Sometimes life comes at you fast. Sometimes, that means stories in the food industry break in such rapid succession that you have no time to blink in between. Sometimes, it means someone found out about something racist you did a few years ago. What happens when it’s both? Ask the fine folks at Bon Appetit.
In recent years, Bon Appetit made a name for itself, rising from the ashes of dying print media, through its Youtube channel featuring a diverse cast of personalities. But over the course of this past week, many of the publication’s executives have been found to foster a toxic workplace culture, rife with racism, sexism and homophobia.
Before I get too deep (because this is going to be a long one), I feel the need to point out that while this story’s breaking happened to coincide with Black Lives Matter protests across the country and gained traction from people’s outrage towards inequality, the events that have unfolded should not be blamed on “cancel culture,” “political correctness run amok” or any other reactionary dismissal of critical thinking. Adam Rapoport didn’t lose his job because Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter came to be because of the damage that many in positions of power like Rapoport have done in both mainstream media and society as a whole.
[Also, yes, there are going to be a lot of links to Instagram posts that have been screenshotted and uploaded to Twitter. Clearly the real takeaway from this debacle is that I need to get an Instagram account.]
Shortly after the killing of George Floyd, Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief at Bon Appetit, wrote an editorial highlighting some of the coverage they’ve given to black chefs. Many criticized this as being superficial and performative, with others saying that BA has, on numerous occasions, shut down articles relating to black culture for not being “trendy” enough or otherwise was discriminatory towards black employees. (Also, the repeated use of “uprisings” instead of “protests” seems a little suspicious.)
An article from Eater criticized the role BA played in the appropriating and whitewashing of many cultures’ ingredients and cuisines (gochujang, Aleppo pepper, and sumac seem to be some of BA’s favorite ingredients) that had become prevalent in food media in recent years.
While it’s a fairly minor offense in comparison, it may also be worth bringing up the time Rapoport accidentally called Priya Krishna “Sohla,” the name of his other Indian employee.
Monday, June 8th
Food writer Tammie Teclemariam posted a screencap of an Instagram post made by Rapoport’s wife, which depicted the two of them donning Puerto Rican stereotypes as Halloween costumes, brownface and all.
Many were quick to declare their outrage and demand that Rapoport either resign or be fired. Meanwhile, Sohla El-Waylly, one of the leading stars of the Youtube channel, was one of the first BA employees to speak up, and disclosed that this kind of behavior was just the tip of the iceberg. She said that BIPOC workers have been paid disproportionately for their work, including not being paid a per-video commission that the white stars of the Youtube channel receive.
Molly Baz, one of the aforementioned white stars, announced that she would no longer make videos for BA until all of El-Waylly’s demands were met. One by one, their white coworkers chimed in in agreement.
Former staff photographer Alex Lau also wrote an extensive tweet thread about his experiences at BA, including how he had futilely tried to fix the system from within.
By the end of Monday, Adam Rapoport had resigned from his position as Editor-in-Chief.
Tuesday, June 9th
Since Rapoports’s official resignation did little to fix many of the systemic problems in place at BA, many began to turn their attention to other senior members of the staff.
Some came for Andrew Knowlton, the Restaurant Editor, for behaviors such as gaslighting an employee for trying to bring up racist practices in the offices.
Others called out Matthew Duckor, a VP at Conde Nast and BA’s former “Head of Video” (Did a 3 year old come up with that job title?), for a series of old racist and homophobic tweets. He tried to apologize by saying that he was young and didn’t know any better at the time, but many were quick to point out that he was, at the youngest, 20, aka for all intents and purposes An Adult when he wrote those tweets.
Tammie Teclemariam returned to ask current and former BA employees to DM her information about Duckor that they didn’t want to go public with themselves, ranging from his hand in the aforementioned pay disparity to making inappropriate comments towards women.
Teclemariam also did even more social media muckraking and found that Drinks Editor Alex Delany had once decorated a cake to look like a Confederate flag, while others found things like a Vine where he says the f-slur and some questionable comments about women on this Tumblr. He later deleted his Tumblr and Twitter, and issued a cookie-cutter apology on his Instagram.
She also vague-tweeted that Brad Leone, one of the most beloved stars of the Youtube channel, is “possibly not a great guy,” but later added, “don’t fret.” At that point, some began to accuse her of just trying to stir the pot.
Ultimately, Matt Hunziker, director and camera operator for Leone’s show, reported that the higher ups were ignoring the situation regarding the pay disparity, and that they were not “learning and growing.”
Wednesday, June 10th
By this point, journalists were able to do more thorough investigations and put together exposés that were more than a blurb about an accusation followed by a nut graph.
Business Insider published an article where they interviewed 14 current and former BIPOC employees of Bon Appetit. In addition to information already discussed above, it also described events such as an incident where several BIPOC staffers were told they weren’t allowed the test kitchen. (Carla Lalli Music, the Food Director at the time, would later defend her stance in the affair on Twitter.) Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, a black woman who served as Rapoport’s personal assistant, recalled that she would often spend her day doing menial tasks like polishing her boss’s golf clubs or trying to teach his wife how to use Google Calendar. In another incident, Knolton called Rick Martinez a “one trick pony” for only developing Mexican recipes, which is what he was being forced to do so BA could tout “diversity” bonus points. Martinez would also say that the magazine under Rapoport’s tenure “went from old and irrelevant and white-washed content to young and trendy white-washed content.” (Martinez would also upload a more graphic description of the treatment he received to his Instagram that same day.) Later that day, Business Insider would also report that Duckor had left the company.
Vice would liken Rapoport to Michael Scott from The Office, but noted that that kind of bumbling, endearingly insensitive bad boss archetype isn’t as charming in the real world where real employees are being affected. Parallels were also drawn between the Youtube channel and The Office itself, stating that the “quirky workplace” facade put on in the videos helped hide the more sinister practices that lurked beneath the surface, and that the notion that they were “one big family” often pressured BIPOC into doing more than their fair share for the greater good.
Jezebel showed email transcripts where Rapoport argued the semantics of having his costume be called “brownface” when he wasn’t wearing makeup, and had to be explained to, like a child, that the term refers to the racist caricature and not the literal act of putting brown makeup on one’s face. What a douche.
Bon Appetit published an official apology on their site, a whole two days after the controversy began. Many believed that their empty promises of “learning from their mistakes” were a day late and a dollar short.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, former BA writer Alyse Whitney said that senior editor Andy Baraghani had, on several occasions, used his influence to undermine her efforts. Whether this had to do with racism, sexism, or just Andy being petty is up for debate, but still constitutes as unprofessional behavior to say the least.
Thursday, June 11th
As interest in the story seemed to wane for many in the industry, Claire Saffitz, arguably the face of the Youtube channel, released another statement on her Instagram. She said that her relative silence was due to taking time to find the right words, and that the same-old promises to “learn and grow” that most had been giving felt empty and performative. Unlike many of her white coworkers, she directly apologized for being complicit in the toxic environment and for not using her status to try to leverage even pay for her BIPOC coworkers.
Another BA Youtube personality, Amiel Stanek, also released a statement in response to BA’s official press release, where he demanded Conde Nast to stop avoiding action by setting vague timelines for changes or making excuses for not giving BIPOC workers raises like “the money just isn’t there.”
Associate editor Christina Chaey also opened up about her experiences with being pushed into more and more videos to “diversify” them- all without compensation.
Friday, June 12th
The biggest scandal of the day was that, as Teclemariam predicted, Brad Leone is possibly not a great guy. A leaked screenshot of an Instagram DM showed him making callous, almost Trump-y comments regarding El-Waylly’s demand for better pay. He also allegedly said that if Delany were to be fired (as of that day he had been sent on leave), he would quit.
Saturday, June 13th
The New York Times published an article suggesting that the issues prevalent in BA’s management may go all the way to the top of Conde Nast. Highlights include Chief Executive Roger Lynch chastising the whistleblowers within the company for raising their concerns in such a public manner and an account of an incident where he gave his black assistant a guidebook on how to speak “proper” English.
The Sporkful released a special episode of their podcast containing interviews with several current and former BA BIPOC workers. Nikita Richardson divulged that after she was laid off, a story she had already done all the leg work for was picked up and credited to Amanda Shapiro, a white staff writer who is now acting Editor-in-Chief in lieu of Rapoport. Sohla El-Waylly confirmed that the self-congratulatory editorial Rapoport wrote in the wake of George Floyd’s death was the real beginning of the end, and that the racist photo was just the final straw. She also said that she had a hand in the wishy-washy statement that BA had published on Wednesday, and said that it originally had taken much firmer stances on the issues but their PR office made them tone it down. Also, she commented that Leone, for the most part, just seemed like she “genuinely think[s] [that he] just found out racism is real.” Ultimately, she was glad that the story was getting as much coverage as it was, since it made her feel that her voice was finally being heard.
Sunday, June 14th
Baraghani released a statement on Instagram apologizing for his behavior, saying that trying to achieve his personal goals in BA’s toxic, competitive environment made him lose sight of solidarity with his fellow BIPOC.
While that may seem like the end of the story for now, it’s important to note that, even with the resignation of two executives, nothing has truly been done to fix the systemic problems at hand.