It’s been one month since the scandal of toxic management and pay disparity at Bon Appetit broke, sending shockwaves through the food writing community. Unfortunately, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
That’s not to say that nothing has improved, of course. Presumably, negotiations regarding equal pay are under way, but are not yet at a stage where any of the involved parties are able to discuss it publicly yet. In addition, BA’s research director Joseph Hernandez wrote about how they would be going back and revising some of their recipes. He cited halo-halo with popcorn and gummy bears, a recipe for malawah marketed solely as “flaky bread,” and a video on how to make kimchi hosted by renowned white guy Brad Leone as several instances of BA’s old regime appropriating and bastardizing a dish of cultural significance, receiving criticism for it, promising to “learn from their mistakes, and do better in the future,” and then not doing any of that. These new revisions are fairly minor, typically adding an editor’s note regarding the country of origin of the dish. But at least it’s something.
Speaking of renowned white guy Brad Leone, “multiple sources” (take that as you will) have reported that his contract with Conde Nast Entertainment (the Conde Nast subdivision responsible for organizing separate “talent contracts” on top of BA’s regular pay that BIPOC had not been receiving for their video appearances) earned him a sum of $1.5 million over the course of three years. Many have speculated that his lack of transparency regarding this sum in the context of the conversation of pay disparities in the company meant that he was directly complicit in the boys’ club mentality that had been fostered there. Others further speculated that this sum may have also included kickbacks for CNE executives like Matt Duckor.
Possibly the most shocking, if not confusing, developments was the suspension of Matt Hunziker, director and editor of Leone’s videos. Hunziker had been very vocal against BA and CNE’s discriminatory policies and culture, and was described by his BIPOC coworkers as an excellent ally. Many voiced their concerns that, since he was also placed under investigation as part of the overarching investigation of CN from union-busting law firm Proskauer Rose, CN was trying to make an example out of Hunziker to deter others from whistleblowing. Choosing to suspend a white ally as opposed to a BIPOC employee also allows CN to cover their tracks and claim that it had “nothing to do with race.”
Some have also pointed out that while Hunziker’s Slack account has been deactivated, Alex Delany (creator of such classics as a Confederate flag cake and a Vine where he says the f-slur) still has his account active during his suspension.
Meanwhile, with Rapoport and Duckor gone, many turned their attention towards the remaining executives within the company. Several sexist and racist tweets written by CNE president Oren Katzeff surfaced, although he has yet to face any repercussions.
In addition to the incident I described in the first BA article where she outright stole a coworker’s article out from under her, interim editor-in-chief Amanda Shapiro has also been accused of being dismissive of topics focussing on food systems that she deemed too unpalatable for BA’s target demographic, as well as being complicit in BA’s toxic culture. As of the writing of this, there have been no updates on the search for a new EIC.
While most of the BA Test Kitchen’s staff had, for better or for worse, had their role to play in the scandals, test kitchen director Chris Morocco has simultaneously been both free of controversy (except for his involvement in the aforementioned halo-halo recipe) and hesitant to voice his support for his BIPOC coworkers aside from agreeing to the demand to not make any new video content until the issue is resolved. However, given Proskauer Rose’s investigation, any silence on his- or anyone else at BA’s- part could be the result of a non-disclosure agreement or non-disparagement clause. Alternatively, BA employees may have been warned that anything they say could be spun out of context (especially an issue with Leone, who tends to babble incoherently and go off on tangents a lot in his videos).
While it may be hard to tell just how much change is going on behind the scenes and Bon Appetit, what can be said is that there has been a change in food media as a whole. Thanks to current and former BA employees stepping up to voice their concerns, many food writers began to do the same with other executives in the industry. Peter Meehan was forced to resign after several writers came out with depictions of his inappropriate behavior over the years at both the L.A. Times, where he was the food editor, and at Lucky Peach.
Speaking of Lucky Peach, David Chang received criticism for his close ties to and enabling of Meehan and Mario Batali, as well as his own outbursts of anger that he would direct towards the kitchen staff at his restaurants (which doesn’t actually seem all that out of place in some kitchens, which is an entirely different subject matter).
It’s easy to get frustrated at the perceived lack of progress. But Conde Nast would want nothing more than for us to get tired of waiting, or forget this all happened and move on to the next hot topic of the week. It is for that reason we must continue to hold them accountable until some semblance of justice has been served.
One thought on “How Has Bon Appetit Been Handling Their Controversy?”
Though unfamiliar with Bon Appetit, I think the whole Conde Nast business model is in decline and the thing should just die off.
I am hopeful for a future path that’s more direct between readers/consumers and content producers.