Bon Appetit employees share stories of 'toxic' culture, magazine issues apology

Many current and former staffers say Adam Rapoport wasn’t the only person responsible for perpetuating discriminatory behavior at the food publication. 
Behind-The-Scenes Conversation With The Bon Appetit Test Kitchen
After Adam Rapoport's resignation, current and former Bon Appetit staffers and contributors shared even more stories of discrimination within the company.Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

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By Michelle Gant

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.

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.

Business Insider published an in-depth article Tuesday 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."

After the Business Insider article was published, 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, to call for the resignation of other high-ranking editors and producers and 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.

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 former 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.

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, publicly called for Duckor's resignation on her Instagram stories.

Late on Wednesday, it was announced that Duckor had left the company, according to an email from Condé Nast Entertainment's president, Oren Katzeff — who has come under fire over a series of tweets about Mexicans and women — sent to Business Insider, which stated:

First, I want to thank you for your honesty and candor over these last many days. It takes courage and conviction to bring forward the issues you've experienced and the ideas on our needed changes at CNE. I know you wouldn't be speaking up if you weren't passionate about the work we do together. We've already started the process of reviewing our practices and over the next week we'll be bringing forward a plan of action centered on diversity and inclusion. We'll be working with you in the key areas we need to improve — our talent selection and hiring (both in front of and behind the camera), our programming strategy, pilot development, our compensation practices, and more.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

On Tuesday, Condé Nast announced that Healthyish editor Amanda Shapiro would be stepping in as acting deputy director of Bon Appétit.

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."

EDITOR'S NOTE (June 11, 2020, 10:29 a.m. EST): This article has been updated with additional information published by Business Insider about Matt Duckor leaving Conde Nast.