Deep Breaths: A Dispatch From the Gwyneth Paltrow Industrial Complex


Let's start with this: I am not here to hate bluntly on Gwyneth Paltrow. And a desire to do that is not, I swear to you, why I felt a subtle yet unmistakable gravitational pull toward the actress's new San Francisco pop-up shop, Goop MRKT (apparently she got the memo about ditching vowels if you want to do good business in the Bay Area), when I learned she would be appearing there May 5 to sign her new cookbook and shower plebeians with her effervescent, organically produced glow.

Gwyneth is an easy target. Too easy, one could say. In this terrifying political climate, with our current levels of income inequality -- while five hunger strikers endanger themselves in the hopes of raising awareness about police brutality against young men of color four blocks away from my house -- it is all too convenient to point a finger at the extremely wealthy thin white blonde actress lady shilling health-conscious cookbooks and an organic skincare line as part of her egregiously overpriced lifestyle brand and say, "That right there, that's a thing I know how to hate. That seems simple. Let's just focus on that for today."

Hating on Gwyneth has, in fact, become such an obvious national pastime that when she was gruesomely killed off in the first 10 minutes of Contagion a few years ago, one had to wonder if Steven Soderbergh was enacting a bit of cinematic revenge porn for his audience's collective benefit.

Gwyneth looking not that pretty
Gwyneth looking not that pretty in 'Contagion.'

Which, in turn, brings up a slew of questions, such as: Is she in on the joke? Surely the most hated celebrity in America has an inkling of that status by now. On the other hand: Is a person whose online kitchenware store includes $1200 spoons and a $200 apron one must disassemble with a screwdriver in order to wash really a person who's in touch with the rest of America?

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If I'm not here to add on the hate-pile, you might ask, then why did I join a couple hundred Gwyneth fans on the street in downtown San Francisco yesterday, all for the privilege of getting an up-close-and-personal look at her line of children's clothes, face washes, and frying pans, then wait in line for nearly 90 minutes to have her royal blondness sign a cookbook for my mother?

I can say I was genuinely curious about the interior of San Francisco's only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, which is the "mrkt" from whence Gwyneth shall sell her Goop until May 22. And I can promise that I really tried to leave my preconceived notions behind -- to consciously uncouple, if you will, from whatever biases I may have previously formed about the woman.

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Official press photos from the goop MRKT website.

Still, I had questions, and I thought her devotees, these subjects of Gwyneth's empire who had dutifully flocked here on a muggy, overcast Thursday morning, might answer them.

Luckily, I also had some time to kill. Gwyneth was due to sign books from 10:30 to noon; the doorman informed that me that the first people began lining up around 9am. By 10:30, when I arrived, the line stretched entirely down the length of Maiden Lane. Roughly 95 percent of these people were women; maybe 93 percent of them were white; 100 percent of them were beautiful. A special kind of beautiful. You know that specific kind of rich-people beautiful that involves perfect skin and shiny hair and flawless manicures and a general aura of effortlessness that somehow also communicates a great deal of effort and certainly a f*ck-ton of money? I was immediately aware of my chipped nail polish, of the stray cat hair on my jacket. I couldn't tell if I hated everyone or wanted them to adopt me.

"What brings you here?" I asked about a dozen women, tossing my hair, trying my darnedest to act like I belonged.

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"I've just been a fan of hers forever," offered a woman with immaculate eyeliner. "I just think she's really cool, and has a great sense of style. And I try to eat healthy, so her recipes are great."

Another told me she traveled for work frequently, and Gwyneth's hotel and restaurant tips were always right up her alley.

"Cool," I said. "What do you do for work?"

"I work in marketing at Twitter," she said.

"Cool," I said.

Who looks beautiful holding cans of sardines? Gwyneth Paltrow looks beautiful holding cans of sardines.
Who looks beautiful holding cans of sardines? Gwyneth Paltrow looks beautiful holding cans of sardines.

Another young woman who worked in PR revealed to me that this was not her first Goop experience this week: She had attended a Goop workout class at The Battery, San Francisco's grand members-only club, the previous evening.

"What kind of workout class?" I asked. "Was Gwyneth there, like, on the floor doing Pilates with you guys?"

"Oh, no, she wasn't there," she clarified with a laugh, looking starry-eyed at the thought. "Just a Goop thing. They had us, like, running around on the roof."

"Cool," I said.

goop waterbottles for those goop workouts
Goop waterbottles for those Goop workouts.

Many attendees reported that they were in fact big fans of Gwyneth's previous cookbooks, including My Father's Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness and It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great. 

The new book, out in time for Mother's Day, is titled It's All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook. Its promotional copy, in case the title didn't make this clear, emphasizes that these are Gwyneth's favorite recipes for regular people like you and me -- people with jobs, in other words, and without personal chefs, nor millions of dollars.

Something that Gwyneth Paltrow totally eats on the regular hahahaha yeah right
Something that Gwyneth Paltrow totally eats on the regular hahahaha yeah right.

It is filled, naturally, with photos of Gwyneth looking beautiful, wearing chunky knit sweaters at home or in nature with her children, in addition to photos of the beautiful meals she ostensibly prepares on weeknights when she is home from her imaginary regular-person job, and must feed her regular children without any help whatsoever. These spreads are interspersed with "easy" recipes -- the very first in the book is for an "easy" acai bowl -- plus stories about Gwyneth's ostensible regular-person life.

The persistent attempt to come off like a relatable human being results in some hilarious reaches, like the recipe for a beautiful, gourmet salad niçoise made with nine-minute eggs served on a fresh baguette, which Gwyneth suggests should really be enjoyed during a picnic with a bottle of rosé, but can also be wolfed down while sitting in one's car waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice. (You can clearly envision the edit meetings: "That's a thing people do, right?")

Here are some actual excerpts from the book, selected via a process of opening it to random pages once I was home, writing this, eating cheese popcorn out of a bag that I bought at the liquor store across the street.

Cacio e pepe is one of my favorite simple pasta dishes, so when Thea and I started spiralizing vegetables like maniacs, we thought a zucchini noodle version might be nice. 

If you're short on time, get someone at the meat counter to pound out your chicken for you and be sure to let the lemon slices get caramelized and sweet before adding the other ingredients. 

When working on a GOOP story with the L.A.-based company Moon Juice, we learned the easiest-ever method for making instant almond milk: simply blend good almond butter and water together. Duh -- why didn't we think of that?! Here we make a hot version with fresh ginger and a little sesame oil to add roundness. 

Duh!! Anyway, the interior of the building was truly beautiful. With a nod from the doorman, I passed the rubicon (goopicon? sorry) to see beautiful assistants swiping credit cards through iPads as customers bought books for Gwyneth to sign; the line to meet her packed the spiral ramp to the second floor.

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On the ground floor below, the Goop beauty and skincare line occupied one bright-white corner, while another, set up to look like an expensive but also regular-person living room, featured bookshelves full of architecture tomes and travel guides; $200 throw pillows; and black and white photographs lining each wall. ("She curated those herself," I heard one impressed woman murmur to another, as Rihanna extolled the virtues of werk werk werk werk werk over a PA.) A white old-timey bicycle was perched in another corner; I couldn't tell if it was for sale or if perhaps Gwyneth had pedaled it here herself while carrying a basket overflowing with fresh vegetables.

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Up the walkway, the line snaked past Goop's various houseware and clothing lines -- workout gear, children's items, these weird things that were hanging on the wall and I still don't know what they are after looking them up but they cost $300 each. Oh wait, the tag says they're "wall tassels." That clears it up.

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You get the idea.

As I made my way through the vortex, inching closer to the holy grail -- Gwyneth had been set up for the book-signing behind a hilariously wide butcher-block table, accessorized with Goop dish sets and cast iron pans for that "I'm totally actually in Gwyneth Paltrow's kitchen!" feeling -- I felt some air leaking slowly from my dark balloon of repulsion.

Maybe it was the fact that every single beautiful human I'd interacted with for the past hour and a half had been wonderfully kind and friendly. Then there was the fact that every person walking away from the table after meeting her looked like they could die happy, on the spot. Then, from 10 feet away, I could see Gwyneth's own smile as she chatted up each beautiful human who'd come out to see her, and -- in my limited experience with encountering celebrities in the flesh -- it was among the most warm, lifelike, genuine smiles I'd seen.

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Or maybe it was more like: Over the course of 90 minutes, I'd made peace with my incredulity. Because you know what? It's fine to be obscenely wealthy. It's fine that she was born into a Hollywood family, and has therefore been wealthy, and privileged, and ensconced in a bubble with people just like her, for literally her entire life. It's even fine that she's selling this slab of wood you're supposed to pay $395 to put hummus on. (I mean it's crazy, but it's fine.)

But that is not why people hate her. Extreme wealth in and of itself is not grounds for ridicule in this country. It's your attitude about it -- your understanding of where you fit into the grand scheme of things -- that can get you in trouble. The Kardashians are mocked for many things, but they have never pretended they cook their own meals. George Clooney owns a f*cking villa in Italy; he does not, however, have a weekly newsletter with suggestions for other people about how to decorate their Italian villas. (That I know of. Someone please sign me up immediately if I'm wrong.)

Here is a seafood-and-sherry dish one is supposed to be able to make at the last minute if one has "unexpected guests"
Here is a seafood-and-sherry dish one is supposed to be able to make at the last minute if one has "unexpected guests."

Whether it's complete lack of self-awareness or calculated business strategy or both, the idea of being so disconnected from reality that you see "regular person with a 9-to-5 and kids to feed" as a charming brand to try on is staggering; it's homemaker fetishization of the most insidious degree. The fact that it's difficult for busy people with little money to feed their children nutritious food is a source of real pain for real humans every day, not to mention the root of a massive national health crisis, and for Gwyneth Paltrow -- who has publicly proved that she's woefully incapable of eating on a budget for more than four days -- to suggest that she can relate to this problem, let alone has solutions to it, is patently insulting. It's All Easy is a book for people who can afford to not cook but want to feel like they're the kind of people who do anyway.

The central conceit, that Gwyneth is a regular person in any way, is condescending and gross. It's tacky. And the level of narcissism and near-sightedness it reveals implies a kind of existence I don't actually think I would ever want. I work for a public radio station, Gwyneth. I live in the most expensive city in America, one whose future is alarmingly uncertain. I'm hanging on by a thread, and relatively speaking I'm incredibly lucky: I walked by approximately 30 homeless people in and around BART stations just to get here.

Here is a $165 keychain by Stella McCartney.

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"It's aspirational, for sure," the girl behind me in line said thoughtfully, of her affinity for Gwyn's cookbooks.

"Right," I said. "Like if you're eating the same dinner she's eating, you might -- "

"Kind of become her? Yeah," she laughed. "It's a little weird, isn't it."

A little.

Our journey ends like this: Gwyneth was a doll. No, I mean she actually looked like a doll. A tiny, beautiful, beaming doll, and one who -- with zero prompting -- signed a copy of It's All Easy with a Mother's Day message for my mother, then both my name and hers.

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"So," I said to her from across the table, with what I can only assume was the voice of a sheepish giantess, willing myself to be something like a journalist and not a large, trembly child meeting Cinderella at Disneyland. "What do you do when it doesn't all feel easy?"

She looked peeved for a moment, cocked her head to one side. For one, instantaneous flash of a second, I saw a crack in her golden human-shaped costume, a slight tinge of awareness of being mocked. And then it was gone, and she was beaming again.

"Just take deep breaths," she said, in a beautiful voice. "And keep putting one foot in front of the other."

I nodded. And then I did just that, Gwyneth. All the way home.

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