Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity
is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.
~Anonymous Ontario brewery owner
I’m not a hugger.
Whether it be my germaphobia or a personal space issue, my impulse has never been to wrap my arms around another human when greeting them or when saying goodbye. No need to pass the flesh here, bud. I’ll probably see you again soon. A handshake is great. Even a fist bump.
Some people, though, really are huggers. There is no doubt, when they open that front door to greet you or they bump into you at an event, that they are going to hug you. It’s a weird and foreign instinct to me: They are genuinely happy to see other people and they simply must embrace. Not only that, but they do it in such a way that it’s infectious. I only know five or six of these kinds of huggers, but when they wrap their arms around even hug-skeptical folk like me, they make the huggee feel good and welcome. They are Good Huggers.
Ren Navarro is a Good Hugger.
Ren, for those who don’t know, has been working in Ontario’s craft beer scene in a variety of sales and customer-facing roles for years and, as a queer, black woman, will tell you she has always felt something like “craft beer’s unicorn” among the sea of mostly white, mostly straight, and mostly male faces that comprise the brewing industry. In recent years, Ren has taken to advancing the conversation about diversity in beer to a semi-full-time gig, launching Beer.Diversity, taking part in panel discussions on diversity at craft beer conferences and offering consultation services to breweries who want to embrace diversity in their businesses. Ren and I have been in pretty regular contact over the years mainly via the internet but have met in real life a few times and, upon each occasion, predictably, she has greeted me with a great hug.
Right now though, I get the sense Ren doesn’t feel much like hugging. The reason for that is Ren’s latest project, the Ontario Beer Summit, which she launched with partner Jake Clark, was officially cancelled last week. The summit was a two day conference that focused on beer education, with a mandate to celebrate “the strength that equality and diversity brings to craft beer and our communities.”
It was cancelled due to a lack of registrations.
The sad truth is that as soon as I heard of Ren’s ambitious project, I feared that it might be doomed. This is not of course, for a lack of vision or a comment on the quality of the proposed event or speakers that were lined up. No no. The festival was slated to bring in an impressive array of diverse speakers from across Canada and the US and appeared to have a good mix of sessions relevant to sales, the technical aspects of making beer, and the less tangible “hospitality and cultural” impacts of the industry.
The issue of, course, is that last bit. A third of the summit’s content was targeted at tackling some important issues in craft beer, with sessions like Women in Beer, Aboriginal Issues and Influences in Beer, Making an Impact or Leaving no Trace, Building a Strong Beer Community, and Sustainability of Staff and Business.
These are important conversations to have, but unfortunately, they are still difficult and uncomfortable conversations even now, and the lack of registration for this summit wasn’t surprising to me and shows how ready we actually are to have these conversations.
I have written about the lack of diversity in craft beer before and I’ve also written on sexism in beer marketing and how it excludes women from the industry. I’m not alone here, of course. Many others have opined on the subject, with increasing frequency over the last five or so years. Typically, the response to this kind of writing has been great. These articles are shared across social media and the comments on them are 99% positive. If you write about marginalization, you can count on a plethora of “beer influencers” and “allies” to share that article, probably with such supportive, typically millennial eloquence as an enthusiastic, “So much this.”
The reality is, of course, that this kind of full-throated support and article sharing (and even much of this article writing) is akin to “virtue signalling;” publicly aligning to a good cause with an empty act. It’s lip service. We’re happy to “like” content, share articles, create public statements aligning ourselves with the right side of social issues, and even brew collaborative beers that let us market the outward appearance of championing values of diversity and inclusion.
But trouble comes when you start asking people to put their money where their mouths are. Which, incidentally, is what Ren literally did with the Ontario Beer Summit; to the not-insignificant tune of $500 per person, to be precise (edit/update: each additional registration from the same team would have cost just $250 per person). Not only was the Ontario Beer Summit asking people to start doing the work of addressing diversity in craft beer — having those uncomfortable conversations, changing policies, considering our own biases — but Ren and Jake were actually asking people to pay money to learn more about how to do that. For an industry that seems barely ready to start looking at its own shortcomings on this issue, this, to me, seemed like a pretty tough sell.
The summit was a fantastic undertaking to bring a community together and a genuine effort to educate, but in the end, as I thought they might, the breweries and industry folks who purport to want diversity and inclusion didn’t actually turn up. As is so often the case when it comes to taking a look at our own privileged place, most people decided it was far, far easier (and cheaper) to simply do nothing.
It’s a disappointing outcome, and, if the Ontario Beer Summit had been my idea, I’d be inclined to climb into a bottle and write off all people as generally hopeless. But then, I’m not a hugger. Ren is. And so I have a sneaking suspicion that she hasn’t given up on us all just yet.