We're doing something a little unusual this week: covering breaking news. That's because there's big upheaval happening in food media, and in particular at Bon Appétit, the glossy magazine and creator of the wildly popular YouTube videos from the BA Test Kitchen.
In short, a racist photograph of the magazine's editor-in-chief surfaced on Monday, June 8. Then one of the staffers, Sohla El-Waylly, publicly aired her story of being marginalized and underpaid, compared to white colleagues. Two days later, an article by Rachel Premack in Business Insider detailed pay inequities between white and POC staff, as well as racist remarks by the editor-in-chief and mistreatment of people of color. In response, some of the white BA staff members have apologized and said that they won't film any additional videos until the pay inequities are resolved. (Most of their statements are available on Instagram or Twitter.)
In this episode, Rachel Premack walks us through what happened at Bon Appétit and its parent company, Condé Nast. Then we talk with Nikita Richardson, a former editor at the magazine. Nikita is black, and she recounts a specific time when she was asked to stop being "disruptive" in the BA Test Kitchen. "Being the only black person on staff, everything is just magnified," she tells Dan. "And it makes you think, well who said this about me? Why did they say it? What did I do specifically? And when people can't offer you specifics, then it feels like your behavior is being called out not because you did something wrong, but because it's you who did it."
Finally, we talk with Sohla El-Waylly. "I was just filled with so much rage and frustration with this job," she says. "I feel like honestly a lot of my white colleagues may have just discovered that racism still exists."
Adam Rapoport and Matt Duckor, who directed much of the video programming at Condé Nast, declined to be interviewed for this piece. We sent representatives at Condé Nast a list of questions, but they did not respond as of this publication.
A small correction: In the interview, Rachel Premack says that Ryan Walker-Hartshorn's base salary was $35,800. She previously reported in Business Insider as $35,300.
We couldn't cover all of the many stories of mistreatment at Bon Appétit that have come out in the last week, so here are some links to tweets and articles that will fill you in.
- BA editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport's essay, "Food Has Always Been Political," posted May 31
- Freelance wine writer Tammie Teclemariam's tweet with the racist photograph
- Nikita Richardson's tweets about her experiences at Bon Appétit
- Insider article about Alex Delany's Confederate flag cake (when he was 17) and homophobic Vine video
- Jezebel article about the way POC were marginalized at Bon Appétit
- New York Times article about Condé Nast VP Matt Duckor's resignation
- Soleil Ho's article on BA’s race problem
- Statement from Bon Appétit and sister company Epicurious after Adam Rapoport's resignation
- Screenshots of Sohla El-Waylly's Instagram Stories calling for Adam Rapoport's resignation and equal pay
- Adam Rapoport's resignation statement
This episode contains explicit language.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Brute Force" by Lance Conrad
- "Iced Coffee" by Josh Leninger
- "Pong" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Brand New Day" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Midnight Grind" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Hang Tight" by Hayley Briasco
- "Kenny" by Hayley Briasco
- "Rooftop Instrumental" by Erick Anderson
Photo courtesy of Emma Morgenstern.
Sohla El-Waylly: I was just filled with so much rage and frustration with the job. My whole life I'd felt like I was getting these jobs or this salary because I didn't deserve more, you know? That I wasn't good enough, like maybe I do need to work for 20 years to get to a job that takes a white person two years to get to.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. We’re covering some breaking news for you this week, which is why this episode is up early. The protests happening across the country, and the conversations about race and racism so many of us are having, are happening in newsrooms and media outlets too. Longstanding anger over representation, diversity in hiring, double standards in coverage, it’s all coming out. In food media, this attention has focused so far on Bon Appetit. Bon Appetit the legendary magazine, and the home of the BA Test Kitchen, where some of the most popular food videos on all of YouTube are shot. The channel has billions of views, and fans online gush about hosts like Claire Saffitz and Brad Leone like they’re best friends.
Dan Pashman: So let’s talk about what’s been happening at Bon Appetit. Two weeks ago, Bon Appetit’s editor in chief, Adam Rapoport, posted a statement on the BA website, titled “Food Has Always Been Political”. It basically said Black Lives Matter and directed people to some of their articles about black chefs. It was similar to a lot of corporate statements that have come out, and it came under fire because food writers and chefs of color have long felt largely shut out of BA. In response to that statement, food writer Illyanna Maisonet tweeted about her previous interactions with Bon Appetit. She had pitched them a story about Afro-Puerto Ricans, who make regional rice fritters, but was told the story wasn’t new and trendy enough. When she tweeted about Rapoport’s statement, she added the hashtag #solidaritymyass. Then a couple days later, just this past Monday, another food writer named Tammie Teclemariam tweeted out a photo of Adam Rapoport in brownface. It was taken from a 2013 Instagram post on his wife’s page.
Rachel Premack: And he was in a costume that was clearly intended to be a stereotypical representation of Puerto Rican people.
Dan Pashman: And then there was a mocking tone to it.
Rachel Premack: Exactly.
Dan Pashman: This is Rachel Premack, a reporter for Business Insider, who’s broken a lot of the news about Bon Appetit in the past week. The Rapoport photo was posted to Instagram in 2013, but it was a throwback from Halloween 2004. One friend had commented on it, “I was so scared of you guys that night.” The post includes the hashtag “boricua,” an informal term that Puerto Rican people often use for themselves. Tammie Teclamariam posted all this to Twitter with the comment, “I don’t know why Adam Rapoport doesn’t write about Puerto Rican food for Bon Appetit himself!”
Rachel Premack: And I have to say one thing about the photo. No one digs through your wife's Instagram from 2013, if they don't think they will find something. So this is not something that food writers of color are doing for fun or in their free time for no reason. Based off of Adam's previous actions, it was pretty clear to them that something offensive and racist would be on his page.
Dan Pashman: This photo of Rapoport blew up on the internet. And it set off a chain of events that would have been hard to imagine even a month ago. The last few days have been so crazy that Bon Appetit’s Sohla El-Waylly says of the brownface photo...
Sohla El-Waylly: I forgot about that, so much has happened that I just remembered again.
Dan Pashman: But before we get to all that’s happened this week, we want to go back. Because the first question is: why were people so sure they’d find something offensive on Adam Rapoport’s social media? It turns out, there’s a long history of racist and discriminatory behavior at Bon Appetit. One example from Rachel Premack’s reporting is the experience of Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, who’s the only black woman who works at BA full time. She’s a Stanford grad, who got a job as Adam Rapoport’s assistant. Now, this type of job is usually a foot in the door for a person who wants to work on the creative side and move up in the industry. But after nearly three years, Ryan hasn’t gotten a promotion, or even a cost of living raise.
Rachel Premack: So Ryan's job was to help Adam with the day to day editorial needs, to also contribute to the magazine when time allows. Instead, she was made to clean his golf clubs, to deliver shoes to his wife. And on top of that, she described to me that Adam was incredibly manipulative. Made several racist remarks towards her. During one of Ryan's first months at Bon Appetit, Adam asked her to get him some coffee and she asked him, "Oh, how do you like your coffee?" And Adam just stared at her and stared at her and said, "I don't know, like Rihanna."
Dan Pashman: In case it’s not clear, he meant he wants his coffee to match Rihanna’s skin color.
Rachel Premack: Additionally, she had asked multiple times for a raise. So she makes—her base salary of $35,800 to live in New York. And she's also eligible for overtime. She needs to put in hours and hours and hours of overtime just to pay her rent. And since the beginning of the coronavirus, her overtime has actually been cut. And for that reason, she hasn't even been able to pay her rent. And Ryan asked, "Adam, please, I need a raise."
Dan Pashman: And this is even after the George Floyd stuff has started and Condé Nast, the parent company of Bon Appetit, just announced that they're going to donate a million dollars to Black Lives Matter causes.
Rachel Premack: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And Ryan, who makes $35,000 a year and hasn't made pay rent for three months, goes to Adam to once again ask for a raise.
Rachel Premack: Yes.
Dan Pashman: And what does Adam say?
Rachel Premack: Adam says, "Have you considered that you're just not well suited for this job?"
Dan Pashman: It wasn’t just Ryan who experienced this kind of treatment. Rachel also talked with Nikita Richardson, who started at BA before Ryan. She's now a writer at The Strategist, which is part of New York Magazine. For most of the time Nikita was at BA, she was the only black person on staff. She was there for about a year, from 2016 to 2017, which was before the YouTube channel exploded in popularity.
Nikita Richardson: What if you broke up with someone and then they became extremely famous right after you broke up? So that no matter where you went, you heard about them, you saw them and your friends all were in love with that person. And you're like, but it wasn't a great relationship. So it's one of those situations or it's like I—it was hard to move on knowing what my experience, not only my experience but the experience of other minorities had been there. We have talked about this for years. You know, what we went through. And it's like you can't heal from something if you can't unburden yourself of it.
Dan Pashman: One incident from Nikita’s time at BA really sticks out in her memory. Now, it’s not as glaring as a racist photo or comment. It’s a little more subtle. But it offers a glimpse into what it’s like to be one of the only people of color in a workplace. Nikita got an email from Carla Lalli Music, who ran the test kitchen. I read the email back to Nikita.
Dan Pashman: She wrote: "Hi. I hate to write this email and really don't want to single anyone out, but unfortunately I feel obligated to communicate this info. Several people came to me yesterday and today to voice concerns about socializing during work hours in the test kitchen in studio. And your name came up, specifically. I know that the kitchen is awesome and that it's hard to not want to hang out there. But I'm asking that you please think of it as a workspace first. The food team, the video team, and our stylists have a lot to do and distractions, extra people and lots of talking can be very tiring. "
Dan Pashman: She goes on to talk about what to do when there's leftover food or something, and she says then, "Thank you for understanding! Carla Lalli Music, Food Director. Bon Appetit." What did you think when you got that email?
Nikita Richardson: Well, I think I cried. When something seems pretty innocent on its face, it can be hard to read between the lines.
Dan Pashman: Nikita had only been at BA for a few months. It was the second major publication she'd ever worked at. Talking about this email on Twitter this week, she wrote, “When you feel like an imposter every day, even the smallest slight can break you.” Nikita says the same email was sent to Alyse Whitney, who’s a woman of color, and Alex Delany, who’s a white man. But Alyse told Eater that white staffers never stopped going to the Test Kitchen. Carla Lalli Music denies that assertion. She also told us that there were multiple back and forth emails clarifying the issue, and that the single email doesn’t tell the whole story.
Nikita Richardson: I mean, if you look at any video today of the Test Kitchen and it wasn't so different at that time, there's people wandering around. And what qualifies as disruption: coming down to get a water? Coming down to talk to your coworkers? Like Brad Leone and I used to talk about beer, which is the context of that email. I think like that kind of situation, you just feel very singled out. And even though it seems like it's so innocent, it felt extremely pointed. The difference between a lot of people of color and the people who are in power, who are mostly white, is that people of color are always asking themselves, "Am I doing enough? Could I do better?" You're always thinking from that mindset, "I'm a minority. I don't want to be seen as not good enough." I became afraid to be in the Test Kitchen for very long if Carla was there. But if she wasn't there, I would go down there and know and like that complaint never came up again. And it makes you think, "Well, who said this about me? Why did they say it? What did I do specifically?", and when people can't offer you specifics, then it feels like your behavior is being called out not because you did something wrong but because it's you that did it. And being the only black person on staff, everything is just magnified. You feel like you're closer to the sun and the darker your skin is and the more different you are in an environment where no one looks like you. Um, yeah.
Dan Pashman: Carla Lalli Music saw the comments that have been in the coverage and she tweeted this week in regard to this email, “No one was banned from the kitchen. I asked people to be considerate about noise, et cetera. However, I did not stop to consider how it might feel for my POC colleagues to receive that email. Nor did I fully take into account their experience at BA as people of color. I am sorry I hurt them. The fact that they felt excluded and others, white males, did not is reflective of BA’s toxic culture writ large. I was under-equipped to be an ally then and I have to do better now.” What's your take on that?
Nikita Richardson: I mean, I don't want to be kind of pitted against Carla because women still have to stand for each other. You know what I mean? Like, no matter what the situation is, you know, I mean, I'm not like excusing it but being like that's not a narrative that I'm interested in participating in, which made me sound like Taylor Swift just now. But I mean like it's—what I've been thinking about a lot lately is that every generation thinks that they're way more progressive than the generation before them. Adam probably thought, "Well, I'm not like the fuddy duddies who preceded me at BA. The way that we talk about minorities and sexuality and everything has changed so much. Even in the last six years, it's possible to literally still be behind it. And I think that a lot of it has to do with who do you surround yourself with and do you actually listen to people when they try and tell you something? Or do you say, "I'm doing enough?"
Dan Pashman: A few months after that email incident, Bon Appetit hired another black woman. It was Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, Adam’s assistant who you heard about earlier.
Nikita Richardson: When I found out that Ryan, who had been hired, was black and she found out that there was a black person on staff. We were like, "Oh, my God, another black person." And then two months later, I was let go. I text Ryan. I'm like, "Ryan, they laid me off.", and she was devastated.
Dan Pashman: Nikita was let go in November 2017, part of a big round of layoffs across Condé Nast. At the time, she was in the middle of writing two stories for BA. One of them she finished as a freelancer, after she was laid off. The other was a story about a black line cook at Le Coucou, a fancy New York restaurant. Nikita had already done the interviews and all the leg work. Someone at BA reached out to her to ask for the cook’s contact info, which Nikita provided. She figured the magazine just wanted to dot i’s, cross t’s. A few months later the piece came out written by a white writer, Amanda Shapiro, who’s now the interim editor in chief of BA. Nikita was not credited.
Nikita Richardson: I was surprised to learn the story had run. And I—you know, the person who asked me to call for the contact information, I reached back out to them. I said, "Oh, I see this story ran." And then 24 hours later, I get a response, "Oh, we owe you."
Dan Pashman: Coming up, we’ll work our way to the events of this past week, when we talk with Sohla El-Waylly, who’s well known for her appearances in BA’s Test Kitchen videos. She’ll tell us why she wrote the Instagram story that would change everything and what happened when she told editor in chief Adam Rapoport to his face that he should resign. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I'm Dan Pashman. If you're interested in hearing more of our coverage of race in the food world, I have two episodes that I want to recommend to you. The first is about racial coding in restaurants. Now, a code could be in the decor, the menu, the staff. It's anything that sends a signal that tells you what kind of a place a restaurant is and whether it's for you.
CLIP (ANDY SHALLAL): White people will go and discover the coolest place in the back of a trailer park. They're comfortable anywhere. It cold be very uncomfortable for a black person to walk into an all white place. It could even be dangerous. In order for a black person to walk into a space there has to be signals that says, "You're welcome."
Dan Pashman: So what happens when the signals of signals of restaurants sends bring certain people in and keep others out? In this episode we visit three restaurants in D.C. that are coded in very different ways to ask, can a restaurant be for everyone? Then there's our episode "When White People Say Plantation". We just re-released an episode from last fall because it won a Webby Award. It’s an exploration of why the word plantation keeps popping up in restaurants, cook books, food blogs, and what white people are trying to communicate when they use it. Both those episodes are up now wherever you got this one. Finally, while you're looking for those, please subscribe to our show in Apple podcasts. Or if you listen in Stitcher, favorite us. You can do it right now while you're listening. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Okay, let's get back to Bon Appetit, and a quick warning that there’s some explicit language in this segment. Nikita Richardson left Bon Appetit in 2017. Last year, 2019, Sohla El-Waylly, who’s Bengali-American, applied for a job at the company. Her various interviews there spanned six weeks. When they finally offered her the job, she found out the pay was $50,000, which is New York City’s median individual income. But Sohla had 15 years of experience. She thought it was less than she deserved. But it was Bon Appetit, so she took the job. She had heard that there were race issues there. But as she told me:
Sohla El-Waylly: Honestly, the thing that made me think maybe it wasn't true was the Youtube videos. The big thing for me was Gaby.
Dan Pashman: Sohla is referring to Gaby Melian, a longtime BA staffer, who’s from Argentina. Gaby’s now the Test Kitchen Manager, and she frequently appears in Test Kitchen videos.
Sohla El-Waylly: I thought it was really awesome that Gaby was getting highlighted in videos and that she started as a dishwasher and that she moved up and they gave her these opportunities. So, I mean, that made me really think maybe they're getting better with their race stuff but it all turned out to be bullshit.
Dan Pashman: If you watch BA’s videos, you know that Sohla appears in a lot of them. She’s a fan favorite. One of her fans, with the Twitter handle @Swhip, cut together clips from test kitchen videos where white chefs keep asking Sohla for help. And she seems to have all the answers.
CLIP (CLAIRE SAFFITZ): Sohla?
CLIP (SOHLA EL-WAYLLY): Uh-huh
CLIP (CLAIRE SAFFITZ): Do you have a minute? I came over to ask if you had time to temper chocolate at some point.
CLIP (CHRIS MOROCCO): Hey Sohla?
CLIP (SOHLA EL-WAYLLY): Uh-huh?
CLIP (CHRIS MOROCCO): Can I ask you a question about technique, real quick?
CLIP (BRAD LEONE): Dosa? What's dosa, Sohla?
CLIP (BRAD LEONE): What kind of—what temperature are we looking at Sohla?
CLIP (SOHLA EL-WAYLLY): How's it going?
CLIP (ANDY BARAGHANI): We've never been on camera together.
CLIP (SOHLA EL-WAYLLY): We have! Thanksgiving, right when I started.
CLIP (ANDY BARAGHANI): I'm very forgetful.
CLIP (MOLLY BAZ): So I feel like the tortilla needs to be like about like this.
CLIP (SOHLA EL-WAYLLY): Okay.
CLIP (MOLLY BAZ): Do have time for this today?
CLIP (SOHLA EL-WAYLLY): I'm gonna make time.
CLIP (MOLLY BAZ): Sohla…
Sohla El-Waylly: I'm not frustrated with, like, helping Claire and people on camera. That's not it. I just, um, what frustrates me is that we have this image of being this really diverse team and this really inclusive club or whatever. But there's not real equity there. There are some people who get paid huge, huge amounts for their appearances on camera. And then the people of color, we were either paid nothing, such as Gaby, myself and Christina. We've never been paid for video or very nominal amounts like $200.
Dan Pashman: The people you see in these videos are employees or freelancers for Bon Appetit. But the hosts of the shows, who are almost all white, get separate contracts from Condé Nast Entertainment. And those can be very lucrative. On top of that...
Sohla El-Waylly: They kind of treat us like side characters to pull in, in the name of diversity. Like they have Christina come in when Morocco is making Korean short ribs.
Dan Pashman: Christina is Christina Chaey, she’s Korean-American, one of the other Test Kitchen chefs who says she was never paid for her on camera appearances. Morocco is Chris Morocco, one of the white stars of the YouTube channel. Priya Krishna, who you’ve heard on this show, has also spoken out about similar treatment, brought in as a guest when one of the white hosts is cooking Indian food.
Sohla El-Waylly: They have this like circular logic that the people they choose to put in a show and give a lucrative contract to are the people who have a lot of followers. But the people who ended up with a lot of followers are the people who got the show. You know what I mean? Like, they never gave us a chance.
Dan Pashman: That's one of the explanations that we hear is sort of like, what? Well, it's not about race. We're just following clicks. We have to get clicks. We have to get views and the videos. And so we have to put up food that is "accessible", that that appeals to a "mass audience", which is all really just code for a white audience.
Sohla El-Waylly: Yes, exactly.
Dan Pashman: And it's even unfair to some portion of the white audience.
Sohla El-Waylly: Yes, it is.
Dan Pashman: Who might actually be interested in things beyond grilled cheese
Sohla El-Waylly: I completely agree. Yeah. Well, that is something that a lot of us have—I think everyone has a problem with the content, the type of recipes we're putting up. There are never things that we would ever put in the magazine. I try and have a meeting with the producers once a month to push and be like, "Hey, let's do something like the chicken biryani recipe I did last year. Like, we proved it was like one of the top performing recipes on the site. I think it will do well as a video." You know, we've tried to push diverse things but they all they just want to make fucking smash burgers and mac and cheese and it's just like we can do better. And I think that it's really underestimating the audience as well.
Dan Pashman: Multiple staffers say one of the biggest obstacles to getting more people of color in prominent roles in video, and getting more diversity in the foods featured, was Condé Nast’s head of video, Matt Duckor. Those staffers told us that Duckor earned a bonus based on the performance of these videos. The more clicks, the more he stood to gain.
Sohla El-Waylly: He was the problem, to be honest. I think he was a much bigger problem than Adam. He was the one that, like, only wanted Priya to make Indian food. And since we've been working from home. I've been shooting more videos than ever. And since we're like doing it on our own, where the sound guy or the video guy or the food stylist or the dishwasher—So it's like significant amount of work and every week I keep telling them, "When are you going to pay me? Like when are you going to pay me?", and I have a talk with Duckor, like once a week. He looks me through the Zoom eyes and he tells me, "It's coming tomorrow. I swear. It's tied up in legal. It's coming tomorrow. Just finish this shoot.” And he did that to me for months.
Dan Pashman: Rachel Premack, the reporter, says people of color at Bon Appetit repeatedly brought concerns about diversity in the staff and the content to editor in chief Adam Rappoport and video boss Matt Duckor.
Rachel Premack: They would have the meetings, they would listen to people. They would say, "Oh, yes, we hear your concerns." They would initiate these sort of like guidelines of like, "Oh, we're going to do this. We're going to do this. We're going to do this," but in practice that did not actually come out. So actually, one interesting thing which also didn't make into my piece is that they said six months ago that they were going to hire a full time black person to be on their videos and they haven't. It does not take six months to find a talented black cook with on camera experience.
Dan Pashman: So now you have a sense of Sohla’s time at Bon Appetit up till a couple weeks ago. Then, the protests across the country start happening.
Dan Pashman: In the midst of all that, Adam writes a piece that sort of says all the things he's supposed to say. We need to all come together. We need to fight racism, racism bad.
Sohla El-Waylly: Racism bad. All caps.
Dan Pashman: This statement is the one we talked about at the beginning of the episode, about how food is political. In it, Rapoport writes, “In recent years, we at BA have been reckoning with our blind spots when it comes to race. We still have work to do but one thing I know is that our editorial mission, besides recipes and home cooking, is to cover the most important stories of the moment as they relate to food.”
Dan Pashman: And and so I'm sure I would imagine that that knowing what you knew about what was going on behind the scenes, they're seeing that kind of public statement from Bon Appetit must have been especially galling.
Sohla El-Waylly: We were all livid, like internally. The editors we were all so angry with his wishy washy statement. And it felt like he was almost like patting himself on the back about the couple of articles we did have that featured black chefs. And it's like you need to relax. There's only two black people who work in this entire company, so we have nothing to be proud of.
Dan Pashman: It's interesting to me that, you know, the brownface photo was kind of the first thing that hit.
Sohla El-Waylly: [laughing] I'm sorry, I laughed. It's just I forgot about that. So much has happened this week that I just remembered again.
Dan Pashman: Now we get to the brownface photo. After it drops, Adam calls an all-staff Zoom meeting to discuss it.
Sohla El-Waylly: He just kind of said, "Sorry. I'm sorry. This was dumb, a dumb costume. I didn't realize how this might affect people." And it was like a couple sentences. And then he wanted—and then there was like a pause and no one spoke. And he was like, "Okay, so let's wrap this meeting up." And then I was like, "Absolutely not. You should resign. Like I think it's crazy that you think that you can do anything now but resign." And then that got the conversation started.
Dan Pashman: [laughing] As it will. I'm sorry to laugh, that just like that is like the most awesomely bad ass thing I can ever imagine happening. But go on. What did, what did he say to that?
Sohla El-Waylly: He said, "Yeah, maybe. Maybe I should. I don't know." He said he wanted to think about what's good for the Bon Appetit, like maybe it's better for him to stay and help us fix this. But then more people started chiming in, wanting his resignation.
Dan Pashman: Were any of the people who chimed in white?
Sohla El-Waylly: Well, what happened was most of the people, it was like 40 people on the Zoom meeting. Half of them were not showing their face. And then it was me and like a couple other people of color and one white girl, who were speaking. And then I just kind of snapped and yelled at everybody. And I'm like, "This is why this shit happens! Like everyone's hiding. Like half of you are hiding. Most of you aren't saying anything. And like, you post all this stuff on Instagram about pretending to care. But now is the time where we can actually make a difference." And no one was speaking up and then the white people started talking. They just needed to be yelled at. It's just—it shouldn't happen that way. It really shouldn't.
Dan Pashman: It's amazing to me that he would have had the thought that maybe he should be the one to stay on and fix it.
Sohla El-Waylly: I know, yeah. That's what really upset me.
Dan Pashman: Minutes after that Zoom meeting, Sohla goes public. She takes to Instagram, where she has more than 400,000 followers, and writes, “I’ve been at BA for 10 months and have 15 years of professional experience. I was hired as an assistant editor at $50k to assist mostly white editors with significantly less experience than me. 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.” She goes on to demand Rapoport’s resignation, and pay equity for people of color at BA.
Sohla El-Waylly: My whole life I felt like I was getting these jobs or the salary because I didn't deserve more. You know? That I wasn't good enough. Like, maybe I do need to work for 20 years to get to a job that takes a white person two years to get to. But then I was like really thinking about it. And like, I don't know. I'm sure that a lot of people have been just like reading more about racism in the last few weeks and thinking more about it and thinking about how these things are so deep within all of us. And it just made me realize, I don't want people to make me feel like this anymore. I should I should feel like like I'm equal.
Dan Pashman: Sohla’s Instagram story goes viral. An hour after she posts it, she hears from Matt Duckor, the head of video. That contract he’s been promising for months? Suddenly, he has it. By the end of the day, this past Monday, the same day that the racist photo surfaced and Sohla posts on Instagram, editor in chief Adam Rapoport resigns. In the following days, old racist and homophobic tweets from Matt Duckor surface. Rachel Premack, the reporter we talked to earlier, publishes her piece in Business Insider, recounting a lot of the history you’ve just heard about. Wednesday night, Duckor also resigns.
Dan Pashman: Now, the people of color in the Test Kitchen are negotiating new deals. The mostly white stars of the videos have said they won’t shoot new videos until the pay disparity is rectified. Which means that contract that Sohla got on Monday, the one she’d been pushing for? She hasn’t signed it.
Sohla El-Waylly: None of us are going back to work until everybody gets paid. This is not just about me. Like everyone who does videos for the Test Kitchen should get compensated because it's the most lucrative thing that Condé Nast has.
Dan Pashman: Have you raised with them the issue of getting retroactively paid back for the work that you've done or for any of your colleagues?
Sohla El-Waylly: Well, the contract that magically appeared in my inbox included back pay but we want it for everybody.
Dan Pashman: How do you feel about the response of the white hosts from the Test Kitchen since this all went public?
Sohla El-Waylly: Mmm, I don't know. They've all been different. It's different for different people, I think. Surprisingly, Molly sent me a really like heartfelt email, acknowledging a lot of stuff and her complacency with it, that allowed things to happen. But then there's people like Brad, who I genuinely think just found out racism is real. So it's going to take different people, different amounts of time to understand what's happening.
Dan Pashman: So there was a statement that got put out a couple days ago.
Sohla El-Waylly: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: That was sort of like from the staffers and editors of Bon Appetit, which was interesting because there's a sense of there's no one in charge. So, like, who who wrote that? Where did that come from?
Sohla El-Waylly: Right now, there is a small group of us who are working on rebuilding and addressing all of these issues. It's like seven of us. And we made sure that the few people of color, that are on the team, are always in that room. It originally—the statements started out much stronger, much more direct and made more concrete promises. But we did have to negotiate with corporate and HR and PR. So we did lose a lot of the umph. But we internally are holding ourselves accountable to our original statement and our set of goals. We just like for legal reasons can't say all of that. We can't be like, "Yes. Bon Appetit is racist.", you know? We were in meetings with them until 11:00 p.m., like fighting over words. And I also understand that a lot of the stuff we're asking for is like really radical for a company like Condé Nast.
Dan Pashman: What are some of the things that you're asking for that would seem radical?
Sohla El-Waylly: We want to increase the pay for the people of color on staff. So we just want to make sure that there is no one on the team that doesn't make a livable wage, which I don't think is wild. You just want everyone to...
Dan Pashman: When do we get to the radical part?
Sohla El-Waylly: Yeah. We want everyone to make a living wage. Yay!
Dan Pashman: So Sohla has a seat at the table now, and she's using it.
Sohla El-Waylly: I've experienced some of the highest highs of my life this week. When Adam resigned, when Duckor resigned, and when that Business Insider article came out, I finally felt like I wasn't just screaming in the wind anymore. So I feel like now finally things might change. I don't know. I always grew up believing that I would always experience casual racism, and that's just a fact of life. And that there's no way around it. But I finally think that maybe we don't have to anymore.
Dan Pashman: As for Nikita Richardson, who you heard earlier, I asked her, Bon Appetit aside, what have you been working on lately at The Strategist that you’re especially excited about?
Nikita Richardson: It's actually it's so sad because I have been doing so little work the last two weeks because of this and because of Black Lives Matter. But I did do a story about like how to start fermenting at home that I was really excited about. I just want to do my work so badly. And, but I also want to address this head on. I've been trying to heal from it, too, and kind of rebuild my own confidence in myself and my ability to do the work. Because people can tell you up and down like, "Oh, you're good. You're good," but it's hard to believe it, if this is an environment you've come from.
Dan Pashman: As for Sohla El-Waylly, she says she has a new video series concept that she hopes to host for Bon Appetit, once she starts getting paid for her work. And I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of her across a lot of their videos in the future.
Dan Pashman: If someone came to you, Sohla, and said, "We want you to do a special YouTube video about how to cook a dish." It can be any dish you want.
Sohla El-Waylly: Uh-huh.
Dan Pashman: What are you gonna cook?
Sohla El-Waylly: Instead of a dish? Could it be—I feel like I need to do a full proper chocolate tempering video.
Dan Pashman: Yes.
Sohla El-Waylly: We need that. It needs to be out in the world.
Dan Pashman: Sign me up. Count me in as your first click.
Sohla El-Waylly: Cool.
Dan Pashman: A few things to add. Adam Rapoport and Matt Duckor declined to be interviewed for this piece. We sent representatives at Condé Nast a list of questions, but they did not respond as of this publication. We taped the interviews in this episode two days ago. Since then, several of the white hosts from the BA Test Kitchen have put out statements on Instagram addressing what’s happened, and their own roles in it. Also, there are a lot of stories people of color have been sharing about their experience at Bon Appetit that we did not include in this episode. So, we’ll share links to all of those stories and statements at Sporkful.com.
Dan Pashman: On final thing, the attention right now is focused on Bon Appetit, but as Soleil Ho, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote this week:
"While it may seem that this is a problem of Bon Appetit’s own making, the takeaway here is that the way its sausage gets made looks a lot like how it gets made in the rest of the food media (and the media itself). Its gatekeepers, the editors, are largely white and well-to-do and/or governed by a structure of white and well-to-do vice presidents, publishers and owners. It’s why so much of what gets produced is framed in a way that centers on white and well-to-do people: what they eat, what they want to eat and what they see as inedible."
Dan Pashman: We’ll link to that piece at Sporkful.com as well. If you’d like to hear more of our coverage of race in the food world check out our recent episodes, "Can A Restaurant Be For Everyone?" and "When White People Say Plantation". Both those episodes are up now where you got this one. And please subscribe to our show in Apple podcasts or if you listen in Stitcher, favorite us. Thanks.