Privilege in the Gardens

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French Laundry Gardens

It’s a sunny February afternoon in Yountville, California, in the heart of Napa Valley. My fellow bloggers and I just finished a sumptuous lunch at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, easily a new contender for one of the best meals of my life, and have consumed just enough wine to give the landscape a softened haze.

Yountville is also home to The French Laundry, one of the best restaurants (if not the best) in America. Chef Thomas Keller’s gardens that supply the restaurant are open to the public, and we stop briefly to wander the rows of produce.

My feet squelch through the damp grass. A gardener tills the soil in rows of cabbage. Bees hum at a nearby hive. The gardens are so straight and immaculate, I wonder if Keller has a secret garden that grows wild and straggly, where he hides the really good vegetables.

We’re happy. It’s the perfect time to take a group photo.

“Ooh, let’s get the farmhand in the background!” squeals one blogger.

And I freeze.

Bottega Wine Glasses

I’ve worked in the restaurant industry and I consider it among the most formative experiences of my life. Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry in the United States knows that restaurants are built on undocumented immigrants. (Not every immigrant who works in a restaurant is undocumented, but a great many of them are.) And these people are often the hardest working employees with the worst jobs in the kitchen — and, paradoxically, the best attitude.

That goes for the fields, too, especially in an agriculture-driven state like California. I don’t know this man’s story; I wish I did. But he is not an Instagram prop.

We live in a time when Donald Trump is on his way to the Republican nomination after claiming that he wants to round up and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. A time when the alternative Republican candidates argue about who speaks Spanish better and who would treat immigrants worse.

Anthony Bourdain was succinct: “If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant would shut down.”

Napa Flowers

Like most of my blog trips, our group consists of entirely white middle-to-upper-class bloggers. And that is a problem. It’s not enough that one of the bloggers says hello to the gardener and chats with him in Spanish. It’s not enough that I write and publish this post. What we need is people of diverse backgrounds going on these trips and sharing their viewpoints.

(The travel blogging world can be surprisingly segregated by race. Did you know that? How many bloggers of color do you actually read? Think about it.)

The overwhelming whiteness of our group stands out even more as we explore Oakland, a phenomenally diverse city with a history of social justice. Here, I’m struck by how this city isn’t defined by a white narrative with people of color relegated to side players, a place where hip-hop isn’t “too scary” or “too inappropriate” for families to dance to on a Friday night at the excellent Oakland Museum of California.

But this isn’t a story about Oakland — that will come in due time. This is about a moment while standing in the French Laundry gardens, sunshine on our faces.

My stomach turns at the thought of smiling white people who make their living traveling to exotic places and posting pretty photos on Instagram making sure they get the brown-skinned gardener, a man who likely went through hell to get here today, in the background of their selfie, because — why, exactly? To prove how much better we have it than him?

“No,” I say. “No farmhand. Just us.”

I take a selfie of our group, but the moment’s gone. It sits on my phone, never to see the light of day.

I was hosted in Yountville as part of a campaign with Visit California. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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63 thoughts on “Privilege in the Gardens”

    1. Honestly? Nothing that I know of. This isn’t stuff that you can assume will happen on its own; you need to make an active effort to be inclusive.

      I do know that more bloggers are starting to speak up about this — Oneika from and Brenna from It will be interesting to see where it goes.

  1. I’m glad to read this on your blog, Kate. What you note in your post is the same thing travel bloggers like myself have been decrying for ages: a) an industry that often excludes us, and b) mainstream (read: white ) bloggers who are often too blind to their privilege to understand the nuanced intersection and influence of race, travel, and politics as they tour the world.

    The lack of diversity on these press trips is embarrassing for an industry that prides itself on cultural discovery and navigating foreign territory, and often births articles and blog posts that offer point of views that are narrow in range and scope. I don’t need to tell you how unique voices and points of view are important in the quest to promote tolerance, understanding, and inform our global perspective, but some of your readers might and, as a white/mainstream blogger, your voice often extends louder and farther than me and other bloggers of color (sad to say, but true). Thanks for being an ally and for using your platform to bring this topic to light! Social justice and diversity are a large part of travel and should be addressed more in travel writing, so bravo. I like seeing this “woke” Kate and hope more bloggers in a position of privilege follow suit!

  2. Really intriguing! as a brown person I often come across things that many other people take for granted while my mind is still condensing all of it.

    1. Yeah, a list!

      Oneika Raymond —
      Edna Zhou —
      Kash Bhattacharya —
      Lola Akinmade —
      Victoria (oh man, I should know her last name!) —
      Yamaini and Yadira Rivera —
      Erica Kuschel — (not updated very often anymore but fun to peruse the archives)
      Helen Suk —
      Keith Jenkins —
      Monique White —
      Shivya Nath —
      Nellie Huang —
      Jeannie Mark —
      Carol Cain —

      Also, Dana from thatgirlcarmel commented above — I plan on checking out her work!

      (Please note, I know I’ve inevitably left people out — please comment if you know of anyone else!)

  3. I can certainly understand your uneasiness with the scenario described, especially if the man was in earshot. And it is easy to conjure up an image of a bunch of empty headed girls giggling about “farmhands” in a superior manner.

    However, I think it is a large (and unfair) leap to automatically assume that it was her intent to use the man as a “prop”, “To prove how much better we have it than him?”

    When a photographer captures an image of women gathering tea leaves in a field or of stilt fishermen’s silhouettes in front of a sunset, would you jump to the same conclusion? What is the difference? I tend to think selfies are stupid anyway but I would not be so quick to assume the worst of someone who wants to capture the scene at hand.

    1. I get that, Jen. As I wrote below, the woman who made this comment was a piece of work. She was incredibly out of touch for the trip and after I wrote this piece, she actually escalated into making racist comments. (She was the racist that I wrote about in my recap post.) So it’s hard to convey that, but believe me, comments like these were symptoms of a greater outlook.

      I think that the important thing to ask yourself when taking a photo is what you aim to get out of it. What do you hope to achieve? Are you coming from a place of respect? Is there a dialogue, or is it one-sided? (Also, for what it’s worth, everywhere my friends stopped to photograph stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka, they were asked for money. It was transactional.)

      Posing for a group selfie in front of the gardener who was clearly an immigrant from Latin America? I think that’s classless.

  4. We need more dialogue like this from white travel bloggers in the travel blogosphere, Kate. As a black travel blogger, I really appreciate this post. Like you, at times I find the travel blog/travel writing space very disheartening in that more bloggers and writers of color aren’t being recognized and the predominant narrative is that of white travelers. Frankly, I get sick of the fluff, and I wish that more travel bloggers would start moving beyond the fluff and start talking about real issues that we confront when traveling. After all, isn’t developing a certain social consciousness and world view one of the greatest benefits of travel?! More and more, I’ve noticed you raising the consciousness of your content, and I really appreciate that!

  5. I know I’ve replied in more detail elsewhere, Kate, but your question made me realise that a) I’ve never stopped to think about the “background” of the bloggers I read and b) Now that I do look at colour/gender/sexuality/education and social class etc I realise that, actually, I read, work and travel with a pretty diverse bunch (if that’s how we want to label people). c) The same can definitely not be said of my experiences in the “traditional” travel media world…

    1. After that conversation, I realized that diversity is much more present in that group we’re both a part of. The U.S. blogger scene is very different — far less diverse.

  6. Yes yes yes yes yes!!!!! I love the journey you’re taking Kate. I love how you recognize that a lack of diversity (in any field really) is not a good thing. Kudos to you for discussing it. And your thoughts on the optics of the shot with your colleagues are dead on. Do you follow/read my other favorite travel site, Travel Noire? Great writing/photography/perspective over there as well.
    To borrow a beautiful phrase and sentiment, stay woke!!

  7. This is a very interesting topic. It’s true, most travel bloggers are white & coming from USA, Canada, Western Europe or Australia. Regions like Eastern Europe (where I am from), Africa, Asia, Central & South America are so underrepresented and it’s sad, but unfortunately there is not much that can be done.

    For example, the medium net salary in Romania is 654.38 USD, it would take years and years of savings for a Romanian to be able to quit his job and go travel the world. But we do what we can 🙂 Luckily, we are savvy people and we know how to shop around for cheap plane tickets!

    1. Yes, that’s one of the problems with bloggers based in countries where the average annual sale is low. Nobody is ever going to chase Romanian tourists like German tourists.

  8. Thank you for this Kate. I absolutely love that a big name blogger like yourself is a) aware that she is privileged and b) wants to see change in the industry. I am looking forward to reading more posts like this on Adventurous Kate

  9. Put your money where your mouth is. Give away EVERY press trip YOU get to a blogger with more diverse backgrounds. Let’s see if this is more than just an ploy to get a story angle as I agree with Jen that you are reading a lot into a situation.

    1. Wow. Let me guess, Jill, you also think I should give up my entire fridge to the hungry, right? And donate my entire salary to charity? And fill my apartment with cots and turn it into a home for half a dozen Syrian refugees?

      It’s even funnier that you say this considering that I turn down about 98% of the press trips I’m offered and each time I suggest bloggers to ask instead — very often bloggers of color.

  10. What a cringe moment with the forced farmhand selfie … some people are so ensconced in their own bubble, they don’t know what goes on outside of it!

  11. Thank you so much for writing this. A complete lack of recognition of privilege has turned me off to a huge percentage of travel blogs, and it is great to see you bring this up. I love framing this in a simple but telling anecdote – not only are these young bloggers white and socioeconomically privileged, but for all their global experiment and education (I doubt there’s many in that group without a degree) they’re also sadly lacking in the very basics of self-awareness, class-consciousness, or solidarity.

    As another post mentioned, shouldn’t exposure to developing countries, racial and cultural diversity, different religions and social values and political/economic systems create travelers who engage with and become passionate about subjects like this?

  12. I’m a little sad about the comments that think this was written as a “ploy.” Perhaps the other blogger wasn’t thinking about the person in the background but, at least from what I understood, that’s part of what Kate is saying. No one thought to ask this person if they even wanted to be in this selfie, the way you’d ask a parent before taking a photo of a kid or how you’d ask someone working at a stand if you can take their photo. It was just like he was part of the scenery “oh, farmhand working!” And that IS sad, no matter what nationality the person is.

    That said, I am really enjoying posts like this and your Harlem post, Kate. I love seeing you evolve in what you’re writing about and start to examine some of these questions that travel bring up. This is what makes your site stand out to me. Looking forward to reading more.

  13. I see where you are coming from but not sure this is what the person meant when she asked to get the farmhand in. There is nothing I love more than taking pictures of locals doing their own thing when I travel. You get a sense of the REAL country and what the real picture is! Even if it was Chef Thomas Keller tending to the farm himself, its an image I would have liked to include. Its not the person that I want in the photo, its the act in general!

    1. Two things: first of all, it’s hard to depict within a single post, but the person who said this was one of the most incredibly out of touch travel bloggers I have ever met. I wrote this post the morning after it happened in a burst of inspiration. That evening, she escalated into making racist comments and I absolutely let loose on her.

      I know that it’s good to take pictures of people while traveling (even though I don’t do it often), but you need to be careful of context when you’re photographing someone in a position like this — an immigrant performing a low-tier job while you take pretty pictures for your own satisfaction.

  14. Thank you so much for posting this, Kate. I just posted something about privilege on my blog, too… it’s a topic that I’ve noticed more and more people talking about on blogs, and rightly so. I think we all need to talk about it.

  15. As a multiracial blogger and avid traveler, I grapple with these issues a lot. I’m just now cracking my way into the travel blogging world and am, as usual, very aware of how my race, background and culture impact my travels, experiences and writing. I also have the privilege of being able to afford to travel, while many others do not. What I’m seeking answers to is how I can continue to travel and also give something back. I don’t know if there is one answer. All I know is that I hope to inspire, connect, and bring light to things via my writings, and for now, until I find another way I can repay my debt of gratitude, that has to be enough.

  16. I have to disagree with the person above who said “there is nothing I love more than taking pictures of locals doing their own thing when I travel.”

    If they’re ‘doing their own thing’ in a service or labor industry, I find this intrusive and absolutely using them as a prop. If I find what someone is doing interesting, I’ll try to just focus on their hands or take a shot that doesn’t show their face. I hate when people use me as a prop in their photos, why should it be okay to do it to someone else just because they’re ‘local’ and you’re the traveler, or they’re a minority and you’re not?

    Thanks for posting this, Kate. Look forward to seeing how the industry evolves over the next few years.

    1. Oh, and it’s not just with tourists: my boyfriend’s brother has lived in Bushwick for years and now that it’s getting trendy, he’s annoyed that so many Instagrammers come to his neighborhood and will just stand on a street and wait for locals to walk in front of some street art, just so they can have a #strideby photo. PROP.

    2. It’s a blurry line, isn’t it? I don’t like photographing people to begin with (too shy/introverted to ask) so I haven’t thought about it that way. An interesting way to put it.

      The ABSOLUTE WORST — my ex would get up to sleeping homeless people and photograph them inches from their face. And you know him — no matter how many times I told him how disrespectful it was, he would argue until he was blue in the face that he had done nothing wrong.

  17. Kate, thank you for this very thoughtful and well-written article. What a deeply enlightening moment that must have been, and isn’t that truly the best gift of traveling? The issue goes far beyond bloggers though. 90% of the travelers I meet look like me and think like me (I’ve searched the world for a Trump supporter, but they don’t travel – which may be why they think the world is unsafe). What’s worse is that so few travelers actually engage with locals in anything more than a cursory way. We have so much and yet strive for more, while so many other cultures have so little materially but so much authentic joy. That was one of my personal deeply enlightening travel moments (I see a blog post about this in my future!).

  18. Thank you so much for posting this, Kate. I grew up in Yuma, AZ – the winter vegetable capital of the world – and have seen the lifestyle of agriculture workers all my life. Not everyone realizes the amount of work that it takes, the toll it takes on a body, and the crazy hours that are worked to complete a day’s goal. I can go on and on about what people live through, all for a low wage. Some don’t even realize that these individuals may even be professionals in their home country, but have given it all up to give their children a better life. These individuals deserve our respect and appreciation for all that they do to make sure we have food on our tables.

    As a minority who has just started a blog, you have inspired to be more committed, and to share more of my culture and very own experiences. You’re right, I read lots of blogs, and I can only think of 1!

  19. Hi Kate. I think that this post raises some really important points. The travel industry as a whole is incredibly saturated with white voices, most of whom are completely unaware of their privilege. I am glad to see that you are using your platform as a very prominent travel blogger to draw attention to privilege, especially, as you pointed out, as the majority of your readers are white.

    My critique with this post is that there is so much more to say here. Yes, you identified that this blogger completely tokenized a person of color. However, I feel that expressing your discontent to your readers is not enough. One of the most powerful tools we have as white people is to educate other white people about racism. Did you call out this person for their racist comment? If not, then why? I think that it’s also dangerous to write about this incident without follow-up; essentially, it tells your readers that identifying a racist act is enough, but an important message to get across is that we have to call out racism, not just acknowledge that it exists. I think you have a good start here, but I encourage you to follow through on your activism. Pass along resources and encourage self-education. One blog I really love is Black Girl Dangerous ( which has a lot of great articles, as well as resources for allies. A travel blog that I think is awesome is called everywhere all the time (, which is all about decolonizing travel and showcasing the voices of people of color.

    Anyway, long comment, sorry about that! Wishing you the best with your blog and your unlearning process! -Alissa

    1. Hi, Alissa —

      Sorry for having your comment being temporarily blocked; it automatically blocks if you include two or more links.

      Now — as you might have seen in the comments here, this incident happened on one afternoon. I wrote this post two days later. The evening of the day that I wrote this post, the same woman made the racist comments. So please know that there were two incidents — this one, and then the far worse one.

      Did I call her out when she made the racist comments? YOU ABSOLUTELY BET I DID. Loudly and clearly. In front of our entire group (we were in a van). I was the only one who did so. One other person in the group, when I asked her to back me up when I talked to our hosts, told me, “I don’t want to get involved.” I have a feeling that’s how the rest of the people in our group felt.

      Later that night, I emailed both our hosts and the publication she claimed to be representing, telling them about the incident. Then I learned another surprise: the publication she claimed to be representing told me that she had written for them once and they had no idea she was claiming to be on assignment for them for this or any other press trips. I informed our hosts of this as well.

      The day of the incident, I also made a post on Facebook about it (my personal profile, not Adventurous Kate); I was asked by our hosts to take it down because it might make one of their employees look bad (even though it wasn’t remotely anyone’s fault other than the racist), and I did, as I didn’t want to cause any undeserved harm to the employee.

      But now that the trip is over I am ABSOLUTELY going to write about this situation in more depth, including telling white allies that they should call out racism and not just stay silent and “not get involved”! Thank you for the resources; I wasn’t familiar with either of them and now I’m going to explore them.

  20. You make a great point, Kate. There aren’t many bloggers of color. I really have to wonder why that is…

    Thanks for starting the discussion.

    1. That’s actually the opposite of what I said, Larry. There are PLENTY of bloggers of color — they just don’t receive the attention, partnerships, opportunities, or recognition of white bloggers. At times it’s almost like we’re operating in separate universes.

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