Pok Pok Thai restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A reckoning in the food world

The rise and fall of Bon Appétit

Adam Rapoport, editor in chief for food publication Bon Appétit, resigned on June 8 after a photo of him in brownface from 2004 reemerged on Twitter. Then, the floodgates opened.

Staff members at BA reacted swiftly. Sohla El-Waylly, an assistant editor who appears in videos for the BA Test Kitchen, wrote in an Instagram story, “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 for their appearances.” 

Other staff members quickly came forward to tell their own stories of racism at the publication. A report by Business Insider, published a day after Rapoport’s resignation, reported the stories of more than a dozen employees who described a toxic culture of racism, exclusion and racial inequity at BA. They claimed Bon Appétit denied equal opportunities to nonwhite employees, it “treats people of color as second class to white employees” and the publication has consistently failed to tell diverse stories adequately.

Rapoport’s assistant, Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, claimed Rapoport treated her like “the help” as the only Black woman on staff, giving her personal errands to do far outside her job description, including cleaning Rapoport’s golf clubs. When Walker-Hartshorn went to HR to complain, according to Business Insider, Rapoport continued anyway.

Matthew Hunziker, a BA video editor, was suspended by the company “pending investigation,” Business Insider reported on June 25. Three employees interviewed believed Hunziker was suspended because of social media posts criticizing the company; a few days after former EIC Rapoport’s resignation, Hunziker tweeted, “Why would we hire someone who’s not racist when we could simply [checks industry handbook] uhh hire a racist and provide them with anti-racism training…” Hunziker is the editor of the popular show, “It’s Alive with Brad,” for Bon Appétit.

Bon Appétit has publicly attempted to apologize and make amends for its culture of racism, including in two blog posts on the website, “A Long Overdue Apology” and “Making Our Recipes Better.

Systemic racism in the food industry, of course, does not begin and end at Bon Appétit. Speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered, Vox writer Alex Abad-Santos discussed his piece, “The food world Is imploding over structural racism. The problems are much bigger than Bon Appetit.” He describes how Filipino food—food he ate as a kid, which he was bullied for—is “the new trendy food.” He dubs this the “Columbus-ing” of food—food writers “discovering” food where it existed all along, a type of food colonialism.