanted to sleep with. Boyne said that during the dinner, several models were called over and instructed to walk over the table to Trump.
“As the women walked across the table, Donald Trump would look up under their skirt and comment on whether they had underwear or didn’t have underwear and what the view looked like,” Boyne said.
“It was the most offensive scene I’ve ever been a part of,” Boyne added. She said she claimed she wasn’t feeling well and left the restaurant.
Since then: In December 2017, Boyne joined a press conference with several other Trump accusers via speakerphone. “This isn’t how we should teach our boys to talk … It’s horrendous,” Boyne said, referring to the Access Hollywood tape. “[We should] demand that Donald Trump step down like Al Franken. Because what he’s acknowledged, what he’s made appropriate culturally is a thousand times worse than anything Al Franken has done.”
Boyne – along with fellow Trump accusers Rachel Crooks, Samantha Holvey, Jessica Leeds, Melinda McGillivray, Natasha Stoynoff, Temple Taggart, and Karena Virginia – put out a statement in September 2018 supporting the women accusing then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
“Trump has dismissed our claims, lied about his conduct, and attacked us. Now he’s painting with the same brush to salvage the Kavanaugh nomination,” the statement said. “It’s a standard move from his playbook.”
Miss Teen USA Contestants (1997)
The allegation: Five women who competed in the 1997 Miss Teen USA claimed Trump, who owned the pageant, walked in on them while they were changing.
“It was certainly the most inappropriate time to meet us all for the first time,” said Victoria Hughes, the former Miss New Mexico Teen USA. “The youngest girl was 15, and I was the eldest at 19.”
On The Howard Stern Show, Trump admitted to “inspecting” the contestants backstage. It wasn’t clear if he was referring to the Miss USA pageant, or the contest for teens.
“You know, I’m inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good,” he said. “You know, the dresses. ‘Is everyone okay?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible-looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.”
Since then: In October 2017 Candace Smith, a former Miss Ohio USA, said Trump was in the dressing room when she competed in the 2003 Miss USA Pageant (not the teen pageant).
Can you ask @KellyannePolls why Trump was even in my dressing room at Miss USA? I’m just trying to under the purpose— Candace Smith (@TheCandaceSmith) October 11, 2017
Exactly! He would prey on the ones who lost so he could promise them help with their careers. I know girls he flew to NY to stay at Trump— Candace Smith (@TheCandaceSmith) October 12, 2017
Temple Taggart McDowell (1997)
The allegation: McDowell, who represented Utah as a 21-year-old in the 1997 Miss USA pageant, said Trump immediately kissed her when they were introduced during a rehearsal. “He kissed me directly on the lips,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, gross.’ He was married to Marla Maples at the time. I think there were a few other girls that he kissed on the mouth. I was like ‘Wow, that’s inappropriate.’”
Since then: Taggart and three other Trump accusers — Summer Zervos, Jessica Drake, and Rachel Crooks — held a press conference in D.C. just before they protested in the Women’s March on Washington in 2017. “I want my children to see that I am willing to face my fears head on, with the hope that I might not only bring about a positive change in others, but also instill in them a similar strength,” Taggart said.
Cathy Heller (1997)
The allegation: Heller says she received an unwanted kiss from Trump when they were introduced at a Mother’s Day brunch at Mar-a-Lago. The incident occurred in front of her family. The Guardianreported:
“He took my hand, and grabbed me, and went for the lips,” she claimed.
Alarmed, she said she leaned backwards to avoid him and almost lost her balance. “And he said, ‘Oh, come on.’ He was strong. And he grabbed me and went for my mouth and went for my lips.” She turned her head, she claims, and Trump planted a kiss on the side of her mouth. “He kept me there for a little too long,” Heller said. “And then he just walked away.”
Since then: Heller attended the Women’s March on Washington on the day after Trump’s inauguration, rallying 43 people to reserve an entire train car from New York. “I like to think I’d be at a march in Washington, or at least locally in New York, even if it hadn’t happened to me,” she said.
Today she’s dismayed that despite all the sexual-harassment claims against Trump, “nothing stuck.” She told the Washington Post in October 2017 that she thinks things might have been different for Weinstein because his accusers were famous.
“A lot of them were actresses we’ve all heard of,” Heller said. “When it’s a celebrity, it has more weight than just someone who he met at Mar-a-Lago or a beauty-pageant contestant. They’re not people we’ve heard of. And that, in our society, has much more weight because they’re famous.”
Karena Virginia (1998)
The allegation: Virginia said she encountered Trump while she was waiting for a car service to pick her up from the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens. She overheard him making comments about her to other men. “He said, ‘Hey, look at this one, we haven’t seen her before. Look at those legs.’ As though I was an object, rather than a person,” she said.
“He then walked up to me and reached his right arm and grabbed my right arm, then his hand touched the right inside of my breast. I was in shock. I flinched,” she continued.
Trump then asked her, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who I am?” she said.
Virginia, who co-signed the statement supporting Kavanaugh’s accusers, was profiled by the New Yorker in November 2018. She told the magazine that she received death threats after coming forward, and still felt guilty about how people interpreted her tears during her press conference.
“People told me, ‘Don’t you understand that there are women out there who are raped?’ ” she said. “But that was exactly why I was crying! I wasn’t crying because some man touched my breast. I was crying because I could feel the weight of this sadness and silence eating away at women all over the country. I was crying because this world is so full of dysfunction, because millions of women and men have lived in shame because of things other people did to them. I cried because I was thinking about them.”
Mindy McGillivray (2003)
The allegation: McGillivray said she was assisting photographer Ken Davidoff, who was taking photos during a Ray Charles concert at Mar-a-Lago, when Trump groped her butt. “I think it’s Ken’s camera bag, that was my first instinct. I turn around and there’s Donald. He sort of looked away quickly. I quickly turned back, facing Ray Charles, and I’m stunned.’’
Davidoff said moments later, McGillivray pulled him aside and said, ‘’Donald just grabbed my ass!’’
Since then: In October 2017, McGillivray told the Post that she was afraid of speaking out a year ago, but felt it was her patriotic duty. “What pisses me off is that the guy is president,” McGillivray said. “It’s that simple.”
Following the Roy Moore scandal, McGillivray said she was appalled that Republicans still weren’t acknowledging the allegations against the president. “It’s disturbing,” she toldPeople, “that many of Trump’s diehard supporters are so stubborn that they can’t seem to come to terms with the reality that their president is just as guilty as Roy Moore.”
Natasha Stoynoff (2005)
The allegation: The journalist claimed that Trump pushed her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat while giving her a tour of Mar-a-Lago. Stoynoff was working on a profile of the Trumps, and said that while waiting for Melania to arrive for an interview, Donald told her, “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you?”
She said he also referenced a New York Post cover published during his affair with Marla Maples. “You remember,” he said. “‘Best Sex I Ever Had.’”
Since then: In November 2017, Stoynoff toldPeople she believes the allegations against Trump may have more power in the #MeToo era. “I feel this issue has been ‘on hold’ all year, but not forgotten,” Stoynoff said. “It’s been simmering on the stove with the lid on, like a pressure cooker. But now the heat’s on and it’s going to boil and the lid is going to blast off.”
Jennifer Murphy (2005)
The allegation: Murphy, a contestant in season four of The Apprentice, claimed Trump kissed her on the lips after a job interview. “He walked me to the elevator, and I said good-bye. I was thinking ‘Oh, he’s going to hug me’, but when he pulled my face in and gave me a smooch. I was like ‘Oh–kay.’ I didn’t know how to act. I was just a little taken aback and probably turned red. And I then I get into the elevator and thought ‘Huh, Donald Trump just kissed me on the lips.”’
Juliet Huddy (2005)
The accusation: In December 2017, former Fox News host Juliet Huddy said Trump kissed her on the lips after a business lunch. “He took me for lunch at Trump Tower, just us two,” she said on the radio show Mornin!!! With Bill Schulz. “He said good-bye to me in an elevator while his security guy was there’ rather than kiss me on the cheek he leaned in to kiss me on the lips. I wasn’t offended, I was kind of like, ‘Oh my god.’” She said she was “surprised” but “didn’t feel threatened.”
Huddy said that when Trump appeared on her Fox News show several years later, he joked to producers and audience members about making a pass at her, saying “I tried hitting on her but she blew me off.” Huddy said at the time she wasn’t offended by Trump’s kiss, but her view of the incident has changed. “Now I have matured I think I would say, ‘Woah, no,’ but at the time I was younger and I was a little shocked,” she said. “I thought maybe he didn’t mean to do it, but I was kind of making excuses.”
Rachel Crooks (2005)
The allegation: Crooks encountered Trump outside an elevator in Trump Tower in 2005. At the time she was a 22-year-old receptionist at Bayrock Group, a real-estate investment and development company. She said she introduced herself and shook Trump’s hand, but he wouldn’t let go. He started kissing her cheeks and then “kissed me directly on the mouth.”
“It was so inappropriate,” Crooks told the New York Times. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.”
Since then: In November 2017, Crooks told the Times that she’s heartened to see sexual-harassment allegations being taken more seriously post-Weinstein, but sees a contrast in the response to Trump’s accusers. “You do wonder,” Crooks said, “how can the country forget about us?”
Crooks was among the women who renewed their allegations against Trump in a December 2017 press conference.
On Megyn Kelly Today, Crooks said some have questioned why the incident wasn’t captured by security cameras, and she wonders the same thing.
“Yes, where is that? Let’s get that out because I would love for that to be made public,” she said. “He owns the building, I doubt that’s going to happen, but I’d be more than happy to let that surface.”
Crooks ran for a seat in Ohio’s legislature in the 2018 midterms, but lost to the Republican incumbent.
Samantha Holvey (2006)
The allegation: Holvey, the 2006 Miss North Carolina, said Trump personally inspected each contestant at an event in New York about a month before the pageant. “He would step in front of each girl and look you over from head to toe like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects, that we were not people,” Holvey said. “You know when a gross guy at the bar is checking you out? It’s that feeling.”
Holvey, who was 20 at the time, also recalled Trump and his wife, Melania, entering a dressing room where other contestants were getting ready during the pageant. Most were wearing robes. “I thought it was entirely inappropriate,” Holvey said. “I told my mom about it. I was disgusted by the entire thing. I had no desire to win when I understood what it was all about.”
Since then: In December 2017,Holvey repeated her story at a press conference with several other women, and was interviewed by Megyn Kelly and Erin Burnett.
“It was heartbreaking last year,” Holvey told Kelly. “We’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and how he views women, and for them to say ‘Eh, we don’t care,’ it hurt.”
Ninni Laaksonen (2006)
The allegation: Laaksonen, a former Miss Finland, said Trump grabbed her butt while they were being photographed before an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. “Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt. He really grabbed my butt,” she said. “I don’t think anybody saw it but I flinched and thought: ‘What is happening?’”
Jessica Drake (2006)
The allegation: Drake, an adult film performer and director, said she and two friends went to Trump’s hotel room after meeting him at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, California. “He grabbed each of us tightly, in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission,” she said.
She said they left about a half-hour later; then Trump called her and invited her to go to dinner or a party with him. When she declined, he asked, “What do you want? How much?” She said she received a second call offering her $10,000 and the use of Trump’s private jet if she agreed to sleep with him.
Since then: Drake was among the four accusers who held a press conference on the day of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017.
“Like many, I am horrified by the potential upcoming administration and fear the consequences it will have,” she said in January. “I want to use my platform to speak for others who cannot and join voices with those who can and who march with me here today.”
Summer Zervos (2007)
The allegation: Zervos, a contestant on the fifth season of The Apprentice, said she approached Trump about a potential job at his company. She claimed that during their first meeting at Trump Tower, he kissed her twice on the mouth and asked for her phone number.
Weeks later, he invited her to meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. She was escorted to Trump’s room, and said he asked her to sit next to him. “He then grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast,” she recalled. Zervos said she pushed Trump away and told him to stop.
“He then grabbed my hand and pulled me into the bedroom,” she said. “He grabbed me in an embrace, and I tried to push him away.”
Zervos said when she protested, Trump “repeated my words back to me as he began thrusting his genitals.”
She still sought employment at the Trump Organization and believed she wasn’t given a job because she rejected his advances.
Since then: Three days before Trump was inaugurated, Zervos filed a defamation suit against him. It alleges that in response to the accusations she made during the election, Trump “debased and denigrated Ms. Zervos with false statements about her,” referring to his claims that all of his accusers were liars looking for “ten minutes of fame.”
“In doing so, he used his national and international bully pulpit to make false factual statements to denigrate and verbally attack Ms. Zervos and the other women who publicly reported his sexual assaults in October 2016,” the lawsuit said.
The accusation: In June 2016, Searles, Miss Washington 2013, tagged her former competitors in a Facebook post that read: “Do y’all remember that one time we had to do our onstage introductions, but this one guy treated us like cattle and made us do it again because we didn’t look him in the eyes? Do you also remember when he then proceeded to have us lined up so he could get a closer look at his property?”
Many of the women said they did, and in one reply Searles added, “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.”
Alva Johnson (2016)
The accusation: In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Floria on Monday,Alva Johnson claimed that she experienced a pattern of “racial and gender discrimination” while working on Trump’s 2016 campaign, and received an unwanted kiss from the candidate. Per the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow:
The incident in which Johnson said that Trump kissed her occurred during an event that she had helped organize in Tampa in August, 2016, according to the complaint. In an R.V. before Trump’s speech at the event, the complaint alleges, Trump took Johnson by the hand and leaned in to kiss her; she attempted to turn away, but, she claims, his mouth made contact with the corner of hers.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the claim “absurd on its face” and noted that two prominent Trump supporters that Johnson identified as witnesses denied seeing the kiss.
Johnson said she has been thinking about coming forward since the Access Hollywood video became public in October 2016.
“I’ve tried to let it go,” she told the Washington Post. “You want to move on with your life. I don’t sleep. I wake up at 4 in the morning looking at the news. I feel guilty. The only thing I did was show up for work one day.”
There are a few major takeaways from this documentary that every pet parent should know. Here are 10 harsh truths about the pet food industry, exposed by Pet Fooled :
1. The vast majority of the pet industry is monopolized by 5 major companies.
Despite the fact that there are thousands of brands for different foods, toys, and products, only 5 major companies account for most of the $60+ billion industry – and that’s just in America. The overwhelming monopoly means that these companies dictate the bulk of commercial pet products, including what’s in them, how to produce them, and how to increase profits.
2. A massive and deadly recall in 2007 made consumers lose trust in the industry.
You may remember being part of the widespread panic of pet parents after contaminated wheat gluten killed thousands of cats and dogs. The culprit was melamine, a toxic chemical used in plastic and foam products that causes renal failure when consumed. Although multiple pet products and brands were affected, it was discovered that the tainted ingredient came from a single company located in China. This made consumers seriously question the health and safety of their pet’s food.
3. Our dogs’ DNA is 99.9% identical to wolves, so they require the same nutrition.
Biologically, dogs are nearly identical to wolves, with the small percentage of differing DNA accounting for all the different types of breeds that we know today. Dr. Karen Becker compares dogs’ variety of appearances to humans having different eye, skin, and hair colors, heights, builds, etc. Just because we look different, we’re all humans with the same basic nutritional needs – and the same goes for dogs, whose diets should resemble their wild cousins.
4. Every species requires a certain diet to fulfill their biological needs – and most pet foods miss the mark.
In the documentary, Dr. Becker talks about species-appropriate diets, meaning that each animal has a biological need for certain nutrients. While many wild animals will simply avoid the foods that are unnecessary for their bodies (she uses the example that if you give a snake a salad, it won’t eat it and will just die), our domesticated friends have been forced to consume additives and fillers. Cats and dogs are designed to be carnivores, and while they’re resilient, the nutritional deficiencies of their diets manifest themselves in a myriad of health problems.
5. When it comes to our pets’ declining health, grains are a huge culprit.
Dr. Barbara Royal points out that the overuse of processed grains like corn and wheat are a cheap way for companies to add “bulk” to their foods, but provide little nutrition for our four-legged friends. The consumption of these low-quality grains, she believes, is the cause for the widespread obesity, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and allergies that afflict our pets.
6. Kibble was an invention of the pet food industry during World War II, and it has led to some serious consequences.
During the war, there were rations on meat and tin. Up until then, packaged pet food was in cans, meaning it had a higher moisture content similar to their species-specific diets (in other words, fresh meat that they killed). But when meat became limited and tin reserved for ammunition, the pet food industry knew they had to formulate a convenient type of pet food that they could package in a bag – dry kibble. Now that this dry food is the norm, pets live in a state of chronic mild dehydration, and rates of kidney disease, organ failure, and diabetes have skyrocketed among pets.
7. The dietary advice from your vet may be influenced by the major pet food companies.
In the film, Dr. Karen Becker points out that the major pet food brands have a large part in funding vet students, therefore influencing their education. She and Dr. Royal point out that there’s a huge lack of education surrounding raw diets, and they’re taught to promote the big-name brands in the industry. What’s more, the doctors say that many modern vets have learned to discourage raw diets because of potential pathogens and bacteria. But in reality, our pets’ systems are designed to digest this material, in part with a high stomach acidity pH of 1. After all, Dr. Becker points out, dogs eat poop and lick their butts on a regular basis – behaviors that could kill a human. While any food brand is susceptible to being recalled (humans make mistakes, after all) raw food companies tend to make smaller batches, and make them with more care.
8. The people that set the standards for pet food have more to gain from profits than your pet’s health.
AAFCO – or the Association of American Feed Control Officials – is the organization that sets all the standards for pet food, including nutrient ratios, ingredient allowances, and the terminology that’s allowed on packaging. While this group works with the FDA, it is not government regulated. AAFCO also doesn’t approve products for safety, that’s where the FDA comes in.
AAFCO holds a yearly conference to update pet food standards, and according to Pet Fooled, representatives from major pet food companies attend the meetings so they, too, can weigh in. The danger is that these companies can define terminology and slip through loopholes in order to benefit their profits.
9. The terminology on pet food packaging is NOT what you think.
As mentioned above, AAFCO is responsible for defining terminology on packaging. For instance, your dog’s beef “dinner,” “nuggets,” or “formula” only have to contain 25% meat. If your cat’s food is labeled as “chicken with salmon,” the word “with” may only represent 3% meat. And the label “flavor” is the worst – “flavored” foods don’t have to contain any real meat at all. What’s more, foods with added colors are made to appeal to humans – your pets can’t even see the different hues when the food is dyed.
You also may have looked for protein percentages on your pet’s food. While this is a good place to start, that protein may not be meat. It could have been derived from wheat flour or gluten that’s been fortified with protein.
10. By-products are the result of processed animal carcasses from unknown sources.
Meat by-products and meals are commonly found in pet foods. They’re the result of what’s leftover when animal carcasses – feathers, hooves, teeth, and all – are boiled down and processed into a powder. But the most disturbing part is where the corpses could have come from: leftovers from slaughtered farm animals, road kill, diseased animals, and euthanized animals are all examples of what’s being rendered.
According to the National Renderer’s Association, putting the recycled carcasses in pet food is necessary because… well.. where else would they dispose of them?
So, now what?
In the documentary, Doctors Becker and Royal are strong advocates for feeding pets raw diets, food that is very similar to what they’d consume in the wild. If you’re used to feeding your dogs and cats kibble, as most pet parents are, the thought of switching to a raw diet can seem like a huge, expensive, undertaking. But don’t worry, there’s help out there!
If you want to make the switch but you aren’t sure you can commit, even just supplementing your pet’s diet with fresh foods can give them a big boost in heath. (Also, when transitioning your pet to a different diet, you should begin by introducing the new food a little at a time.)
A good place to start is Dr. Karen Becker’s video, The Best and Worst Foods to Feed Your Pet:
For more information about raw food diets for pets, check out these YouTube videos by Dr. Becker. Another great resource is Truthaboutpetfood.com, founded by a pet parent and advocate who made it her mission to uncover the secrets of this industry.
You know your pet better than anyone, and there’s no “one size fits all diet.” It’s up to you, as their guardian, to do your research, be diligent, and decide what works best for your companion and lifestyle.
You can watch the entire Pet Fooled film on Netflix to get all the nitty gritty details that documentary uncovers. You can also rent it on YouTube for $3.99.
Do you want a healthier & happier dog? Join our email list & we’ll donate 1 meal to a shelter dog in need!
Food Recalls and Deception: A Special Interview with Kohl Harrington By Dr. Karen Becker DB: Dr. Karen Becker KH: Kohl Harrington DB: Hi, I’m Dr. Karen Becker. Today I am going to interview Kohl Harrington. Kohl is a documentarian, a film producer, and a film maker. He has put together an amazing project. Kohl you have a lot to share with us. Welcome, first of all.
KH: Thank you. DB: Tell me a little bit about the project first. Of course, I have a million questions. What is the project and what is the inspiration of the project? KH: The project is Pet Fooled. It’s a feature documentary. The inspiration basically came from my coproducer, Michael Fossat, who had a dog, who had veterinarian problems, itchy skin. The person in charge or the person hired to basically groom the dog said, “This dog keeps having issues because of the food. Google ‘grain-free pet food’.” That led to him Google-ing and being confused, which led to basically a feature film about the topic because it was so confusing. DB: Kohl, when you were brainstorming about this idea, have you ever investigated anything animal before? I know that you have been in this industry forever. But were you nervous about approaching, not much as pets, but pet foods? Pet food as a topic. Were you nervous? KH: No. I was basically stepping into it clueless. I never heard of anything related to the pet food industry being a topic alone. I grew up with dogs. I grew up in Florida, so I grew up with dogs. They were outside dogs. They would roam and hunt things themselves. We had cats growing up too, but the cats, they would eat the cat food and then go catch their own things. I’ve been exposed to that as a kid. But the only thing I knew was dogs eat dog food; cats eat cat food. You buy it in can, and that’s basically it. I stepped into it blind, not knowing anything. DB: Very blind. You’re learning curve was exponential. KH: It was about two years into the entire process. Basically the first year was just trying to figure out what’s the issue. Because whenever you research online, the thing that was interesting to us was that you had two basic ideas on the Internet about the way the world works: corn is great; corn is bad. Raw is great; raw is bad. You had basically two worlds that existed. We were just trying to look at both sides to kind of weave through each side to see which one makes more sense. DB: Would you say you spent about a year in the research or investigation phase? How long did it take you to figure out a path? KH: Basically you’re just online swimming through anything and everything to learn as much as you can. You’re calling people and trying to dig a little bit more. It took about a year just researching the project and meeting with people before we had about like, I would say, 15 people who ironically are all in the Chicago area. Michael and I both looked at each other and said, “We have a lot of people in Chicago. Let’s just pack up and go.” We packed up and went to Chicago for a week and spoke with a lot of people. The majority of the film comes from those interviews that happened in that week. DB: When you were kind of wading through this amazing amount of information, I’m sure that you realized that not only is it a very heated topic, a very passionate topic, but certainly in the last 40 years, there have been all sorts of reasons that people have become very concerned and involved with this topic with the recalls, and of course, the massive amount of animal deaths because of pet foods. Were you aware of the recall issue? I know that the allergies, food allergies, or skin irritation in a personal pet kind of introduced you this topic. Were you aware of the recall issue before you investigated or had no idea? KH: Had no idea basically. I don’t think I had ever thought about pet food before. When Michael asked me, “Hey, I think this can be an interesting topic. It’s confusing.” I was like, “Really?” It just sounds like, “OK. There’s a problem in everything.” The interesting thing after it’s made is I feel like a lot more people are aware today about things. They’ve heard about things. The advent of the Internet. Everybody’s on the Internet all day, every day. These things like the recall have lived on, because we still have recalls. People are a lot more aware today than I was. I wasn’t aware of anything. It took me a year to kind of understand what byproduct was. It was confusing and it’s set up to be confusing. DB: It is. I know when I met you, you were still in the investigation phase. I love that because both of you were very objective. You didn’t have an underlying goal other than to learn more and to figure out what the issues surrounding this industry were, which I think is a noble goal and also a very confusing, ultimately a confusing goal. You did a great job of kind of sifting through all the issues. At what point in your research or in the film making process did you have AHA moments? At what point were you like, “Oh, my gosh. This is starting to make sense in my own brain”? KH: The reason I kind of thought it was, “Really? Pet food? You want to look into pet food?” was because there are really well-made documentaries out there and there are really not so well-made documentaries. It sounded at first a thought of somebody trying to make something out of nothing. That was my first reaction to the topic. Whenever we started going through the research and we came across corn is great, corn is bad. The industry was saying one thing and obviously had people who were criticizing that. My naive thinking at the time was, “If this is really not true, if corn is really amazing for the dog, these companies will meet with me and they’ll just fully explain.” That didn’t happen. DB: Talk about that, Kohl. When you tried to make contact or made contact with some of the industry leaders, what was you experience? KH: I basically kept a spreadsheet of everything. Anytime I would contact a pet food manufacturer or a person who worked at a pet food manufacturer, I would detail it in the spreadsheet. That went from calling the number, leaving a message, calling the media department, leaving a message, writing emails to basically personal emails to Facebook accounts that I knew the person worked for a certain company, and never received a response. The only response I received eventually was after I had kind of a debacle at a conference. Hill’s Science Diet called and they left a voice message, which is in the film. “We don’t want to participate in this film.” Beyond that voicemail, I haven’t received any response ever from anybody expressing any interest in being in the film. That says a lot. The fact that you’re being criticized for something and you’re not really standing by it, because you don’t have to. DB: In your research phase, initially when you were making contact with all of these pet food companies asking for their input, their perspective, their side of the story and you had no response, you did a great job of kind of covering all your bases and getting all of the opinions coming in. The people that did respond to you had passionate strong opinions and ultimately those were the people you interviewed. How did you go about finding people that ultimately put together pieces of this film in a logical order for you? KH: It was a mix of [inaudible 08:29]. The videos that you had you were reading pet food packages. Instantly, when I saw that, I was like, “I need that scene. I want to recreate that scene. I need that for this film.” Because it was so brash and just very well-worded and very clear and concise for the viewer to understand. The other person that is a major part of the film is Dr. Barbara Royal. We found her in an audio file on a law website. Basically, there was a guy by the name of Vince Field, who was a law student at the time and very passionate about pet law. He came to find out there was no money in pet law, so he practiced another form of law. But he’s still passionate about the subject and that area. When the 2007 recall had happened, he interviewed Dr. Royal. All he had was an audio file of her. I had no idea who she was. I just knew that I like the way she spoke about this topic. She was very upfront and honest. I needed that honesty about the topic. Because there are two types of people that you meet: people afraid to say anything and people who are brave to say something. These are people who are very few and far between. The way we approached everything basically is we would interview people. The interviews actually went a lot longer than anyone expected. I think our first interview was two or three hours. Somewhere up there. I would basically take these interviews, transcribe them, and every little detail in the interviews would lead to somebody else. It was just a constant building of, “This person says one, two, and three. I need to go fact-check that to see if that really exists, if that’s true.” [—– 10:00 —–] A lot of information on the real side of the industry started to make more sense the deeper that I got into it. The deeper I got into the side of corn, for example… If there was a certain pet food industry leader saying, “Corn is great because of this study,” I would then go by the study. I would read through the study. It was very clear that they were picking information and using it to their advantage. The study didn’t outright prove that anything was better than another thing, but they were basically using a line to say, “Dogs can process corn,” to then market “Corn is the best thing ever.” It was sort of those types of things that took a long time to do. It took about two years to fully like, “Oh, I finally understand everything.” I don’t know if the average consumer is going to take two years to fully tackle and understand this, but I feel like for anyone to really fully understand it for themselves, it’s going to take around that amount of time as well. There’s a lot of information. DB: It’s interesting because just wading through the ingredients that are most commonly put into commercially available pet food is one thing. But trying to wrap your brain around the raw food industry, or what raw food is or fresh food in general, that’s probably something that you had never heard of prior to you taking on this endeavor. You probably had never heard of feeding fresh food or raw food diets to dogs or cats. KH: In our initial interview, it’s funny. Because throughout the years, I’ve just been going through the footage and going through the footage and going through the footage. In our first interview, I remember laughing at myself in the beginning because it’s like, “What do you mean by raw food?” You literally had to explain in great detail what raw food was because we had never heard of that ever. We just thought, “OK, no corn. Great.” We’ve been conditioned culturally through advertising to believe a certain way. Companies are spending tens of millions of dollars if not more to advertise their products. After a while, it’s just a normal part of your thinking. It becomes a normal part of your thinking like, “That’s normal. I need a car. I’m going to go buy one. I’ve seen this commercial.” DB: Part of your documentary includes some very touching interviews with people who have been victims of recalls. In fact their pets have died. How did you contact those people, Kohl? Or once you realized that recalls existed, how did you track down the people that you wanted to interview that had had personal experiences with the recall? KH: There were two recalls that we covered for the film. One was the 2007 recall, which was the largest consumer product recall ever at the time. Of any product, not just pet food. The second was a chicken jerky issue. While we were filming, an issue had come to light where I’d read an article about pet parents banding together on a Facebook page because they were having issues with sickness or death relating to treats. I basically got in contact with a person who kind of facilitated the whole Facebook page. She created a database of everybody that had reported to her that they had an issue – who the person was, where they lived on a map, was there sickness, if the dog lived or did the sickness result in death. She had very detailed information with the chicken jerky. Through her, I was introduced to a lot of different people. If I were flying to Chicago to meet with somebody, I would go around and meet with all of the different people who would meet with me to say, “Tell me your story.” Randomly in Birmingham, we were filming at a conference. I took my camera guy to a restaurant he wanted to go to. Casual conversation. People were like, “Why are you here?” “We’re filming a little documentary.” “What about?” “Pet food.” “Oh, my God. My roommate just had the worst issue with this chicken jerky treat.” Even in a bar in Birmingham, people were having issues. We actually got to speak with her roommate who makes it into the film, [inaudible 14:43]. DB: I’m sure that those interviews – I have seen them – are very impactful. You had interviews that were insightful, interviews that were very emotional. What interviews where the most difficult or challenging during this process? KH: I would just go back to that question, the previous question just to kind of finish my thought. The interesting thing about the chicken jerky situation was that I was meeting with people and was basically in real time. In Birmingham, I met with a lady who this just happened to her three days prior. She was still confused. She had never questioned pet food at all or treats. She would just go and abide what the package said to her. It’s all-natural. It’s home-style dog. Whatever that means. What was interesting to me is what was happening was that you had all of these people all across the country where the same exact thing was happening to them. Sometimes the dog only got sick. Sometimes the dog died. There are other pet owners out there that fed that treat but never had an issue. But the interesting thing was that every person involved in the chicken jerky issue did not want to be involved in the lawsuit. The only thing that they wanted was for the product to be pulled off the shelf, the problem to be fixed, and to move on. They had something bad happen to them. They don’t want to be involved in the lawsuit because they’re not going to get anything. They know that. All they want is the product to be recalled, so it’s not killing more animals. Each one had problems with calling the manufacturer and being ignored. That’s what that scene points out, sort of how the company treats the consumer that they care for. That was a very shocking thing to me to basically call the company myself and have them respond, “Our treats have been tested. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t found anything.” I was lucky enough as well to have spoken with the FDA about the issue where they acknowledged, “There is an issue, but we can’t prove that.” It was this Catch-22 of, “There is a problem, but we can’t find the smoky gun.” What does that say? You just allowed the product to continue to be sold and continue to kill until you can find the smoking gun? You know that it’s killing. You’ve admitted that it’s killing. That’s the way the world works. The most uncomfortable interview that I had was I would say, we were randomly contacted by the Pet Food Institute, which is the lobbying organization. They contacted Michael and basically said, “We’re affiliated with the industry. We want to help you out.” My co-producer was like, “Who is calling?” They didn’t say who they were for quite a while. It was very odd. They invited us to speak with them. We’re like, “OK.” We took a trip to Washington, D.C. where we spoke to both the FDA and the Pet Food Institute. It was very clear with… Because you just want to sit back and you want to interview. You want to make that connection and speak from the heart. But with certain questions with the Pet Food Institute… I’ve been covering this chicken jerky issue, would you please explain what’s going on. It’s their job to represent the manufacturer. They’re not representing the consumer. The Pet Food Institute is representing the interest of the manufacturer. They said on camera and it made me uncomfortable, “There isn’t a problem with chicken jerky. This has been tested for years and the FDA has found nothing.” Our response was, “We record your answers.” I’ve spoken with people. I’m not trying to catch you on camera saying anything to make you look bad. I’ve covered this issue and people are having issues that result in death. Everyone is aware of it. I don’t understand why you’re basically saying it doesn’t exist. It was very uncomfortable. “The FDA looked into this. I trust the FDA.” Whenever you’re speaking with someone, you’re just trying to get their point of view that they care. It’s hard to draw that conclusion that they care when something is happening. I met with people. These people are not making this up. There is no conspiracy. You say that you represent the interest of consumers as well, but I don’t see any evidence that they’ve ever called anybody that I’ve spoken with and made the interest or the point that they care and they’re trying to fix the problem. It’s just brushed off as “It doesn’t exist.” Now, that’s uncomfortable. DB: Very uncomfortable. I’m actually really surprised that PFI even talked to you. I think it’s interesting. But I’m not surprised by their kind of evasive responses at all. I’m not surprised at all. KH: It’s different to have the dichotomy between speaking to you and Dr. Royal and a lot of other people. Even the FDA was open and honest. They were like, “You can interview us for 30 minutes. Be quick.” It turned into a couple of hours, because the topic is so in-depth and interesting. At the end of the day, what I gathered from the FDA interview was “Sorry, there are laws. We follow the law.” [—– 20:00 —–] If they were speaking in code with their eyes, that is what I took from the interview. “We know there’s a problem, but we can’t prove it.” It’s frustrating. They were using terminology to me that said that they cared. They wanted to help more. But what can they do if it’s not in the law that they abide by? DB: I know that you have flown around the United States. I know that you have gathered countless hours of footage. How did you pick and choose? How long is the film? KH: The final film is 71 minutes. We’ve shot hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage of interviews. We didn’t know anything. We were shooting and learning at the same time. Interviewing someone for a couple of hours was very valuable to us, because we were able to have transcripts after interviewing someone with a lot of information. Especially from interviewing yourself, where we could then use what you said and find the facts behind everything that you said, which would then help us in the end. The difficult thing about making a film is that you’re translating this basically what could be a conversation into a visual aspect. For me, it’s like translating English into a different language. It’s where you can have a conversation in person with someone, but watching a film is an experience in and of itself. I had to weigh a lot between this making the most sense for the consumer watching and not getting bored. It’s like stitching a quilt really. What topic do we talk about first in order to get into this topic in order to get into this topic? Because if the order became mixed up, the viewer would lose all interest in the topic and be confused. DB: I’m impressed that you were able to condense the volume of information down under 80 minutes. I’m totally impressed. What do you think the biggest takeaway for you personally was? Because your learning curve has just been like vertical on this entire topic. What do you think you’ve learned the very most from finishing this entire project? KH: The reason why I liked the film is that it’s Pet Fooled. It’s about pet food but at the same time it’s not about pet food. There are many different undertones of this film that represent other industries. The thing that kept me going throughout the years was the fact that I believe, as an American citizen, you have a right to question companies. You have a right to question your government. It’s very clear that the industry does have influence towards people questioning this product, questioning this industry, really, and the products that they sell. That’s what kept me going throughout the years, the fact that I believe that you have a right to question what you’re being sold. You have a right to transparency and know what is in what you’re being sold. That was what was the biggest shock to me was that it really took a lot of time to just understand the basics of what’s in these products. What should you have? What shouldn’t you have? What should you avoid? That was the biggest shock was that how misleading – I don’t know the corrective terminology to allude to how shocking the way this industry works. DB: Deceptive. Deceptive is the word that I use. KH: Deceptive. Yeah. DB: Yeah. It is. This is a five-year project, Kohl? Is that right? About five years? KH: We thought it would be two years. Then it turned into five. That’s the way it always goes if you make a film, a documentary. DB: Privately funded? I know nothing about the film industry. How do the logistics of funding and the distribution work? KH: It was extremely low-budget. Basically, we had the funding for what we filmed. Filmed everything and hired the camera guy and hired a couple of editors to help us out along the way. Just friends and family. That was what allowed us to get through. Once we moved into the distribution phase, we said “Here’s our rough cut product. We can’t afford to finish it.” And so whoever wanted to distribute it and to like give us finishing funds to finish the movie. It’s a shoestring budget. DB: Some of the best documentaries I have ever seen have been made exactly this way. I’m so excited to see the finished version if people – I know everyone watching this is going to want to see this, Kohl. Where are they going to go to see it? How are they going to get a hold of it? KH: Basically, Gravitas is a company here in Los Angeles. They’re our distributor. They deal with video on demand (VoD). It’s basically going to be on all digital platforms. If you have a certain cable provider, let’s say, Time Warner is big here in Los Angeles, you can tie on to your VoD, through your Time Warner and find Pet Fooled. You can find it on iTunes, Hulu, Vimeo on demand. Basically, any digital platform, Xbox, you can find Pet Fooled. We wanted to make it as widely available worldwide on any digital platform that we could, because that’s where consumers are going to be able to watch this film. DB: Yeah. Absolutely. What’s your projected release date? KH: The release date is October 4. DB: So exciting. Very exciting. I was honored and flattered to be a part of this documentary. I’m excited about what it’s going to accomplish in the sense that – you’re absolutely right. In five years, there has been evolution in the industry. But the majority of people still have no idea that there are issues within the pet food industry that they at least need to be aware of to make the very best choices for the animals that they’re caring for, certainly. I appreciate your conviction in hanging in there to finish this. It’s such an important topic. You’re really one of the few people I know that have had just the ability to want to tackle it and get the job done. I appreciate everything that you and your team have done. I can’t wait to see the finished product. Thanks, Kohl. KH: Thank you, too. Thank you. [END]
It wasn’t supposed to end like this: After twelve years at Google, I was unceremoniously escorted off the premises.
My last day came in May 2019, six months after the Google Walkout, during which 20,000 Googlers left their desks in a mass protest unprecedented in the tech industry. I helped to organize it after corporate documents obtained by the New York Timesshowed that Google paid executive Andy Rubin nearly $90 million in severance after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Little did we know it would be like waving a lit match in front of a powder keg: when people poured out of Google offices in 50 cities around the world a week after the severance news broke, it was clear this wasn’t just about Andy Rubin anymore. Something seismic was rumbling beneath the surface of the world’s storied “best place to work.” During my last six months at Google, I would become intimately familiar with just how closed off the company’s famously “open” corporate culture had become—and how far the management would go to prevent its staff from holding the company accountable.
I’d been warned about becoming a visible organizer within one of the world’s biggest corporations. Mass protests threaten the status quo, and “the master’s tools will never be used to dismantle the master’s house,” as one of the more seasoned organizers had told me, quoting Audre Lorde. Even as the Walkout was planned in a flurry of Gchats and Google Docs, organizers were bracing themselves for the fallout, too.
Stapleton, left, at one of the Walkout events.
I wasn’t convinced. The Walkout glittered with the kind of optimism and promise that had drawn me to the company and kept me there. Sure, I was outraged by the Rubin severance, but I got involved in the Walkout because I cared about Google and what I believed it stood for. This was, after all, the company whose corporate code of conduct famously states “don’t be evil,” and asks employees to speak up if they think something isn’t right.
Initially, executives loudly embraced the Walkout: Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, sent a note to the whole company expressing his support in Googlers’ participating. The company’s CFO, Ruth Porat, said at a conference the following week that she’d walked out herself. The action was, she said, “Googlers doing what Googlers do best.” But the corporate kumbaya was short-lived. Activism within Google and the broader tech industry didn’t start with the Walkout, but it helped the movement take off: in the wake of the protest, workers were organizing for stronger rights and protections for Google’s contractor class; they joined with Amazon employees to demand more action on climate change; they were asking for more accountability and transparency from leadership to prevent another Andy Rubin-esque “hero’s farewell.”
Management’s tone cooled. New policies were rolled out that flew in the face of Google’s open culture. Within a few months of the Walkout, there were new “community guidelines” meant to limit people discussing politics on internal groups, and accessing “need to know” documents—like those that, in 2018, revealed Google was bidding on a military contract and developing a censored search engine for China—was made a fireable offense. (The Chinese search engine project, codenamed Project Dragonfly, has since been terminated.) And it was starting to look like management’s outward support for the Walkout hadn’t been all that genuine after all: press reported that in November, days after the Walkout, they had quietly petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to limit legal protections for activist workers.
In the meantime, Google found other ways to crack down. “What the hell is going on over there?” an old coworker texted as headlines like “Google Walkout Organizer Accuses Company of Retaliation” rippled through the Internet. “I guess I struck the Empire, and the Empire is striking back…hard,” I replied. Eight weeks after the Walkout, I was demoted by my manager, setting into motion a bewildering, isolating, eye-opening couple of months. It was so swift and brazen I was sure I had to be missing something. But every week got weirder and worse, until the message from the top was finally clear—my time was up.
My corporate self-image had yet to catch up with the past six months in which I’d become, I supposed, a labor organizer. I’m a good Googler, a team player, I thought. Someone the old guard knows and trusts. Two years earlier, the day before I left for my first maternity leave, I received a glowing performance review from the head of my department. “When you come back, Claire, you can really do anything here,” she said, in that kind of arm-around-the-shoulder way important people use to make younger people feel good, but also indebted. “You’re coming into your power as a leader.” I guess that turned out to be true—though surely not in the way she intended.
Google was my first real job, and over the course of my twelve years there, I occasionally wondered if I’d ever leave. I was about to turn 22 when I reported for orientation at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in the summer of 2007—a hot blur of grass and sun, as it figures in my memory, nostalgic as a Polaroid—one of 30 new recruits to the Communications department. As the years ticked by the others left one by one, like a row of ducklings: off to Harvard Business School or the Obama campaign or down the road to Facebook, Twitter, Square, Instagram. By 2012, there were just four of the original cohort still at the company. By 2014, just two.
Mostly, I relished thinking of myself as a “Google lifer” and the schtick that went along with it. I joyfully skimmed its surface, availing myself of the workplace perks, the stuff the press breathlessly covered in Google’s early days: the scooters, the nap rooms, the gym subsidies, the summer CSA. I offered new coworkers my curated guide to Google like it was a city you were visiting for a weekend: where to eat, get coffee, take in the view, get kombucha on tap.
I didn’t just buy into the lore of Google—I helped write it. My first job was in Internal Communications, and there, ghost-writing executive emails extolling Google’s culture and values and editing the Internal News blog, I felt called to a higher purpose: Google teemed with specialness and it was my solemn duty to reflect that specialness back to those responsible for it—Googlers.
I didn’t just buy into the lore of Google—I helped write it.
For my first five years, I also produced TGIF, the weekly all-hands meeting hosted by Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In my memory, those years are like a flipbook of what I saw from the side of the stage: mop-haired executives in athletic shorts and rubber shoes, skittish product managers who whipped too quickly through their slide decks and the endless parade of propeller hats they made new hires (“Nooglers,” naturally) wear to their first TGIF. Google was getting bigger, more complicated, which was manifest in the rousing internal debates that played out at TGIF about Google’s mission, its values, the big decisions. I remember the shock over Google spending $1.6 billion on a video site that mostly hosted cat videos and adolescent pranks; the moral stand the company took around pulling out of China; the primal fury when the beloved bookmarking tool Google Reader was killed. Every Friday I boarded the 5:40 shuttle bus back to San Francisco red-cheeked and a little buzzed off of free beer—sated.
At my last TGIF in 2012, a group of engineers presented me with a plaque in which they’d etched “The Bard of Google” in the campus woodshop to commemorate the whimsical weekly TGIF reminder emails I sent around the company. “Can we give Claire Stapleton a round of applause for her incredible email-writing?” says Larry in a video clip from that day I still have saved in my Google Drive. He invites me onstage, and the camera pans to me in the wings, a bashful young thing, covering my face, shocked by the impromptu spotlight. “I guess she’s a little bit shy. She prefers to express herself through computer means,” he says through his signature goofy grin. Half a decade later, I’d still occasionally get stopped in the lunch line by a hirsute stranger. “Wait, you’re Claire Stapleton? Like, the real Claire Stapleton?”
How far the bard had fallen.
A few days before the Walkout, genuinely curious about the chord that’d been struck (literally overnight, hundreds of people had joined the Google group I’d set up to coordinate planning), I sent out an email with a dumb-simple prompt: Why are you walking out? 350 responses came back. The Walkout’s spark might have been Andy Rubin, and indeed there were plenty of other tales of harassment and coercion at Google. But it was broader, deeper than that; this was a monument to disillusionment, capturing all sorts of anecdotes and reflections on a culture of discrimination, gaslighting, retaliation, ethical breaches, punitive managers, bad HR. If I could boil all these responses down to a single question, it might be: when did you first notice the gap between what you believed Google to be—progressive, equitable, fair, good—and what you actually see and experience every day?
I rolled back my own tape and saw lots of ways I could answer that question. There was the year I spent in Google’s “magic factory,” Creative Lab, a place where the ideals encoded in Google’s image were in stark contrast with the realities of a grueling work environment populated by temps, Google’s “shadow workforce.” Later, I spent five years in the Marketing department promoting the narrative that YouTube is a net-positive for society, while every day witnessing how ill-equipped the company’s leadership was to govern a social media platform as it became a breeding ground for extremism, disinformation, harassment, and child abuse.
But nothing so shifted my perspective about Google, its power—and the way that manifests in the workplace—as what happened after the Walkout.
“The emails and articles mentioned that we had attempted to demote Claire after the walkout, and I want to be clear that never happened,” Danielle Tiedt, YouTube’s CMO, wrote in an email to my entire department. Lorraine Twohill, Google’s CMO, sent a similar email to everyone in marketing at Google–thousands of my colleagues. “Over the last several weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking to everyone involved, trying to understand and empathize with the situation,” she said. (I never had a conversation with either woman about my claims.) The talking point that rang out around Google like town church bells was, we investigated and found no evidence of retaliation.
Then what did happen? After five years as an unequivocally “strong performer” on YouTube’s marketing team, my manager, Marion, informed me in a conversation in January that my role would be “restructured,” and I’d lose half my reports and responsibilities.
Google’s line would later be that this was a draft “reorg,” that I was being consulted on team changes “as managers sometimes are.” But when I followed up with Marion, arguing my case to keep my job as it was, she said it was impossible—this had to happen for the “needs of the business.” I escalated to HR and my VP, and they offered a soft menu of suggestions that couldn’t do much to fix things: take some days off, focus on clarifying role expectations with Marion, be “radically candid” with her about my feelings so we can “rebuild trust,” or start to look for a new role. Meanwhile, my relationship with Marion strained beyond recognition: I stopped getting looped into things and my work was routed to others—so effectively, I’d already been demoted.
I wasn’t the only one: Meredith Whittaker, one of the Walkout’s other lead organizers, had been informed around the same time that her role would be “changed dramatically” and in order to stay at the company, she’d need to “abandon her work on AI ethics.” And another organizer, Ramona (which is not her real name) had been in the process of transferring to my org, YouTube Marketing, but after the Walkout, it got delayed for months until the opportunity disappeared altogether. She was finally told that the head of my department wasn’t comfortable having someone who “fostered division between employees and leadership” on her team. RELATED STORY‘Black Women Talk Tech’ on Mentorship
I kept sounding the alarm, and eventually my case got picked up by a senior HR director, who listened carefully to my story. For the first time, I actually felt like someone was listening to me. The next day, she came back with what she said was the perfect solution: I should take medical leave. I pointed out that, well, I’m not actually sick or under a doctor’s care, she told me it wasn’t a big deal, “we put people on it all the time.”
I went home that night dumbfounded that the only solution I’d been presented with was to declare myself unwell and unable to work. “Am I crazy?” I wondered. Why could no one in HR or management acknowledge that something seriously wrong happened here? In April, when I shared the story with my fellow employees, I heard accounts from women across the company that echoed my own: when they’d raised an allegation about a manager or coworker, they’d been encouraged to take medical leave.
“Why don’t you just quit?” my husband asked in one of our many anguished conversations about how untethered and toxic my work situation had become.
“Google is more than just a job,” I said, “it’s my home.”
“You mean your other home?” he said.
My goodbye party was planned by my fellow organizers and the growing mass of activists that had been meeting to talk about ethics, equity, and collective action on a weekly basis since the Walkout six months before. This community was new, and the connections were just coagulating. But it was already clear that this group had sharp observations and ideas about all the things I’d been quietly troubled by in past years: the rise of harassment and reactionaries on the Internet and how little Google was doing about it, the mounting mistrust of our HR systems, the general sense that the company had started to put shareholder value above pretty much anything else. Though we’d been branded as agitators—an “entitled vocal minority,” as the head of HR had elegantly put it in a company meeting—these people reminded me of the idealism and purpose of the old days.
Last days at Google were loose: leave your computer and badge on your desk, or turn it into a receptionist, if you happen to think of it. But as I glanced around the crowd at my goodbye party, as people scribbled messages about the movement on Post-Its and tacked them to the walls of Google New York’s biggest common space, I immediately spotted Phillip, who was there to confiscate my Google-issued devices. This wasn’t standard protocol.
He hung at the periphery of the gathering, hawk-eyed, looking the part of a Google-branded henchman in his hiking boots and nylon shorts, his small, taut frame punctuated by a showstopping topknot. He had emailed me earlier that day (“could you let me know where and when to meet you?”), but I hadn’t gotten around to replying. I wondered how he figured out where I’d be.
I stood up and heaved myself over a picnic table to hug her. She was impossibly young, with a splash of freckles and long, messy brown hair and, well, reminded me a bit of myself a Google lifetime ago.
It felt surreal, lingering in this liminal space. I’d spent my career reflecting Google back to itself. But the mirror I held contained something that Google—or at least the management—no longer wanted to see.
Phillip waited until the party was waning to introduce himself, slicing into the conversation I was having with the last stragglers.
“I’m here to, uh, collect your things,” Phillip said haltingly, projecting his voice from a comfortable distance a few feet away.
I was desperate, not ready.
But there wasn’t much else to do. I exhaled a year’s worth of breath and trudged over to Phillip, limply offering him my laptop and a stack of Android phones that’d been gathering dust in my office desk drawer—I’d never owned a smartphone that wasn’t Google-issued (begrudgingly, the following week I’d purchase my first iPhone). I pulled my badge off my belt loop, taking one final, wan look at my security photo. “Goodbye, old friend,” I said, placing it gently in his palm.
Phillip didn’t crack a smile. He neatly packed my things into his Google-branded bike bag.
“Are you ready?”
“I guess,” pouting my lips. I’d regressed to a sullen teen.
We set off for the door in lockstep. We had a couple of dozen steps to traverse together. The yellow brick road, but backwards: This way out of Oz.
We’ve glimpsed the power of tech workers pushing their employers towards a more equitable future. And we can’t stop now.
“This is super weird,” I said, the words tumbling out. “I used to be a huge cheerleader for this place.” I suppressed my impulse to tell him about the Bard of Google plaque. “And now, I’m, like, Company Enemy #1. But I’m not–I’m not that, Phillip.”
I looked over at him, eager for some reaction–something to resurrect this moment. The last chance to end my Google career on a different note.
He said nothing.
We reached the door.
“Well, um. Goodbye, then,” I said, for lack of any other ideas.
He nodded. “Have a great weekend.”
If recent headlines are any indication, there’s no more ambiguity about whether the management embraces efforts like the Walkout: Google recently hired IRI Consultants, an anti-union consulting firm, then fired four employees who’d worked on a petition against Google doing business with CBP and ICE. Fittingly, in October, Sundar Pichai announced the end of TGIF as I knew it. Instead of the classic open forum, they’d be moving instead to a monthly product and business update with restrictions on what can be discussed—no “off-topic” questions from employees allowed. It’s dizzying to keep up with this new era of Google: on the same day that the four fired organizers announced they’re filing labor charges against the company, Larry and Sergey said they’d be stepping back from day-to-day roles at the company. Just this week, an engineer named Kathryn Spiers says she was fired for trying to notify co-workers of their right to organize.
Despite the personal cost that I and a growing group of organizers have paid, that workers continue to loudly call for change and a recalibration of Google’s moral compass makes me tremendously hopeful. To root for these workers is to root for the old Google: the company that earned its employees’ and users’ trust. Whose mission and ideals meant something. Whose “don’t be evil” motto was referenced earnestly, not to point out the irony of Google having done some new evil thing.
We’ve glimpsed the power of tech workers pushing their employers towards a more equitable future. And we can’t stop now.CLAIRE STAPLETON
Claire Stapleton is a writer and former YouTube employee who helped organize the Google Walkout for Real Change.