On Thursday, popular food magazine Bon Appétit lost three employees of color as a result of racial discrimination in the workplace and weeks of unsuccessful contract negotiations. The news comes two months after a 2013 Instagram photo of Adam Rapoport, Bon Appétit’s former editor-in-chief, in brownface resurfaced, which sparked criticism around the publication’s systemic racism and calls for Rapoport’s resignation by staffers. Soon after, the staff of the magazine posted a public statement on Instagram recognizing their complicity in a racist workplace culture and planning to make change for their BIPOC staffers as they “begin to dismantle racism.”
With over 6 million Youtube subscribers, the Bon Appétit channel has amassed a large following — many of whom watch their Test Kitchen series featuring video contributors of color Priya Krishna, Sohla El-Waylly and Rick Martinez. Amidst the magazine’s declaration in early June to instill an equitable work environment for BIPOC staffers, the three chefs went into weeks of contract negotiations asking for compensation and video appearances equal to what the publication offered their white counterparts. However, Bon Appétit and its parent company, Condé Nast, failed to meet their demands.
El-Waylly, a Bengali-American assistant editor, publicly accused the magazine of only compensating white editors who appear in the Test Kitchen videos and not the people of color. She also revealed that, even with over fifteen years of professional experience, she was making a salary of $50,000 to assist white editors with much less experience. She believes she was “pushed in front of video as a display of diversity” and told BuzzFeed News how they asked her to stand in the background of photo shoots and video shoots amongst other exploitive measures for tasks she did not sign up nor get paid for. After speaking out about her mistreatment, she received a new contract offer on June 8, which included a raise but nothing close to the salary of her white co-workers. Consequently, El-Waylly recently announced she would no longer be appearing in Bon Appétit videos but would still be contributing to the magazine’s recipes and articles.
Krishna and Martinez reportedly received offers on June 8, which would have guaranteed 10 video appearances per year — significantly less than their white co-workers, some of whom were guaranteed up to 60 appearances. Both refused to accept these offers. In a Twitter post, Krisha, an Indian-American food writer, stated their diversity and equity plans were “all lip service” and said the contract would actually give her a lower wage than how much she currently earns. She also stated how non-white members of the test kitchen were tokenized and “carelessly framed as monolithic experts for their communities.” Martinez, a Mexican-American senior food editor, characterized the negotiation process “torturous and dehumanizing” but said he learned a lot, asserting that “my happiness and my self-worth are more important to me than returning to the test kitchen.” The two will also not be returning to the Test Kitchen but will remain at the magazine.
To support their BIPOC co-workers, some staffers and fellow Test Kitchen contributors have decided to quit Bon Appétit or will no longer appear on their Youtube channel. Ryan Walker Hartshorn and Jesse Sparks, both Black staff members, had their last day on Friday. They accused Condé Nast of failing to recognize their contributions and of exploiting them as props to diversify the workplace. Many fans who loved the Bon Appétit channel and once admired the company for representing diversity in culture and cuisines are also no longer supportive of the publication after becoming aware of the treatment of their BIPOC employees.
After two months of failing to uphold their declared promises to equitably promote and produce profit for its non-white employees, Bon Appétit and Condé Nast have garnered much backlash for their performative activism. This opens up the conversation of how other brands, organizations and institutions plan to address their inherent systemic racism beyond just public statements and social media posts.
BIPOC are often put in front of screens and platforms as token characters to deceive customers and fans into believing their establishment is committed to diversity, inclusion and equity. Behind the camera, however, their presence and expertise is undervalued and neglected by that very place.
If an establishment needs to use non-white people as props to display a happy, inclusive environment in front of an audience which does not exist in reality behind closed doors, something must change. No individual should be used as a ploy to solve a brand’s diversity problem; Bon Appétit and all other institutions who claim to promote diversity have a responsibility to do so honorably — not at any BIPOC’s expense.