Racially Insensitive Issues in Bon Appétit are Part of a Larger Problem

Opinion

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Photo By Laura Murray

The highly popular test kitchen staff is widely regarded for their Youtube channel. But the recent scandal regarding former Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport, has brought staffers to speak up about the discriminatory culture at Bon Appétit.

By Keana Saberi, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Bon Appétit has always stood as a testament to high editorial standards and exploring the rich culture of food. A highly acclaimed food magazine and richly regarded business based in New York City, Bon Appétit has held the place of an elegant guide to cooking, with it’s well articulated recipes and eye-catching covers. As an avid watcher of the company’s Youtube videos, shock and anger absorbed me as a recent racially insensitive incident with Bon Appétit’s Editor in Chief, Adam Rapoport, was made public, sparking a call for a culture change in the company’s Test Kitchen. Dressed as a Puerto Rican for Halloween in 2013, Rapoport’s actions insulted and inflamed many. The photo came to light after a food writer who worked freelance wanted to introduce dishes from Puerto Rican origin into Bon Appétit, but faced resistance and dismissal from Rapoport. This event comes at a time when the racism ingrained in America is being heavily combatted, and questions of white privilege are being examined. Rapoport’s actions have ignited a major controversy and pushed the members of the Test Kitchen to call out his behavior and the discriminatory culture of Bon Appétit. After backlash and criticism, he tendered his resignation from the company. 

The recent allegations about the lack of monetary compensation for video appearances of some of their editors has sparked anger, primarily from fans on Twitter. In a New York Times article following Rapoport’s resignation, light is shed on his discriminatory conduct. The article also highlights crucial discussion points regarding diversity- is the world of Bon Appétit, and on a broader spectrum the world of food magazines, diverse enough? Do they encapsulate the varied cuisines they utilize techniques and ingredients from? In a world where we are checking our privileges, whether they be race, gender, or economic based, it’s no wonder that the food industry should be examined as well. 

Claims regarding a pattern of unjust treatment are being scrutinized, and a restructured, more inclusive culture is what Bon Appétit needs. The food industry, like most others, must deal with interpersonal and deeply embedded racism. Sohla El-Waylly, an Assitant Editor at  Bon Appétit, has called for equality and equity in the company, drawing the commercial food industry and company Condé Nast, which owns Bon Appétit, into recent calls for an end to racial discrimination for black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC). El-Waylly drew attention to the structured racism and prejudice present at the company as well as the Condé Nast corporation through her Instagram platform on Monday, June 8,  after the photo of Rapoport resurfaced. 

El-Waylly claimed that she was not compensated for videos she was in on  the company’s  largely followed Bon Appétit Youtube channel, and was allegedly paid considerably less than some of her fellow food editors, who were in fact, white. After her allegation on social media, her fellow Test Kitchen staffers and editors followed her and wrote about their disgust and infuriation towards Rapoport’s behavior. Many former employees and current staffers echoed her words and stood in solidarity on their social media platforms, such as Senior Food Editor Molly Baz proclaiming a boycott and refusing to appear in any Bon Appétit videos until El-Waylly and other BIPOC received fair pay and treatment equal to their fellow editors. This call to action was reposted by Test Kitchen Director, Chris Morocco, and Food Editor Carla Lalli Music. Another Test Kitchen member, Brad Leone, responded to fans outraged at this issue and said that despite Bon Appétit being able to post previously shot videos, he will not appear in any new videos until the company responds to Rapoport’s actions and activates change. This sentiment was repeated by other staffers on their platforms as well, including former employees who had negative experiences at Bon Appétit similar to El-Waylly.

On Wednesday, June 10, the company addressed a message to their Instagram followers pledging to rid the company of systemic racism and implement strengthened protocols against racist ideologies. On their Instagram platform, Bon Appétit admitted to “appropriating” “ non-white stories” and falsely claiming diversity by incorporating people of color (POC) in staff photos to “seem more diverse”. The business announced it will remedy any “pay inequities”, and set out on “prioritizing people of color for the editor in chief candidate pool” as well as “implementing anti-racism training.”  The company acknowledged it’s fault and promised to amplify POC voices as well as make sure that recipes are not detached from their cultures and white washed.

Now more than ever, we must challenge the racist ideals present in our society with a show of solidarity towards POC and all minorities facing discrimination and exploitation. Bon Appétit’s case is neither new nor extraordinary but it is an example of large companies pledging diversity solely for how they will be seen by the media and by the people. Diversity should not be just for optics. It should be there because racial minorities must receive equal pay for the work they have produced. Recipes should be credited to the person who writes them and from the culture or racial background from which they originate.  While Bon Appétit has promised to instill change in all tiers of the business, they must do more than just talk and make veiled promises- they must set a precedent for a more inclusive workplace and industry. The allegations made against the company are stark and concerning. It is an issue, not committed solely by the members of the Test Kitchen (though no discrimination in a work place is desirable, but not often achieved) but rather part of a degrading system. 

It’s troubling for me as a long time lover of Bon Appétit and as the daughter of an immigrant family to hear about the insensitivity and horrid issues present there. Without a clear and concise reformation of Bon Appétit and their policies, my once strong interest in them will evaporate as it likely will for many others. However, this is not solely an issue that Bon Appétit bears. These incidents point to racist values in our nation that can’t be tolerated. It points to largely white dominated industries that discredit minorities. Every industry must strive to do their part to fight racial injustice. Change starts small. Discussions on racism reverberate between individuals, between co-workers, between friends and family. It then spreads to workplaces, to businesses, to the voting polls. Once individuals are aware of their prejudices and devote themselves to anti-racism, the nation will alter for the better. People will work to denounce racism in every form and ensure that the country and all of its citizens are granted their basic human rights and are valued equally.