On Bon Appétit: What Do We Do When Even Our Comfort-Watches Are Revealed to Be Racist?

In case you missed the sad that’s been under our noses: The Bon Appétit YouTube channel, has been outed as just part of yet another very racist media conglomerate that underpays and undercuts the work of the few BIPOC employees it has.

The domino-like reveal of Bon Appétit’s toxic work environment started when Puerto Rican food columnist illyanna Maisonet revealed the gross exchange she had with then-Editor in Chief of Bon Appétit, Adam Rapoport. From there, a picture of Rapoport in brown face resurfaced. There was then a, what I imagine to be panicked and awkward, meeting with Rapoport and the BA team during which Sohla El-Waylly called for his resignation. And, finally, Rapoport resigned. Since then, Sohla has revealed that none of the BIPOC editors are compensated for their video work. While the white members of BA’s insanely popular YouTube channel have expressed support, refusing to appear in more videos until their BIPOC colleagues are paid equally, some of them have also been revealed to be part of the toxic racist work culture.

And really, I feel like we all must be wondering, didn’t the white editors already know?

It’s nice that they’re now expressing public support, but like, is this the first time they’ve voiced any concern about their BIPOC colleagues’ pay? If they, somehow, really didn’t know, did they ever voice concern about the other more visible shortcomings, like the lack of representation for Black chefs? How none of their BIPOC colleagues get to have their own shows with large budgets that allow white editors to do decadent shit like literally order everything on a menu?

I’m not really that familiar with food media in a capacity outside of just being a viewer. And there are already lots of thoughtful pieces on what BA’s downfall says about the larger food media industry’s racism. What I do feel like writing on, though, is what this means for BA viewers that used the channel as a comfort, especially during the hard times going on now.

I feel like it’s pretty popular opinion that BA’s whole appeal was never just about the food. Most of it was watching the Test Kitchen Crew interact with each other, banter, work together. I remember seeing lots of comments on their videos comparing it to The Office. I remember too, when BA’s popularity was really taking off, how it was often framed like Bon Appétit and the larger brand of Condé Nast didn’t expect it. There was that huge Buzzfeed profile on the team titled, “How Bon Appétit Accidentally Made YouTube’s Most Beloved Stars.” The work-comedy type of dynamic, maybe more so than any of the food, is what kept viewers invested and, of course, made the brand so valuable.

But knowing the insidious truth about the lack of pay for BIPOC workers makes these videos hard to watch. All those seemingly fun cameos of Sohla giving advice are now cringe-inducing. How many times did Sohla stop doing the work she is actually paid for to teach Brad how to say turmeric or help Claire with large sections of Gourmet Makes, only to be refused additional pay?

Like whenever anything gets “cancelled,” I see fans online conflicted about what to do with all the support they’ve given to BA. Do we just stop? Do we selectively support the unproblematic chefs? Do we wait for things to get better and start again? Is that even possible when BA has revealed to be so deeply ingrained in a toxic racist work environment? I have no idea!

There’s the clear answer here, that we should re-direct more support to diverse food media. But even in doing so, it still feels like there’s more to reckon with here, right? I guess the better question is, how do we mourn the comfort-watching we used to love? How do we reconcile our attachment to the content with the uncomfortable truth?

When I think about it, there are other comfort-watches I have that are problematic. I still watch Friends. But the truth about BA feels harder to deal with. It feels more insidious to me than an outdated sitcom because BA is a brand curated to appeal to the same young diverse demographic it undervalues and underpays behind the scenes. From the humor, to the editing, to the pushing of ‘diverse’ faces to be camera facing, there was a clear and deliberate attempt to generate a specific appeal. And it was to great success, the kind of support BA had for a while felt so unanimous and unwavering.

Thinking back again on how the BA Test Kitchen Crew was framed as this unexpected success, I just don’t buy it anymore. Maybe it did take off way better than the creative team thought it would, but it’s clear from what’s been revealed behind the scenes, there were efforts to build up what food/people were deemed valuable, and efforts to actively suppress food/people deemed less valuable. I see fans online jumping to certain white Test Crew members defenses, talking about how people change. And while yes, people change, I think arguing that Delany’s grown up or whatever since his Confederate Cake debacle, distracts from the fact that BA invested in people like Delany because they think he’s more worthy than people like Sohla, Priya, Hawa, Christina, Gaby, or Rick. This was not a clumsy mistake. It was always a clear, deliberate, and continuous choice to invest in whiteness.

Watching and supporting any kind of content often means critiquing it when needed as much as supporting it. Hopefully, fans pulling support and BIPOC BA employee’s words bring change. But ultimately, as viewers we’ll be fine, right? Even if it was heartbreaking at first to learn the truth of the seemingly perfect work-family. There’s always so much new content for us to watch, from other creators unattached to brands that actively choose to invest in whiteness.

So, while we all figure out how to mourn an old comfort-watch, let’s do the clear next move and support more diverse food media. Here are a few of my other favourite cooking channels that I’m now spending a lot more time with:

  1. Cece posts a large variety of recipes ranging in skillset and flavours and cuisines. Some of my other favourite recipes from her are the herb-crusted lamb chops and mango dessert sauce. So, the next time you're stuck on what to make for dinner, check out Cece's channel for endless answers!

  2. Half-Thai and half-Australian, Marion is always putting out tasty and easy fusion recipes. The garlic butter pasta is my favourite pantry pasta right now as we all try to stay home more. If you're a fan of fusion pasta, also check out her take on Cacio e Pepe!

  3. Abi's videos are another great resource for easy and tasy recipes. I think about her ox-tail pepper soup a lot. Despite Covid-19 making Ramadon harder this year, Abi still made a lot of content documenting her Ramadan cooking!

  4. If you live by or go to an Asian grocer, Garden Time Homemade Cuisine's recipes should be a breeze! The recipe I started out with is the one for the 鸡肉丸子/Chicken meatball. There are tons of great comfort foods to choose from and try.