9. Setting Myself Up

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Like a many, many other people I was a huge fan of Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel until last summer, when its whole “we’re one big happy family” facade crumbled in a matter of days with revelations of how toxically unfair the environment was for Black contributors and staff, as well as other people of colour. I was hugely disappointed, not just in Bon Appetit, but also in myself, for being so easy gulled into believing that everything was as it appeared. 

Since then, even with a change of leadership, the magazine has managed to step into easily avoided trouble again and again, and then having to backtrack. Like encouraging readers to have in-person New Year’s Eve parties with singing and no masks. (An editor’s note was added later making all kinds of excuses, advising readers in the end to follow CDC guidelines).

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Then there was playing fast and loose with one of the most culturally significant recipes in Haiti. And putting out videos that teach people how to give themselves botulism. It’s been, as someone described it online, one Mr. Belvedere after another.

So, my interest was piqued when the podcast Reply All started releasing episodes from The Test Kitchen, its new four-part series promising a deep dig into what happened at BA, with firsthand accounts from people who had worked there. Certainly, some of my interest going in had a rubbernecking quality; I had witnessed the trainwreck live and wanted to see what had caused it. But after listening to episodes one and two, it’s clear that the show delivers far more—it made me realize all the blind spots that I have regarding the many ways that racism can pervade a workplace. It’s essential listening, not just for those who were/are interested in BA, but for anyone who has power at their job. (Similarly, I often recommend The Good Place: The Podcast as an example of how to construct and respectful, constructive, and still extremely creative workplace.)

It seemed like Reply All had launched yet another can’t-miss late-winter episode, coming after last March’s incredible The Case of the Missing HitThe camaraderie between the hosts, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, and their playful on-air needling of their boss Alex Blumberg, was always part of the show’s appeal. (Last year they added a third co-host, Emmanuel Dzotsi.) It seemed like a fun, healthy workplace.

You can see where this is headed, right?

On Tuesday, the surprise that really shouldn’t have been a surprise came in a tweet thread from a former employee of Gimlet, the company that makes RA: it was also a toxic work environment in much the same way it was at Bon Appetit.

Because of fucking course it is. I can’t believe I keep falling for this. At least it underscores that even the happiest-seeming organizations can be powerfully unhappy for many within them. By and large, you either notice an organization’s failings because those failings directly and negatively affect you, or you don’t notice them at all. If you don’t notice them at all, I encourage you to find a way to learn how the less powerful people within your organization feel. (Having just mentioned The Good Place: The Podcast as a model, I’m sure I have condemned it to milkshake duck-dom.)

The reckoning at Reply All has been swift. Since I started writing this, PJ Vogt has left the podcast permanently and Sruthi Pinnameneni, the reporter for the Bon Appetit episodes has also stepped away from rest of the miniseries. You can read Vogt’s and Pinnameneni’s statements here and here. It’s unclear what will happen to the remaining episodes

Lest I sound overly preachy and holier-than-thou this issue, I write this fully aware that in my own professional life I have been a part of work cultures that definitely operated in ways that benefited some people over others, just maybe not as severely (I hope) as the ones at Reply All and Bon Appetit. This is written in the spirit of acknowledging that we all have some work to do in holding our workplaces accountable, especially those of us with the power to affect real change.

What I’m consuming…

  • This old clip from Late Night with David Letterman that is both informative—her technique works like a charm—but also a great example of Letterman’s early humour.

    (And yes, I’ve very aware that his reputation also has quite a bit of tarnish on it.) Use this technique for cooking the eggs first.

  • This essay that looks at “the lunchbox moment” from a new angle—“The lunchbox moment” being that all too familiar moment when a non-White kid at school opens their lunchbox, only to be ridiculed for the “oddities” inside. Probably, there is some generational reason that explains why there seem to be more and more people who don’t have one and don’t relate to it as a cultural trope. As our cultures further integrate, and people of all sorts are exposed to a greater diversity of foods, the opening of a lunchbox isn’t as likely to provoke surprise anymore. I certainly remember having those moments, although, much like Karon Liu points out, I’ve started doubting whether I remember them in earnest, or I’ve just heard the stories repeated so often I’ve internalized them. I mean, we were read a book in grade two or three called “The Sandwich”  which was all about the lunchbox moment. So it’s possible it’s just wormed its way into my memory. Also, it’s amazing to think that mortadella and provolone were once wild and “stinky” ingredients, but I guess that’s integration for you.

What’s on the Menu…

  • This Kimchi-guk for Soup Swap to warm the insides.

  • This Needs Hot Sauce, another Substack newsletter about food. Abigail Koffler uncovered yet another problematic Bon Appetit recipe, this time for Hamentaschen, and got it updated. Her list of articles to read is great and shows that she reads about food from a far broader pool of sources than I do. I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped subscribing to me and subscribed to her instead.

  • Lastly, I’ve compiled a list of the recipes I’ve used most often during Beth’s and my 344-day (and counting) streak of eating dinner together. While you’re there, why not take a look at the other work I’ve done. Who knows, maybe you’ll even want to hire me? I promise I won’t turn your office into Bon Appetit.

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