I’ve been a fan of the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen for a while now. Like a lot of people, I first discovered the show by watching Claire try to recreate fast food snacks using gourmet techniques. I was hooked, but soon, the personalities of the onscreen talent became the draw for viewers. People like Claire, Brad, Carla, and Sohla became well-known in certain circles.
Yesterday, three of Bon Appétit’s on-screen personalities, Rick Martinez, Solah El-Waylley, and Priya Krishna, announced that they would no longer appear in the brand’s video content, citing a lack of any significant progress in addressing the concerns that had been brought up regarding their pay gap and racial discrimination.
Back in June, Sohla shared that she had not been paid for her video appearances and had a starting salary of only $50,000, a number significantly lower than her white counterparts despite the fact that she had had over 15 years of experience as a chef. Here’s a 2-minute video showing how much she was relied upon by other chefs.
the fact that sohla was hired at bon appetit for $50K/year and doesnâ€™t get paid for video appearances like her white colleagues is digusting. anyways hereâ€™s a montage of her cooking circles around everyone at ba pic.twitter.com/uzZsRMGIwf— mayor of the leo community (@s_whip_) June 11, 2020
This came right before editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport stepped down after a photo of him and his wife in brownface surfaced on the internet.
Embroiled in controversy surrounding racial discrimination, tokenization, and pay disparity, Bon Appétit released a statement taking responsibility for these issues and promising to make real changes within the organization to address them. You can read the full text on BA’s website. On the surface they seem to take responsibility, name the issues, and provide a list of ways that Bon Appétit intends to improve the situation in the future.
And that’s where yesterday’s news sh-ts all over that. The announcement came via social media, with Martinez, El-Waylly, and Krishna briefly explaining their reasoning behind their decisions.
I'm leaving Bon AppÃ©tit video. Here's what's been happening over the last few months, and some thoughts. pic.twitter.com/L59blcESLv— Priya Krishna (@priyakrishna) August 6, 2020
In her statement, Krishna calls BA’s efforts “lip-service.” And that’s exactly what it is. Because as she mentions, this wasn’t the first time she brought up her concerns to her superiors. Whenever we hear news about the turmoil going on at places like BA, it’s often only when things have gotten bad enough that there’s some sort of scandal. What we don’t see is the amount of work that people like Priya put into trying to effect change from within the organization.
Reportedly, Martinez, Krishna, and El-Waylly have been in contract negotiations for five weeks. A Business Insider article revealed the ways in which the new contracts for Rick and Priya still kept them at either the same or lower pay. It also continued to preserve the racial pay gap. For example, their contracts guaranteed 10 video appearances per year while some of their white peers received guarantees as high as 60.
It’s the disconnect between this fine-print and BA’s “earnest” statement that highlights the hypocrisy of Bon Appétit. After several unsuccessful attempts to bring up issues, BA PoC employees had to resort to sharing their stories publicly to try and have their voice heard. But it turns out that didn’t work either! So what do you do?
It’s sad that this is the norm for so many people of colour in the media industry. In any industry really. And it’s particularly sad that Bon Appétit chose to uphold a discriminatory system rather than make any sort of meaningful change. On Twitter, many users have already sworn off Bon Appétit videos, a blow that the company can’t afford after significant financial losses due to the pandemic.
This news comes at the heels of the announcement that Vox’s Sonia Chopra will be replacing Rapoport as Executive Editor at BA. The company also confirmed that new video content with new content would be coming in the future.
That means that they still plan to chug along with their mediocre solution. And while hiring Sonia is a step in the right direction, it’s certainly not a cure-all for what seems to be a deeply entrenched culture of discrimination and prejudice. So the question is: do they even care about fixing things?
Bon Appétit is part of Condé Nast, the media giant that owns publications like GQ, Wired Magazine, The New Yorker, and of course, Vogue. What’s going on at BA, then, is reflective of what might be going on in Condé Nast.
Anna Wintour is the artistic director of Condé Nast. I’m not saying that she’s fully to blame, but toxic environments don’t just show up out of nowhere. They’re built up, cultivated, and embedded in a corporate culture that flows from the top down.
Reportedly, Anna Wintour is not stepping down anytime soon. She’s also continuing her spot on the company’s diversity committee (because that makes sense). But if Bon Appétit is to serve as an example, there’s a major problem with the way things are being run at all of these brands. And if all the plans to fix it are just “lip service”, then is BA’s exodus just a precursor to something larger? I guess we won’t really hold our breath for that diversity report due to show up sometime this summer.