Towards the end of May 2020, at the height of #BlackLivesMatter protests against police brutality, many US corporations began posting messages of support for the cause. On the website of the glossy food magazine Bon Appétit, a prestigious Condé Nast publication which pairs trendy recipes with slick aesthetics, editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport posted an editor’s note with the headline: “Food Has Always Been Political”. He expressed solidarity with the BLM movement, adding: “In recent years, we at BA have been reckoning with our blind spots when it comes to race. We still have work to do.”
Former staff were not impressed by what they saw as an empty gesture and accused Rapoport of fostering a racist work culture at the magazine, where white employees were shown favour and staff of colour were made to feel unworthy of their positions. A photo showing him dressed up as a racist stereotype of a Puerto Rican for Halloween was circulated. Rapoport resigned.
Now “The Test Kitchen”, a new series of Reply All, one of the biggest podcasts in the US, explains exactly what was happening at the magazine. Host Sruthi Pinnamaneni has conducted interviews with nearly 40 BA staff, covering the past decade of the magazine’s history, starting with when Rapoport was brought in from GQ to transform BA into something sexier than a traditional food publication. Rapoport had from the start of his editorship, Pinnamaneni explains, given the top jobs to “white people who were kind of like him… people he’d want to sit next to at a dinner party”; the few staff members of colour were in more junior roles.
In the first episode, two former freelance employees, Yewande Komolafe and Sue Li, who now both write recipes for the New York Times, explain how they were repeatedly overlooked and demeaned by their bosses: their ideas rejected, their ambitions dismissed out of hand.
Of course, Bon Appétit is not the only example of a racist workplace. Dishearteningly, the picture Pinnamaneni paints – a powerful white man hiring in his own image, unfair advantages bestowed on white employees, and casual racist remarks, all masked by hollow “diversity” pledges – begins to seem like a microcosm for corporate culture at large.
Reply All: The Test Kitchen
This article appears in the 10 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, End of the affair