Monday, October 14, 2019

EMMY! You let us all down!

Oh, how, how do I get myself into these states of disillusionment? And why do I always (always) feel like the only one who notices these things on YouTube? For every time I notice them, or at least dare to say anything about it, I feel like I am attacked from all sides.

So why am I so surprised at what happened with Emmy (emmymadeinjapan)? Emmy is YouTube’s sweetheart, a Chinese-American who tastes, tests and prepares foods, not just from all over the world but from every part of history. Her treatment of usually-disdained subjects like prison recipes and Depression-era food substitutes is respectful, intriguing, and take us to culinary places we wouldn't otherwise go.

But there is a snake in Eden, and everyone is being very quick to look away.

I've been subscribed to Emmy's channel for years (until yesterday), watched most of her videos, and felt engaged and interested in at least three out of four. But judging by all the lively and downright loving comments from her 1.6 million subscribers, it’s obvious that her personality is a huge factor here. There is a sweetness about her that is not cloying, a sometimes-wacky humour, an open, adventurous and non-judgemental quality we hardly ever see on the internet, and an effort to find SOME good even in her most “iffy” food experiments.

When I discovered she has a separate channel dedicated to beekeeping, raising hens, and other forms of urban homesteading, I assumed she was a serious environmentalist who would be passionate about saving the bees from the alarming wave of extinction about to claim them. Surely she would be aware of  the relentless environmental degradation which has brought her beloved bees to this perilous state, and the mountains of inert plastic we’ve buried our sweet earth under.

But I was wrong about this. So wrong. 

Like most big-box YouTubers, Emmy took on formal sponsors some time ago, with the ad sometimes repeated throughout the video so you can’t just click it away.  Up to now, most of these seemed like  products she endorsed and used herself, like fresh  food delivery, glasses frames, etc. She talks these products up in her personable, accessible way (and in a clear voice that many find soothing). In other words, she has a natural gift for flogging products and making sales.


The last video I began to watch was a recipe for some kind of spicy Korean chicken, and I prepared myself for something entertaining – when  she introduced her sponsor for the video.

CLOROX ULTRA CLEAN Disinfecting Kitchen Wipes.

To my profound discomfort and growing dismay, she smilingly and uncritically introduced and demonstrated these single-use, chemically-laden things as something you really need to use for kitchen cleanliness and safety. In fact, she kept pulling them out of the mammoth plastic silo with the CLOROX logo blaring on the front, excitedly demonstrating them with great grinning swipes that just made my heart sink. 


She did this maybe three or four times in a twelve-minute video. Once I put my jaw back on, I started to look deeper into the subject, which made me feel even worse.

Kitchen wipes, baby wipes, ALL wipes, are single-use. Non-biodegradable. Loaded with bacteria-nuking chemicals, they have plastic in them. Yes. Plastic, that thing the earth is drowning in, that thing which takes up space as big as whole countries and which will soon inhabit more of the ocean than fish. Discarded single-use wipes (whether the manufacturer claims they biodegrade or not) either end up in our already-perilously-endangered waterways, where fish and wild animals die from ingesting them, or in landfills, where they will sit for more than a century, oozing toxic chemicals and not breaking down at all. In fact, the only way to get rid of them is to burn them, spewing out toxic carbon emissions.

These cleaning things? They're not. Clean. At all. 

It was not hard  for me to find horror stories about disposable wipes and the grotesque results of using them once and throwing them away. I had already heard about “fatbergs”, giant lumps of foul waste the size of a BUS, which completely block water systems and are made of BILLIONS of discarded wipes fused together with kitchen grease.

Another article I found stated that single-use antibacterial wipes are about as ineffective and unnecessary as antibacterial hand soap. In other words – it’s a bust. They do nothing that ordinary soap and water won’t do. One article stated that no matter WHAT you wipe your kitchen counter with, the bacteria will begin to regenerate in 20 minutes. A cloth dampened in plain soap and water - and add a few drops of vinegar and/or bleach, if you want - will do just as good a job, and you can throw it in the wash and re-use it. But the massive corporations that push these things have scored a major victory in creating a “need” – a useless, expensive, environmentally disastrous, bogus need. 

I don’t know why I allowed myself to feel so astonished, so – hurt about Emmy’s cheerful, sunny and somewhat sickening endorsement of this environmentally-indefensible product, and how her fans all fell into line and congratulated her on getting the “big bucks” she deserves. Others (strangely) insisted she will put the money she earns back into her videos and into raising her sons, as if they needed to justify or defend her choice of product before anyone even dared to challenge it. Which, as far as I can see, no one did.

When I posted a few dismayed comments after the video, there was quite a lot of angry and nasty backlash (which I expected) from her fans, claiming the links to articles I posted were fake, ridiculous, wrong, and even used words like “MAY harm” and “MIGHT destroy”, rather than “the whole world is going to hell because of this”. I was being dismissed as some kind of party-pooping tree-hugger. I almost heard them saying, "If Emmy does it, it MUST be right." (Or does Emmy's endorsement somehow "make" it right? That's even more frightening.)

I should not have been so na├»ve about the smoke-and-mirrors world of YouTube. Emmy the beekeeper and hen-raiser is not putting her money where her mouth is. You can’t tell me she doesn’t know about these environmental risks, and how irresponsible it is to not just use but to SELL this toxic shit to the people who love her.  One irate commenter lit into me and said, “Emmy HAD to use that  Clorox wipe. It’s a safety issue. She was cooking CHICKEN!” (I did not remind her that it took her more like six wipes to disinfect the counter.) But what about the other 1.6 million people she is selling them to? Emmy is a trusted figure, a conservationist, a BEEKEEPER for God's sake, and if SHE says it's OK, then a lot of people will think that it somehow must be.

Even if we put all that aside – which I can’t – there is the fact that YouTube “influencers” do just that – they set an example, for good or ill. Emmy is so pure in other ways, so loved, so wholesome and tenderly nurturing of her hens and her bees, that surely we can look the other way and just let this one go by.


Climate scientists know that time is running out. So what’s one more huge, sterile-looking, Emmy-dwarfing plastic silo of Clorox wipes? It sure seems to be making Emmy feel happy, judging by her dizzy joy in using them. Watch Emmy swipe, watch Emmy swirl those toxic rags around on her gleaming counter! The studied camera-angles and her exuberant but well-timed-and-practiced body language turn her into the ideal corporate shill.

Is this what eventually happens to you when you get famous? It's a clear example of either moral blindness (and it's hard for me to imagine that someone as  smart as Emmy doesn't see how destructive this product is), or the ruthlessness that seeps into your personality when people tell you a thousand times a day how wonderful you are. 

One way or another, her slightly scary exuberance swooshing and swirling these things around will sift down to the benumbed consumer, who has largely given up on saving a doomed planet. And then there are the kids (including her kids). They pick up on all kinds of things, such as: it’s OK, even desirable, to use and promote and sell chemically-laden pollutants (which don’t even work!) to make money for yourself. 

Emmy, if you love your subscribers the way you seem to, and if you truly care about the planet you live on and its precious wild things, DITCH the corporate sponsorship and the dreadfully damaging products they spew. You don't need them, your subscribers don't need them, NOBODY needs them. No doubt she is oblivious to the profound disconnect between flogging wipes and keeping bees, and most of her fans will continue to support her no matter what she does. So I have unsubscribed from her channel, and from now on will trust no one in the sad, scrambling con game that is YouTube.

ADDENDUM. This is an excerpt from an article in a UK paper that summarizes the environmental catastrophe of disposable wipes. As I look at the gifs I made of a grinning Emmy gleefully pulling out and using one wipe after another (not even using the same wipe twice!), it makes me feel queasy. And sad. 

"Campaigners are urging the government to phase out the astonishing 11 billion wet wipes used in this country each year, many of which are causing an environmental catastrophe. They are behind 93% of blockages in UK sewers and are even changing the shape of our rivers as they pile up on beds and banks.

Scientists say many people are unaware of the damage the wipes are causing, with the vast majority containing non-biodegradable plastic. The industry has flourished with a broad range of wipes for removing make-up, cleaning all types

of skin and surfaces, looking after babies’ bottoms and also to apply insect repellent or sunscreen.

Within the last decade, City to Sea said there had been a 400% increase in the number of used wipes found on beaches. Founder of campaign group Natalie Fee said: ‘The problems with wet wipes are threefold. Those that are flushed, clog up our pipes and sewers and contribute to giant fatbergs. This then makes our sewage systems overflow and other plastics spill into our waterways and seas, putting marine life at risk. Those that are discarded in the bins will often end up in landfill or get incinerated, contributing to carbon emissions. Ideally, we want people to stop using them and treat them like they would any other single-use plastic.’ 

'There are products being used every day in our bathrooms that we don’t think of as plastic that are causing terrible environmental problems. But people are completely unaware. They know about single use plastics, like cups and straws, and they change their habits. But manufacturers do not put proper information on the packing about the amount of plastic and even hint these things can be flushed, which is disastrous. It shouldn’t be possible to sell these products without making clear how harmful to the environment they are. People need to know there are alternatives out there that do not choke our rivers.'