05.14.14

The Ballad of Sriracha

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, WhiteManistan at 1:29 pm by George Smith


Convenient bottled fad.

Although made near me east on the highway, Sriracha pepper sauce isn’t one of those things considered a California icon. I’ve used it but it’s no necessity. Hot sauces line up on all our local shelves, in big bottles and small, from the mild to punishing, Sriracha leaning toward the latter.

But thanks to the New York Times, 60 Minutes and the opportunity to make political hay, the relatively small business is now much more famous than it ought to be.

In Irwindale, some of the locals are annoyed by the plant which processes peppers it trucks in from Ventura in one big batch, once during the year. During that time, capsaicin and acetic acid are released into the air. And it’s caused a problem.

From the New York Times feature, which carried one unintentionally amusing quote by a politician who will wake up to find a new hole ripped in him on election day:

But since this small, industrial city east of Los Angeles began taking legal action against the Sriracha factory here — responding to complaints from residents about the strong scent of chiles — this trendy hot sauce has turned from a culinary symbol into a political one for business leaders and Republicans who have long complained that California is hostile to industry …

To local residents, the problem with the Sriracha factory is one of overwhelming odors. When the factory is grinding chiles in the fall, the scent of red jalapeños — so sweet once bottled — blows through town like a malevolent wind.


“Sriracha is a symbol of a much bigger and very unfortunate trend in California of businesses leaving and political leaders not seeming to care,” said Neel Kashkari, a moderate Republican running for governor this year against the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Jerry Brown.

Excusing the stupidly purple prose, Sriracha or no, Kashkari (gotta love the name) will be crushed by Brown. We’ve no use for Republican Party governors at this point. And anything Kashkari might have had to say about the company was irrelevant to its fortunes and his inevitable political destiny.

Texas was also after Sriracha, sending a delegation to Irwindale this week to convince the owner the state was ready with open arms.

Unfortunately, Sriracha, California and Irwindale are connected in a relationship of comparative advantage.

Sriracha gets its peppers from near-by Ventura and quickly processes them for the sake of freshness. There is no easy way to rip that up and duplicate it somewhere else.

Tough break.

On Monday, Sriracha’s owner, David Tran, complained in interview that the US government was like that of commie Vietnam, the place he left in 1978. This brought back memories of the fall of Saigon and Henry Kissinger, neither particularly helpful to the company’s cause.

But by Tuesday, the Texans had come and gone and the Lone Star state, despite much lobbying, had lost to California. We are number one, after all.

Said David Tran in interview: “This is a good place. I moved in. I will stay here.”

Texas governor, the infamous Rick Perry, invoked Atlas Shrugged for the state’s bid.

Go Galt in Texas noble pepper sauce, go Galt:

“When you start to overburden the creators of jobs, ultimately the creators of jobs have to consider alternatives.”

Hey, WhiteManistanis! Here’s a tip. Stop doing that. It makes too many people think you’re fucked up.

Remember the song: “Blessed are the job creators/They can always hire way more waiters (to pass you the Sriracha).”

The other thing worth noting in this story is how the news (60 Minutes! The NYT! The BBC!) was taken over with discussion of what was really small beer.

Sriracha is a business that produces a minor condiment that people obsess over all out of proportion to its use. While it certainly has its fans, it’s not catsup, bright yellow hot dog mustard or A1, or — locally — even Miller beer, which has a brewery visible from the highway in the same town.

It showed politicians from Texas and other states rushing around like carpetbaggers, trying to win over a company that doesn’t employ that many people — 70 — a molecule of water in the bucket of what’s a major problem in the country.

What it came down to is in the culture of lickspittle is that it’s easier to carry on about Sriracha as if it’s inconveniencing in Irwindale is a symptom of some major failing than it is to address mass unemployment and underemployment, which nobody in power has any will to do anything about except make worse.

3 Comments

  1. Anon said,

    May 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    There was talk of trying to lure them into the more deserted areas of northern or western Philadelphia by a member of city council. That might have even worked, as they could have contracted with some Amish farmers in Lancaster County to grow their peppers for them.

    Totally agree on the “response out of proportion” part though, can’t believe their local government is having a hard time finding some kind of solution…

  2. George Smith said,

    May 16, 2014 at 8:23 am

    They’re not going to force Sriracha out, they’ve already shown a reluctance by kicking another meeting decision forward until the end of the month. They want the guy to get some advice on what to do and install air scrubbers that actually work. I suspect he will be given almost unlimited time to do it and this fall will be just like last with capsaicin and vinegar in the air. The concept of Irwindale as communist was hilarious, particularly if you live out here. It was just an unfortunate running of mouth before engagement of brain.

    The Sriracha story also gained a lot of extra traction because the press and websites are loaded with the kinds of writers who inflate everything once a favored pet is mentioned. Sriracha is one such hipster fascination for the upper middle class, much like alleged gluten-free food and health/better living tips. I’m sure they sell more Tapatio hot sauce (it’s far more widely used here in cooking) in my supermarket than Sriracha, but — surprise, surprise — it has neither the same pollution problem nor the ebullient love from libertarians, bloggers and food fetishists.

    It is not hard to discern why.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9a/Charo_white_bg.jpg

    Interesting about the idea of getting the Amish into the act, since I grew up very near there.

  3. Anon said,

    May 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    The Amish who still farm in western and central PA, Maryland, and Ohio are all about the high price per pound specialty crops these days. Hot peppers, fresh herbs, that kind of stuff…

    Since I am, like you are, kind of a childhood backwoods PA guy, they are easy enough to spot. I saw a pair of them at Whole Foods of Shadyside in Pittsburgh last year (?), snagging samples of fresh pineapple from a display.

    I think they were there to talk turkey. That heritage breed, organically raised, free range bird for Thanksgiving in PGH probably lived and met an end to a happy turkey life somewhere near Tamaqua. They get around $40 for a ~12lb cleaned and minimally dressed bird in the store. Multiply that by say, 5,000 birds (or more), and one really has something…