How I Was Duped By a Fruit-Jam Influencer
A year or two ago, a friend gave me a jar of Sqirl jam as a gift. I have the culinary interests of a four-year-old. But my love of trendy cultural ephemera (the four pothos plants in my apartment, my Cold Picnic bath mat, my Glossier hoodie, etc.) outweighs my dislike of fruits and vegetables, so it immediately earned a spot in my fridge and on my kitchen table any time friends came over for an meal that might require fruit spread.
Now, I might as well greet them with whatever I pull out of my garbage can.
Founded by chef Jessica Koslow, Sqirl rose to the top of every Los Angeles restaurant recommendation list largely thanks to its Instagram-worthy jam. Ahead of the July 21 release of Koslow’s new book, The Sqirl Jam Book, which is all about her signature spreads, food writer Joe Rosenthal shed light on allegations from a number of current and former employees who claim they were frequently required to remove layers of mold from said jam and serve customers what remained just inches underneath. They would apparently discard the mold into one communal “mold bucket,” a picture of which exists but I have not been able to bring myself to look at. This reveal gave way to other accusations: rats, an illegal kitchen, inadequate pay, mistreatment of employees of color, and an overall unsafe working environment (if employees are indeed breathing in mold particles on a regular basis).
Koslow gave her side to the sticky story via the Sqirl Instagram account.
“At Sqirl, jam is how we started, it’s what we’re most known for, and what we sell the most of,” the statement begins. “For us, jam was never really just a thing on toast; it’s a way to support the best farmers, shine a light on the best product, and practice a craft that I love and felt called to.”
Koslow admits that Sqirl’s jam, due to its low sugar content and lack of commercial pectin, is more “susceptible to the growth of mold,” likening it to cheese, charcuterie, and dry aged beef. When this “sometimes” happened, they would discard the “mold and several inches below the mold” per guidance from “preservation mentors,” like Dr. Patrick Hickey, who can’t have been thrilled to have been brought into this, whoever he is.
As things normally go with internet-based drama, the comments of both Sqirl and Koslow’s Instagram accounts have become a gleeful free-for-all, with some popping in with legitimate suggestions (“Invest your profits back into the community!”) and others showing up with popcorn (“at what point in the recipe do I introduce the mold?”). It’s no coincidence that these allegations came out as chatter about Koslow’s book increased, but it’s unclear if the backlash will escape the trendy food community and reach people who don’t really look at Instagram. Then again, if you’re not looking at Instagram, why would you want Koslow’s book about jam, anyways?
As for me, my Sqirl jam is just another item in my apartment I’ll now tuck out of sight. It joins the Ban.Do file folders I bought to organize my non-existent life right out of college, the Lena Dunham memoir I turned face-down. I keep my Alison Roman and Chrissy Teigen cookbooks on opposite ends of the shelf. Putting a face to a product has become commonplace these past ten or so years, especially now that anyone can be a micro influencer in their own niche community. When I buy a product, I’m buying the promise of a lifestyle, which is why I’m always uniquely embarrassed when something like this happens. That’s what I get for wanting people to think I’m someone who likes the trendy jam—now people think I’m the person who likes the allegedly moldy trendy jam. I don’t like jam at all! What is wrong with me?
This is a mockable problem, for sure, one that underscores the need to be thoughtful about where I put my money. It’s also a testament to how little I clean my fridge. Mold or not, I should have thrown that jam out eight months ago—and stuck to putting peanut butter on my toast like the 4-year-old that, deep down, I really am.