An Open Letter To You

Hey there. How are you? I hope you’re well. Things have been pretty chaotic for me since last Friday when I wrote that open letter you’ve probably already heard about. A lot of people have sent their support, thanking me for speaking out. A lot of people have sent their criticism, calling me an entitled millennial in every way possible. Some people have even offered me a job or donated money to me — would you imagine that? I certainly never expected even a fraction of the response my letter created. That said, it has brought up an interesting opportunity I never would have anticipated. Rarely do we get the chance to push the needle and ignite a conversation. But one letter isn’t enough to keep that fire going. Which is why I’m writing to you now.

On Saturday, I bought myself some groceries and made myself a sandwich. It wasn’t until after that sandwich that I realized how accustomed I had become to my hands shaking because all of a sudden, they weren’t. I was overwhelmed — and still am — by the response this situation has attracted, both around the world and in my now-steady hands. I found myself thinking one thought over and over again: The world is watching, so what are you going to do?

I could take all the attention and bathe in it like arrogant validation. I could fight against the voices yelling at me just to get a rise out of me, reducing this all to a battle of frivolity. I could disappear. Or I could look at my options and find out how I can help push that needle.

When I was a kid, along with thinking a credit card, apartment, and a car were symbols of adulthood, I constantly gravitated towards aspiring to have a job that involved helping others. I wanted to be a police officer, a veterinarian, a teacher (despite that poorly received joke I made about English majors going into teaching being a cliché), a child psychologist, and, lastly, a writer. I’ve been closely connected to and involved with Rotary International my entire life because my grandpa has been a Rotarian my entire life, so I felt a responsibility to help others deeply engrained within me. When I told him what’s happened in the last few days, the first thing he said was “Are you going to use this to help people? You should find a way to use this to help people.”

I’ll admit freely that I’m not an expert on economics or federal versus state versus county battles for a living wage. I don’t have the answer or the power to enact that answer on a larger, longterm scale. If I did, I trust it would have been answered and enacted already. But I want to know more. And I want to bring to light a struggle that shouldn’t exist. And I want to support the demand to find that solution. Call me entitled, but I don’t think you should be barred from growing and exploring and taking risks because your income isn’t in proportion with the cost of living in your area.

See, when you’re struggling to make ends meet — regardless of how you got there — it drains you. Your whole world is focused on that struggle and how stuck you feel and all you can do is your best to keep your head above water. When you don’t have access to food, or affordable housing, or the ability to save up in case of emergencies, you miss out on something else, too: the ability to take action. The Bay Area and Silicon Valley are well-known for being areas for innovation and progress. From the Beatniks to the iPhone, risk-takers, innovators, and rebels have flourished here. With the cost of living soaring ever-higher every day, that space that once was filled with empowerment to push the wheels of change has become filled with stress, altogether choking off the air supply for our human desire to improve and pave a way for ourselves. The Bay Area has been and continues to be an example of the future from which the rest of our country follows. What happens to the rest of the country, and even our world, when that guiding light becomes too obscured and the space necessary for risk-taking and innovation is suffocated? What ripple effect does that create when the bubble bursts and the pent-up strain filling one corner of the world gushes out? More importantly, what can we do to ease that strain?

So now I’m writing another lengthy letter, feeling a growing heat where that little kid who always dreamed of helping others still lives. And now, I’m reaching out to you. I want to find a way for us to talk. To plan. To carve out space in our lives to take a risk and push that needle toward lasting progress. I don’t know where this path will lead me, but I hope you’ll join me on it.

Your Friend In Food,

Talia