Bon Appetit employees share stories of 'toxic' culture, magazine issues apology
Following the resignation of Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport on Monday, current and former staffers have shared more stories of their experiences at the food publication. Their anecdotes detail a culture that reportedly discriminated against people of color within the publication and its parent company Condé Nast.
Rapoport, who has held his position since 2010, announced he would be leaving the magazine on Monday evening after food and drink writer Tammie Teclemariam posted a photo of him and his wife dressed as Puerto Rican stereotypes for Halloween. The photo led many to call for his resignation.
I do not know why Adam Rapoport simply doesn’t write about Puerto Rican food for @bonappetit himself!!! https://t.co/rW0k5tjMoSpic.twitter.com/odZnFLz2gd
— UNIONIZE CONDE, FAST (@tammieetc) June 8, 2020
After the controversial picture began circulating on social media, current and former Bon Appétit staffers and contributors began speaking out about larger issues of racism they said they faced within the institution.
In her Instagram stories, assistant food editor Sohla El-Waylly described "systematic racism that runs rampant within Conde Nast as a whole," including being "pushed in front of video as a display of diversity" and not being paid fairly — unlike the mostly white talent who have their own Test Kitchen shows and are compensated through separate contracts with Condé Nast Entertainment.
Sohla El-Waylly is probably the best thing about BA at the moment. Her on the racist pic from her boss, Adam Rapoport: pic.twitter.com/l0JxZEKeek
— m g (@kikkerlaika) June 8, 2020
Business Insider published an in-depth article Monday evening, shedding light on the work environment at the magazine. Fourteen people associated with Bon Appétit, all of whom identify as people of color, shared stories of their own experiences, revealing that the publication does not afford nonwhite employees the same opportunities as it does white staffers (or contributors), and that it fails to represent stories from nonwhite backgrounds.
Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, who worked as Rapoport's assistant for the past two years and was the only black woman on his staff, told Business Insider she was treated like "the help." She recently spoke on the phone with her now-former boss about the possibility of getting a raise, which she never received as his employee, but was immediately shut down.
"I thought this conversation might be different this time," Walker-Hartshorn said, considering the fact that Condé Nast had just donated $1 million to racial-justice organizations amid the global protests in reaction to the killing of George Floyd.
Despite the fact that Rapoport had been checking in on Walker-Hartshorn and knew she had been unable to pay rent for three months on her $35,300 salary, he reportedly responded to her request for a pay raise by saying, "Well, maybe you should consider that this is not the right job for you."
Ry is one of the most empathetic, energetic, and charismatic people I’ve ever met. She’s written, pitched, organized, ideated, and so much more while at BA. When I had personal emergencies and took a little time off, Ry was the one to tell people to let me rest.
— Jesse “Personhood Before Professionalism” Sparks (@JesseASparks) June 10, 2020
After the Business Insider article was published, more current and former staffers and contributors took to social media to share more stories of alleged discrimination and abuse that didn't make it into the article, as well as to vocalize their support for those who spoke out.
Jesse Sparks, an editorial assistant at Bon Appétit, tweeted that Walker-Hartshorn is "one of the most empathetic, energetic, and charismatic people he's ever met," and that he's "livid" many people's first introduction to his colleague is "through the lens of a white man's abuse."
Alyse Whitney, a freelance food writer and former associate editor at Bon Appétit, said her time at the magazine "was one of the most emotionally damaging chapters" of her life.
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 the same thread, Whitney also shared examples of times when her work was undercut by her white coworkers. She said once, when she brought up the issue of a lack of diversity in the magazine's videos, she was told by Matt Duckor, a vice president and Head of Programming at Conde Nast, "well we have Priya (Krishna)," a Bon Appétit contributor and one of the few visible people of color associated with the publication's YouTube channel.
Krishna, who wrote in response to the photo of Rapoport that she would "do everything in my power to hold the EIC, and systems that hold up actions like this, accountable," shared more details after the publication of the Business Insider article about her "complicated relationship" with Bon Appétit.
I've had a complicated relationship with Bon App ever since I was asked to be a video host 2 years ago. This is the most in-depth story so far about what it's like to work there. Here is to the BPOC who have put up with this shit for far too long. https://t.co/WJXJ9adYyb
— Priya Krishna (@priyakrishna) June 10, 2020
Nikita Richardson, a former assistant editor at Bon Appétit, tweeted that the company was "run like a popularity contest" with people's Instagram followings having a direct impact on their importance.
She also shared a story about a time when she was reportedly working on a story about a black female line cook, only to discover the story was later reported out and written by a white staffer, and then published.
earlier today, a former colleague shared a story of a black colleague doing footwork on a story about a black female line cook only to find that story reported and written by a white person months later. i was that little girl lol
— nikita richardson (@nikitarbk) June 10, 2020
According to dozens of stories posted by more former and current magazine staffers, Rapoport wasn't the only person at the company responsible for perpetuating toxic behavior. People have also begun calling for the resignation of other high-ranking editors and producers.
Tweets from Duckor, in which he mocks people of color and those in the queer community, include posts saying that Harlem is where "black people and Asian same-sex couples" are and that "working out is so gay."
Food entrepreneur Hawa Hassan, who has appeared in three YouTube videos for the brand, has publicly called for Duckor's resignation on her Instagram stories.
Social media posts have also revealed offensive content from Alex Delany, the drinks editor at Bon Appétit.
In a Vine video shared by Eater staff writer Elazar Sontag, Delany recorded himself saying, "You guys wanna see a bunch of f------ lying on top of each other?" and showing a pile of twigs. He captioned the video, "how to not offend gay people."
Teclemariam also discovered that Delany previously posted a photo of a cake depicting a Confederate flag on his Tumblr account. The cake was made for a friend who was moving to the South.
Close your eyes and picture the confederate flag cake Alex Delany posted to his tumblr.
— UNIONIZE CONDE, FAST (@tammieetc) June 9, 2020
Delany apologized for the cake on Instagram (he said he made the cake when he was 17), and called the image "shameful," adding "it does not reflect the values that I hold now. I condemn whoever uses or glorifies that flag. But I realize this image does reflect the lack of understanding I possessed at the time."
This apology comes just a day after Delany spoke out about Rapoport, posting that he stood with his BIPOC colleagues.
Bon Appétit and its sister brand Epicurious published a "long-overdue apology" on their websites Tuesday, stating:
On Tuesday, Condé Nast announced that Healthyish editor Amanda Shapiro would be stepping in as acting deputy director of Bon Appétit.
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.
That announcement has not been met with praise from everyone associated with the food publication.
In her Twitter thread, Whitney went on to say that Shapiro "was also a huge part of perpetuating the toxic culture at bon appetit. she once tried to cut my interview the day of the shoot because her friend, andy baraghani, didn't like the person being profiled."