On June 8, Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned from the publication after a photo resurfaced showing him and his wife dressed up as Puerto Ricans for Halloween. The photo, which circulated on Twitter, prompted employees and contributors to speak publicly about the culture of racial inequity that’s allegedly existed at Bon Appétit for years. The following night, on June 9, Business Insider published a report by Rachel Premack detailing how, beneath the Condé Nast food magazine’s glossy surface, lies a “toxic” culture of racism and exclusion, with more than a dozen former and current staffers of color detailing their experiences.
According to the report, sources described “a workplace that treats people of color as second class to white employees,” denying equal opportunities to nonwhite employees, excluding them from cliques at the magazine, and consistently failing to adequately tell diverse stories.
Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, Rapoport’s assistant since September 2017, told Business Insider that Rapoport has treated her like “the help” as the only Black woman on staff. She alleged that she not only had editorial duties, but also had to do tasks for Rapoport outside of her job description, including cleaning Rapoport’s golf clubs. Business Insider reports that Walker-Hartshorn went to human resources twice to request that Rapoport limit these personal errands and stop texting her on the weekend, but despite HR’s instructions to stop the texts, Rapoport allegedly continued.
Meanwhile, Walker-Hartshorn’s base salary of $35,300 stayed the same in her nearly three years at Bon Appétit — a scant annual pay for New York’s high prices, but unfortunately common in the magazine and publishing industry, which is notorious for barely livable early-career wages. Walker-Hartshorn told Business Insider that she asked Rapoport for a raise in early June, aware that her boss knew she hadn’t been able to pay rent for three months. Instead, according to Walker-Hartshorn, Rapoport told her, “Well, maybe you should consider that this is not the right job for you.” (On another occasion early in her tenure, Walker-Hartshorn alleged, Rapoport told her that he wanted his coffee “like Rihanna,” apparently in reference to the singer’s skin color.)
Bon Appétit’s wildly successful YouTube video efforts have also been rife with inequity, employees allege. Sohla El-Waylly, an assistant food editor, revealed in her Instagram stories on Monday that she has been “pushed in front of video as a display of diversity” without receiving compensation, as “only white editors are paid for their video appearances.” El-Waylly wrote that, despite her 15 years of professional experience, she accepted the role “to assist mostly white editors with significantly less experience” at a salary of $50,000. She told BuzzFeed News that soon she was asked to do a lot more work than just the recipe cross-testing that had been listed in the job description: “I was brought on to do this one job, and I’ve kind of taken on the role of a senior editor, contributing to all of the verticals in print and video.”
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
— Sarah Manavis (@sarahmanavis) June 8, 2020
El-Waylly also told BuzzFeed News that she was asked to “stand in the background of photo shoots and video shoots,” apparently to help bolster the brand’s appearance of diversity. Over the past 10 months, she has appeared in multiple videos, often participating in multi-staffer challenges or helping mostly white talent who headline their own shows, and thus are compensated through separate contracts with Conde Nast Entertainment. El-Waylly told Business Insider that she didn’t receive an on-air contract, despite asking Rapoport and video head Matt Duckor — who is himself facing criticism for unearthed tweets mocking people of color and queer people — on multiple occasions, until she publicly aired her issues on Monday. An hour later, Duckor sent her a contract that would add $20,000 to her now-$60,000 base salary, an offer that El-Waylly said she was “insulted and appalled” by, knowing what other on-camera coworkers allegedly make.
The diversity issues also extend beyond Bon Appétit’s videos, which have been criticized for their lack of nonwhite representation, as well as misrepresenting and appropriating the non-American and Eurocentric foods that they do show. “There have been calls for years to diversify the videos, to diversify the staff, to diversify the content, but nothing happens,” Rick Martinez, a Bon Appétit contributor and former senior food editor, told Business Insider. He said that he felt pressure to keep making food from his own Mexican American background, despite fears of being “pigeonholed.” Andrew Knowlton, a former deputy editor of the magazine, allegedly “once asked Martinez whether he was ‘a one-trick pony’ because of his focus on Mexican cuisine” and “told Martinez that his job developing Mexican recipes must have been easier because of his childhood eating his mother’s cooking,” Business Insider reported.
— nikita richardson (@nikitarbk) June 10, 2020
Sources also described an atmosphere of exclusion, with mostly “young, attractive, mostly white or white-adjacent … and upper-middle class” employees, some of whom were decidedly in the “in crowd” at the publication. “You see your coworkers every day of your life, and to go into work every day and feel isolated is misery-inducing … Nowhere have I ever felt more isolated than at Bon Appétit,” said Nikita Richardson, a Black former employee who now writes for New York magazine. She recalled a day in early 2017, when she and another nonwhite staffer, Alyse Whitney, had been in Bon Appetit’s famed test kitchen, chatting with two white staffers. They said that later that day, they received an email from Carla Lalli Music, then-food director and currently an editor at large, telling them and other staffers not to visit the test kitchen again without permission. But white staffers continued to go to the test kitchen, apparently without consequence, Whitney alleged.
working at bon appetit was one of the most emotionally damaging chapters of my life. thanks @rrpre for working to expose the toxic environment weeks before any of the news surrounding adam came out. https://t.co/uS5aRK8Gub
— Alyse Whitney (@AlyseWhitney) June 10, 2020
In response to Business Insider’s queries, Conde Nast refuted the claim that nonwhite video talent were “not paid for their work,” and wrote that the company has a “zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and harassment in all forms.” In a staff meeting, the Daily Beast’s Max Tani reported, Conde Nast CEO Roger Lynch said that the company is “accelerating our first ever diversity and inclusion report” (n.b. Conde Nast has existed since 1909) to be published later this summer, and a pay-equity analysis, to be published at the end of the year.
On June 10, Bon Appetit and its sister brand Epicurious published an apology, stating:
We have been complicit with a culture we don’t agree with and are committed to change. Our mastheads have been far too white for far too long. As a result, the recipes, stories, and people we’ve highlighted have too often come from a white-centric viewpoint. 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. Many new BIPOC hires have been in entry-level positions with little power, and we will be looking to accelerate their career advancement and pay. Black staffers have been saddled with contributing racial education to our staffs and appearing in editorial and promotional photo shoots to make our brands seem more diverse. We haven’t properly learned from or taken ownership of our mistakes. But things are going to change.
What that change entails, according to the post, includes prioritizing people of color for the now-open role of editor-in-chief, implementing anti-racism training, resolving pay inequities, hiring more freelancers of color and launching columns written by people of color, shifting coverage to “center, rather than patronize” marginalized people, revamping the recipe development process, and more broadly, “dismantling the toxic, top-down culture that has hurt many members of our staff.”
“This is just the start. We want to be transparent, accountable, and active as we begin to dismantle racism at our brands,” the post reads.