No one is safe in 2020: the year of exposing racist people and problematic companies. In a surprise twist, it was revealed that food publication and beloved Youtube channel, Bon Appetit, has a history of racism and discrimination, as well as shady diversity practices.
It started on May 31 after former Bon Appetit (BA) Editor-in-Chief, Adam Rapoport, posted a letter titled “Food Has Always Been Political” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Rapoport said BA would be “spotlighting Black-owned food businesses in cities nationwide. And you’ll see us tackling more of the racial and political issues at the core of the food world”, generating backlash from social media users for performative activism.
Then on June 8, a photo of Rapoport in brownface resurfaced on Twitter. Freelance food and drinks writer Tammie Teclemariam had posted a screenshot of Rapoport and his wife dressed as Puerto Ricans for Halloween in 2013.
Rapoport called a company-wide Zoom meeting to apologize for the offensive image, which is now circulating on social media, causing staffers to ask for his resignation.
One of these staffers was Assistant Food Editor Sohla El-Waylly, a woman of colour who promptly got on Instagram to call out Rapoport and Conde Nast (Bon Appetit’s parent company) for fostering systematic racism.
An employee for ten months, Sohla was paid $50,000 to assist “mostly white editors with significantly less experience”, despite having over 15 years of professional food and media experience.
“I’ve been pushed in front of video as a display of diversity. In reality, currently only white editors are paid for their video appearances. None of the people of color have been compensated”, wrote Sohla.
This revelation was shocking to fans of BA’s Test Kitchen videos, as Sohla has appeared in almost every video since her hiring. Sohla told Buzzfeed News that she had also been asked to stand in the background of photo shoots and video shoots to help with the brand’s diversity problem, making her “super uncomfortable”.
“I demand not only the resignation of Rapoport but also to see BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] given fair titles, fair salaries, and compensation for video appearances”, Sohla continued on Instagram.
Former BA staff photographer Alex Lau added to the fire on Twitter, saying he had left the magazine “for multiple reasons, but one of the main reasons was that white leadership refused to make changes that my BIPOC coworkers and I constantly pushed for.”
Test Kitchen stars Molly Baz, Carla Lalli Music, Andy Baraghani, Claire Saffitz, Alex Delany and Brad Leone have stood in solidarity with Sohla and other BIPOC staff by refusing to participate in further filming until BA enacts change.
“I WILL NOT APPEAR IN ANY VIDEOS ON BON APPETIT UNTIL MY BIPOC COLLEAGUES RECEIVE EQUAL PAY AND ARE FAIRLY COMPENSATED FOR THEIR APPEARANCES,” wrote Senior Food Editor Molly Baz.
Food Director, Carla Lalli Music, added on Twitter that she doesn’t “know what everyone makes, but clearly Sohla should make more.”
On the evening of June 8, Rapoport resigned from his position via Instagram.
“I am stepping down as editor in chief of Bon Appetit to reflect on the work that I need to do as a human being and to allow Bon Appetit to get to a better place”, wrote Rapoport in the now deleted post.
Since the first allegations of misconduct at BA, more of its staff members have been put on the spot for past racist actions.
On June 9, a photo of a Confederate flag cake made in 2010 by Food and Drinks Editor Alex Delany resurfaced. In a removed Tumblr post, Delany said he had baked the cake for a friend who was moving to South Carolina, writing "Such a glorious cake for such a sad occasion."
Offensive tweets from Matt Duckor, a Vice President at Condé Nast who was involved with Bon Appetit's video content, surfaced online the same day.
Both employees apologized and Duckor left Conde Nast the same day. On June 10, BA and Epicurious (another brand under Conde Nast) issued a “Long-Overdue Apology”,
“We have been complicit with a culture we don’t agree with and are committed to change. At times we have treated non-white stories as “not newsworthy” or “trendy.” Other times we have appropriated, co-opted, and Columbused them. While we’ve hired more people of color, we have continued to tokenize many BIPOC staffers and contributors in our videos and on our pages”, said the statement.
“Furthermore, it is our editorial mission to better acknowledge, honor, and amplify BIPOC voices... We will also create research protocols to vet the subjects of our coverage; there will be zero tolerance for racism, sexism, homophobia, or harassment in any form. This is just the start. We want to be transparent, accountable, and active as we begin to dismantle racism at our brands.”