Condé Nast and its food publication Bon Appétit have come under fire as their high profile staff members have made — or been subjects of — allegations of racial bias, among other things.
Between countless social media posts, exposés in which employees of color revealed the realities of the “toxic” work environment, and the resignations of executives, the publication has arguably experienced it’s most chaotic week ever.
After days of intense online discourse surrounding the publication, its ethics, and its future, Bon Appétit issued a statement about its plans to “take ownership” of its mistakes and change its culture
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Over the past week, Bon Appétit has dominated headlines and social media feeds for reasons other than its wildly popular Test Kitchen videos. The outlet has experienced a deluge of public criticism from fans, contributors, and former and current employees, many of whom have pointed to a culture of racism and inequality at the publication and its parent company Condé Nast.
After several instances of “insensitive” social media posts from executives and employees surfaced online, 14 current and former staffers at the publication revealed to Business Insider that the beloved outlet was a “toxic” workplace in which people of color had been treated like “second class citizens.”
As new discoveries surface, executives step down, and employees demand change, it’s difficult to keep up with the saga.
Here’s a breakdown of the last week’s conversations about food, race, power, and media. On May 31, the Bon Appétit Instagram account posted about its plan to address the “racial and political issues” in the food world — a move that prompted discussion about the publication’s diversity.
Instagram Embed: //instagram.com/p/CA3iPVznD5X/embed Width: 800px
Amid nationwide protests in response to George Floyd’s killing in police custody, the publication, like many other companies, voiced its solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Instagram photo — a black square emblazoned with the phrase “Food has always been political” — received nearly 90,000 likes.
“Here at BA, we’re often talking about recipes, cooking techniques, and emerging restaurants,” the caption reads. “But we also understand that food is inherently political.”
The post said that in coming days, readers could expect to see “more stories from restaurant owners and staff at the front lines of these protests” and spotlight black-owned food businesses.
Ultimately, the caption promised that Bon Appétit would be “tackling more of the racial and political issues at the core of the food world” and encouraged followers to donate to organizations supporting racial justice.
While the post instantly racked up likes, its sentiments stirred up online discussion about the publication’s history with nonwhite food writers.
On June 4, Puerto Rican food writer Illyanna Maisonet called out the hypocrisy she saw in Bon Appétit’s supposed “solidarity,” Insider’s Annetta Konstantinides reported. Maisonet recalled that she pitched a story to the publication “about Afro-Boricuas that make regional rice fritters” — a pitch that an editor rejected, reasoning it sounded like “a story that could have been told 5 years ago.”
Bon Appétit went on to publish “another Euro-ingredient story,” she wrote.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1268648082826162176?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Months ago I pitched @bonappetit about Afro-Boricuas that make regional rice fritters. One of the editors said “sounds like a story that could have been told 5 years ago.” And they published another Euro-ingredient storyBet if I pitched it today, they’d buy it. #solidaritymyass
In a since-deleted Instagram post featuring a screenshot of her tweet, Maisonet elaborated on her concerns with Bon Appétit and its social media activism.
“So, before we go praising them for patting themselves on the back for showing ‘solidarity’ during a time when it would be bad for business to NOT show solidarity… maybe we can get some full print issues of the regional foods of Puerto Rico,” she wrote. “Oh, and Africa. Brazil. Basically, the entire f—— Diaspora. BY people from the Diaspora.”
Bon Appétit’s editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport commented on the post, writing: “Strongly agree with all of this. We are actively working to bring new faces and POVs onto our staff, including the test kitchen, to ensure lasting change. This will happen.”
Maisonet and Rapoport appeared to continue the discussion via direct messages on Instagram — messages that Maisonet then shared in another tweet.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1269329628658712576?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Some of you have asked about what happened with @bonappetit Nice of you to ask. I got a nice letter from #AdamRapoport this morning. Here is the series of IG DMs we shared moments ago. A montage… pic.twitter.com/ueRP5i91vx
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1269329633075331077?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw pic.twitter.com/mjzUROyXeE
In the messages, Rapoport told Maisonet that Bon Appétit readers expect food stories about “what’s happening right now,” although this was “not always” the case. Such exceptions had been made, he suggested, for Rick Martinez’s carnitas recipe, Priya Krishna’s recipes for “many of the Indian recipes she grew up with,” and Andy Baraghani’s “favorite Persian dishes.”
Rapoport went on to explain that POC staff writers’ “path[s] to a green light” on pitches are simpler than for a freelancer “coming in cold.”
“I’m definitely certain listing your three POC staff token writers (two of which are white presenting) is helpful in ensuring I am aware of the ‘diversity’ BA HAS shown,” Maisonet responded. “But I get that their avenues are less congested when it comes to getting ideas accepted, as they are staffers. That still doesn’t deflect from the fact that you don’t have any Puerto Rican stories or recipes.”
The screenshots of the messages elicited a strong response on Twitter.
“He himself just listed BA’s tokenization problem yet doesn’t see it as a problem?” one commenter wrote.
On June 8, a photo of Rapoport in stereotypical Puerto Rican clothing resurfaced.
The photo, originally posted to Instagram by Rapoport’s wife Simone Shubuck in 2013, featured the couple posing together at a Halloween party in 2004.
“#TBT me and my papi,” Shubuck captioned the since-deleted post, tagging Rapoport and using the hashtag #boricua.
Food writer Tammie Teclemariam shared a screenshot of the post — and several of its comments from other prominent members of the media — on Twitter, captioning the photo “I do not know why Adam Rapoport simply doesn’t write about Puerto Rican food for @bonappetit himself!!!”
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1269999555480821760?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw I do not know why Adam Rapoport simply doesn’t write about Puerto Rican food for @bonappetit himself!!! https://t.co/rW0k5tjMoS pic.twitter.com/odZnFLz2gd
“This was so dead on, I was so afraid of you two that night!!!!!” Jane Larkworthy, who is the current beauty editor-at-large of The Cut, commented on the photo, according to Teclemariam’s screenshots.
“Beyond. Did Rapo know you were gramming this!?” Bon Appétit’s current editor-at-large Christine Muhlke wrote.
“Yes that is do rag under his hat if that is what you meant,” Shubuck responded, adding winking emoji.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270001979310383104?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw pic.twitter.com/JOg6IkThUu
Larkworthy replied to the tweet, calling her words “shameful.”
“My comment on this post, with its implication that I’m afraid of people of color — in particular, Puerto Rican people — is shameful,” she wrote. “What’s even more shameful is that I didn’t approach the people in the photograph at the time and tell them why this was racist.”
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270067267750035456?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw My comment on this post, with its implication that I’m afraid of people of color — in particular, Puerto Rican people — is shameful. What’s even more shameful is that I didn’t approach the people in the photograph at the time and tell them why this was racist.
The photo sparked outrage among Bon Appétit fans and contributors alike. Several chefs and food writers affiliated with the publication denounced Rapoport on social media, calling the photo “f—– up” and a blatant “erasure” of the work of BIPOC staffers.
Contributor Priya Krishna took to Twitter to voice her reaction to the photo and to share her plans moving forward.
“As a BA contributor, I can’t stay silent on this. This is f—– up, plain and simple. It erases the work the BIPOC on staff have long been doing, behind the scenes,” she wrote in a tweet. “I plan to do everything in my power to hold the EIC, and systems that hold up actions like this, accountable.”
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270019150946148352?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw As a BA contributor, I can’t stay silent on this. This is fucked up, plain and simple. It erases the work the BIPOC on staff have long been doing, behind the scenes. I plan to do everything in my power to hold the EIC, and systems that hold up actions like this, accountable. https://t.co/admyW8W2eM
Bon Appétit’s research director Joseph Hernandez tweeted that he was “appalled and insulted by the EIC’s choice to embrace brownface,” noting that he was potentially “courting internal reprimand” for speaking out.
“I’ve spent my career celebrating Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and POC voices in food, and this feels like an erasure of that work,” he wrote.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270014872974168066?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw I’m likely courting internal reprimand, but I’m appalled and insulted by the EIC’s choice to embrace brownface in the photo making the rounds. I’ve spent my career celebrating Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and POC voices in food, and this feels like an erasure of that work.
Senior editor Andy Baraghani weighed in on social media as well, writing in an Instagram story he wanted to “make it very clear” that he does “not condone the photo” of Rapoport. “It is beyond inexcusable,” he said.
Among the Bon Appétit employees to call out Rapoport’s behavior was assistant food editor Sohla El-Waylly, who opened up a larger discussion about the publication’s treatment of people of color.
El-Waylly addressed the controversy in an Instagram story in which she condemned Rapoport’s photo and alleged that Bon Appétit only paid white editors for video appearances on the publication’s wildly popular YouTube channel, Insider’s Palmer Haasch reported.
Tech writer Sarah Manavis (and many others) shared screenshots from the story on Twitter, noting that El-Waylly was one of the only “front-facing” Bon Appétit editors to denounce Rapoport at the time.
“I am angry and disgusted by the photo of @rapoport. I have asked for his resignation. This is just a symptom of the systemic racism that runs rampant within the CondeNast as a whole,” El-Waylly wrote.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270069650060083207?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw In case you’ve missed it: Not only is Sohla one of the only front facing Bon Appetit editors to denounce EIC Adam Rapoport doing brown face, apparently only white BA editors are paid for their video appearances. Here’s her Instagram story just now pic.twitter.com/h0uPMlJYHN
The chef and restaurateur, who was hired at Bon Appétit in 2019 and has since appeared in the fan favorite Test Kitchen videos, continued, saying that she had been hired as an assistant editor to “assist mostly white editors with significantly less experience” — for an annual salary of $50,000. She added that had been “pushed in front of video as a display of diversity” and that no employees of color had been compensated for such video appearances. Meanwhile, she said, white editors had been paid for their appearances.
Commenters and some Bon Appétit personalities were quick to rally around El-Waylly and call on the publication to do better by its BIPOC employees.
“Please let it be known that I stand with my family @bonappetitmag and do not support the behavior of our editor-in-chief,” senior editor Molly Baz wrote in an Instagram story. “I will not appear in any videos on Bon Appétit until my BIPOC colleagues receive equal pay and are fairly compensated for their appearances.”
Carla Lalli Music, the publication’s food director, stated on both Instagram and Twitter that should could not “contribute as a host” in videos until El-Waylly was appropriately compensated. She also called on Matt Duckor, the Condé Nast executive behind Bon Appétit’s popular videos, to address the issue.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270115317759565825?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw I don’t know what everyone makes, but clearly Sohla should make more. To that end, this is one thing I can do. pic.twitter.com/mIV4Jd4aFf
Other tweets focused on El-Waylly’s prowess in the kitchen, demanding that she be paid for her appearances and highlighting on-camera moments in which El-Waylly “cooked circles” around her colleagues.
A Condé Nast representative told Variety that it was “untrue” that the publication’s white editors were paid for appearing in videos while people of color were not.
A spokesperson told Insider that the company is “dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.”
Later that evening, Rapoport resigned as editor-in-chief.
In a statement posted to Instagram, Rapoport announced that he would be stepping down to “reflect on the work” he needed to do “as a human being” and to allow Bon Appétit to “get to a better place.”
Rapoport went on to call the Halloween costume in the infamous photo “extremely ill-conceived” and said that he had not “championed an inclusive vision” at the publication.
The statement continued: “The staff has been working hard to evolve the brand in a positive, more diverse direction. I will do all I can to support that work, but I am not the one to lead the work. I am deeply sorry for my failings and to the position in which I put the editors of BA. Thank you.”
Rapoport’s post is no longer available, as his Instagram account seems to have been removed.
Manavis, however, uploaded screenshots of the post to Twitter.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270254693009285120?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw In case you’ve somehow missed it: Rapoport has stepped down. Here’s his statement pic.twitter.com/A9wp5QTd8s
On June 9, a photo of a Confederate-flag cake, baked by Bon Appétit drinks editor Alex Delany, resurfaced online.
A photo of the cake, which was originally posted to Delany’s Tumblr account called “The Pantalones” in 2010, began circulating on Twitter when Tammie Teclemariam, the food writer who shared the infamous photos of Rapoport, referenced the creation in a tweet.
“Close your eyes and picture the confederate flag cake Alex Delany posted to his Tumblr,” she quipped, to which a commenter replied with a link to the blog post photo.
“god, didn’t even have to try hard to find it,” she wrote.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270412752146903040?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw god didn’t even have to try hard to find it https://t.co/jtUWw4TMiU
In the blog post, which has since been removed, Delany said that he had baked the cake for his best friend who was moving to South Carolina.
“To honor her new home, my friends and I felt the need to express some southern heritage in cake form,” Delany wrote. “Such a glorious cake for such a sad occasion.”
The “about” section on the Tumblr account, Insider’s Annetta Konstantinides reported, confirmed that the page, was, in fact, Delany’s blog.
Delany addressed the photo in a series of Instagram stories.
“There’s an image of a cake depicting a confederate flag that was pulled from my Tumblr when I was 17,” he wrote. “It goes without saying that this is a despicable symbol that a 17 year-old should understand. It does not reflect the values that I hold now. I condemn whoever uses or glorifies that flag.”
Delany acknowledged that the photo reflected “a lack of understanding” and called it “shameful.”
“I cannot apologize intensely enough,” wrote. “I know it doesn’t cut it, but I am truly sorry. The significance of the failure is not lost on me.”
In a follow-up story, Delany wrote that he would be donating his next paycheck to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, in addition to frequently donating to “the charities and organizations that are fighting for progress.”
More screenshots from Delany’s old Tumblr posts and tweets continued to surface online — many of which commenters described as “objectifying women.”
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270444183963217922?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw sure seems like @alex_delany has a lot of thoughts about women pic.twitter.com/wMVH5PySaE
On the same day that the Confederate-flag cake photo resurfaced, a Vine video clip in which Delany uses a homophobic slur began circulating on Instagram.
The clip, which was first posted to Vine in 2013 with the caption “How to not offend gay people,” features Delany looking into the camera and saying, “You guys wanna see a bunch of f—— lying on top of each other?” before panning to a pile of sticks.
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Eater staff writer Elazar Sontag, who reposted the video to Instagram, called on Delany to resign immediately from Bon Appétit.
“Before I found my way to food writing, people like @alex_delany were the reason I didn’t think I could build a life in restaurants and the food world,” Sontag captioned the post. “They made food into this hyper-masculine, deeply gendered sport that I didn’t think I could participate in as a gay kid. The underlying implication was that people like this hated my existence, that they didn’t see gay people as equal, or even worth acknowledging. That I would never be welcome.”
He continued: “No matter how much they ‘show up’ for queer rights now, I know they don’t respect me or any other queer people as their equal. It’s nice to be reminded that I was right, and that this shameful behavior is always there, right below the surface. Resign @alex_delany. Today.”
Delany did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Also on June 9, offensive tweets from Matt Druckor, a vice president at Condé Nast who previously oversaw Bon Appétit’s video content, surfaced online.
Twitter user Noah Adams, who argued that diversity is “just a joke” to Condé Nast and started a petition calling for “an independent outside investigation into racial inequality” at the company, unearthed screenshots of Duckor’s tweets in which he made racist and homophobic jokes.
In the tweets, Duckor described working out (and listening to John Mayer) as “so gay” and joked about the presence of “black people and Asian same-sex couples” in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, Insider’s Rachel Greenspan reported.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270407681610625026?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw diversity is just a joke to @mattduckor and leadership at @bonappetit and @CondeNast Matt must step down from his leadership roles to ensure BIPOC at the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen are paid for their work and so real diversity can happen at Condé. https://t.co/PmxBemNsgu pic.twitter.com/MEPCECzWhh
Duckor, who is now the head of programming for lifestyle and style at Condé Nast, apologized in a statement posted to Twitter that afternoon.
“My words were inappropriate and hurtful. At the time, I thought I was making a joke — but even my 20-year-old self should have seen that the remarks weren’t remotely funny,” he wrote. “I’m ashamed and I realize that I’ve cast doubt on my present-day values, and weakened the voice behind my calls for systemic change and inclusivity for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees.”
The tweets are no longer publicly available, as his account has since been set to private.
14 Bon Appétit employees and contributors told Business Insider’s Rachel Premack that they felt the magazine was a ‘toxic’ environment for people of color.
On the evening of June 9, Business Insider’s Rachel Premack reported that over a dozen former and current contributors and employees of Bon Appétit, all of whom identified as people of color, felt that nonwhite employees were socially and professionally “slighted” at the outlet.
Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, who worked as Rapoport’s assistant for over two years, told Business Insider that she never received a pay increase on her $35,300 annual base salary and had been unable to pay her rent for the last three months. Upon asking Rapoport for a raise, she said, he suggested that the position at Bon Appétit might “not be the right job” for her.
“I am the only Black woman on his staff,” Walker-Hartshorn said. “He treats me like the help.”
Other employees told Business Insider that issues at the company extended beyond Rapoport’s insensitivity — the institution, they said, treats people of color as “second class” to white employees. This took the form of less lucrative contracts for people of color in the video space, excluding nonwhite employees from various “social and professional groups,” and underrepresenting (or even misrepresenting) stories from “nonwhite backgrounds”
“There is a big difference in terms of how they monetarily value the white employees versus the people of color,” Sohla El-Waylly, whose Instagram stories about her experience with the company previously went viral, told Business Insider.
A representative from Condé Nast responded to several of the allegations made by employees and circulating on social media, telling Business Insider that the company was “listening and are taking seriously the concerns raised” by Bon Appétit employees.
The representative also said the company was “accelerating” its Diversity and Inclusion report, which will be published this summer, along with a pay-equity analysis to be published at the end of 2020.
In an email to Business Insider, Rapoport denied the accusations that the now-infamous photo was an example of brownface. “On the record: I was not wearing makeup or face coloring of any sort in that photograph,” he wrote. Walter-Hatshorn said that Rapoport keeps a framed copy of the photo in his desk.
On June 10, Bon Appétit senior food editor Andy Baraghani responded to Alex Delany’s offensive Vine — only to be called out on Twitter for his own alleged problematic behavior.
In a series of Instagram stories, Baraghani responded to Delany’s video, writing that the clip was “hurtful and triggering and all too familiar.”
In a follow-up story, he added that he reached out to his queer colleagues at Bon Appétit to discuss the video and “assess what is actionable and what is valid.” Delaney, he said, “will have to respond to that video on his own.”
He went on to say that he’s “not one to put someone on blast to millions of people” and he hopes to “have a dialogue.”
Baraghani, however, was immediately called out on Twitter for alleged microaggressions of his own. One Twitter user reposted screenshots of the Instagram stories, noting that Baraghani had attempted to cut “multiple projects” by a Korean-American female colleague.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270832034953539599?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Lmao @ Andy being this hurt over an old Vine when he was just called out for using his editorial influence to cut multiple projects from a Korean female colleague pic.twitter.com/7vb7WfXufP
In series of tweets, former Bon Appétit staffer, Alyse Whitney alleged that Baraghani tried to cut her profile “Queer Eye” star Antoni Porowski because of what she says were his own “petty feelings” toward Porowski.
“This was the second time that andy used his popularity to sway editorial decisions and undercut my work,” she wrote. “Both times he went directly to my editor to try and kill a story based on petty feelings about antoni porowski. he never spoke to me about it. both times i cried at my desk.”
Bon Appetit appears to have published two articles from Whitney on Porowski.
Tweet Embed: //twitter.com/mims/statuses/1270743027275923457?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw this was the second time that andy used his popularity to sway editorial decisions and undercut my work. both times he went directly to my editor to try to kill a story based on petty feelings about antoni porowski. he never spoke to me about it. both times i cried at my desk.
Baraghani didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.
On June 10, Matt Duckor left Condé Nast.
Am email from Condé Nast Entertainment’s president, Oren Katzeff, obtained by Business Insider’s Rachel Premack, confirmed that Duckor, who was the head of video for Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast brands such as Architectural Digest and Vogue, had left the company.
An interim replacement will be announced “as soon as possible,” Katzeff said in his email.
The change in leadership followed criticism of Duckor’s past racist and homophobic tweets, as well as reports that he failed to diversify Bon Appétit’s video content to include nonwhite talent.
Katzeff’s email thanked employees for their “honesty and candor” over the last few days.
“We’ve already started the process of reviewing our practices and over the next week we’ll be bringing forward a plan of action centered on diversity and inclusion,” he wrote. “We’ll be working with you in the key areas we need to improve — our talent selection and hiring (both in front of and behind the camera), our programming strategy, pilot development, our compensation practices, and more.”
Condé Nast and Duckor did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
On June 10, a statement was posted to the Bon Appétit website, titled “A Long-Overdue Apology, and Where We Go From Here.”
Instagram Embed: //instagram.com/p/CBQsJPtn4g4/embed Width: 800px
“We, the staffs of Bon Appétit and Epicurious, want to address our readers, contributors, and peers in light of Adam Rapoport’s resignation as editor in chief,” the statement, which was cross-posted to Instagram begins. “The deeply offensive photo circulating of Adam is horrific on its own, but also speaks to the much broader and longstanding impact of racism at these brands.”
The post goes on to say that the company has been complicit in a culture that the staff does “not agree with” and is committing to change. After consistently covering stories, recipes, and people from a “white-centric viewpoint,” treating non-white narratives as being “not newsworthy or trendy,” and tokenizing BIPOC staff and contributors, the company will be correcting the imbalance of power by “looking to accelerate [BIPOC employees’] career advancement and pay.”
“We haven’t properly learned from or taken ownership of our mistakes,” the statement reads. “But things are going to change.”
In order to make Bon Appétit and Epicurious “inclusive, just, and equitable,” the post says, the company will be “prioritizing people of color for the editor in chief candidate pool, implementing anti-racism training for staff, and resolving any pay inequities that are found across all departments.”
Ultimately, the statement says, the company’s editorial mission is to “better acknowledge, honor, and amplify BIPOC voices” by hiring more freelancers of color and investing in them, centering contributions of marginalized people in coverage, addressing appropriation in recipe development processes, auditing previously published work, and vetting subjects of coverage.
“This is just the start,” the post concludes. “We want to be transparent, accountable, and active as we begin to dismantle racism at our brands.”
Bon Appétit’s editor in chief just resigned — but staffers of color say there’s a ‘toxic’ culture of microaggressions and exclusion that runs far deeper than one man
Adam Rapoport’s assistant of nearly 3 years gives an up-close view of the fallen editor in chief — and how Bon Appétit failed its staffers of color
The internet is rallying behind Bon Appétit’s Sohla El-Waylly after she accused the publication of pay inequity