Category Archives: media

The Shake Up at Bon Appetit, and the Serious Side of Food

Bon Appetit (BA) is a food mag that I regularly follow and post about. I like several things about BA which keeps me coming back. Most important, it does not take itself too seriously. The editorial direction has been towards having fun and connecting with people in the kitchen as opposed to just producing and depicting endless food porn (the way good old paper Gourmet Mag used to do). It is not a snobby approach to enjoying food culture.

So when I read today that its editor in chief, Adam Rappaport, is stepping down because of controversies over alleged racism, I took note.

The odd thing is that if you look at BA’s web content, you would not think that its editor in chief had a problem with race.  The top story has been about Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis.

If the Building Burns, Well, We’ll Figure It Out

And BA regularly includes content about different food cultures and from persons of color. It is not — at last on the surface — a publication that you would suspect nurtures a race problem.  Quite the opposite.

But I read that there are complaints from behind the scenes. Two of these got my attention. The firs is that BA uses white presenters to show how to make food from other cultures, instead of persons of color from those cultures. Sorry – I don’t sign onto that complaint and I will get into why below. Second, BA does not treat staffers of color the same way they treat white staffers. I agree 100% that this is  unacceptable.

So why am I not so concerned about the white presenters? The answer goes to why I like BA in the first place  I do not go there to remedy social injustice.. I go there to enjoy the content about kitchen culture. So if a person of color can engage me about whatever, I am great with that. But if that same person of color cannot do that, I will tune out.  Same fir a white presenter. End of story.

Let’s think of this from a different perspective. Would I demand that only Italian chefs demonstrate Italian cooking? French for French cooking? Germans for German stuff? Of course not. And if I watch Julia Child do French cooking, does that mean I am turning my back on French chefs who are closer to the tradition? Of course not.

The real issue, therefore, is whether anyone who wants to write about or speak about food masters the skills to grab and hold attention on something other than just giving information. And there we bump into an interesting issue. Where do food people learn those connecting skills? Good question. If there are such places, I would be a strong advocate that persons from all races and ethnic backgrounds get access to that kind of learning.  It might even be fun to watch them learn.

And let’s be honest here. Most food people are not great at engaging an audience beyond just how well they do food prep. So I find Gordon Ramsey to be annoying because he is obviously showing off his skills rather than treating me (the viewer) as an equal. Sam the Cooking Guy has nowhere near the skill level, but I enjoy his quirky sense of humor a lot more.  Ditto for good old Tony Bourdain. It didn’t matter to me whether Tony himself was a great chef or if he was white or some other color. He was fluent enough in food culture, and was great at entertaining while taking us to places to show what one can find there.

So the real question for BA (in my humble opinion) is how well food content engages its viewers in food culture — regardless of whether white people or persons of color are on the screen or doing the writing.  Food culture is about sharing inspiration. And from this perspective, while BA is fun, I think it could be a lot better. That goes for its white presenters and presenters of color.

What do you think?

BTW, you might notice that I left out discussion of the photo of Adam from a Halloween Party where he had a “brown face” costume. Sorry, I cannot get very worked up about the photo. If Adam had worn that costume with the intention of ridiculing Latinos, that intention would be significant. But I have no basis to draw that conclusion. An equally plausible explanation is that Adam was oblivious to the notion that he was stepping on sensitive toes. Oops!

I am far more concerned about what people will DO to help people of color get equal opportunity and security from violence by police than I am about this genre of sensitivity issue.

BI just ran a story on the problems at Bon Appetit – alleging that the overall culture at the magazine is “toxic” to non-whites. One of the themes is that non-whites do not get opportunities to level up. I fully support that complaint. I am less supportive of the “equal treatment” arguments  —  absent reasons why those complaining are equally valuable in terms of revenue growth for the firm.


Will Wonder Woman Save us from COVID-19?

Most would agree that a lot of our entertainment is pretty silly stuff.  In film, impossibly attractive heroes and heroines routinely figure out impossibly complex problems, nab the bad guys,  and invariably save the day. We have seen this formula zillions of times, and yet it still seems to get our attention.

The formula works when all is well, and the most dangerous enemy we face is boredom. It works less well when we suddenly face a real enemy, and a dangerous one.  Like now. Editorial comment: Real world enemies do not respect our entertainment formula

Some folks are getting a bit grumpy that our celebs still want attention, even though they can’t help us with our real world problem. Of course they want attention! That is what they live for!

Here is my fav

… billionaire David Geffen, …  deleted (his) Instagram after the incensed reaction to him posting pictures of his $590m (£480m) superyacht, on which he is self-isolating, with the caption “hope everyone is staying safe”.

Thanks Dave! Can I get on board? This one is pretty good too

Madonna, for reasons only she knows, decided to preach to us from a bathtub full of rose petals. Covid-19 “doesn’t care about how rich you are” she informed us. “It’s the great equaliser.”

A bathtub full of rose petals? Perhaps symbolizing caronaviruses attacking her in a vulnerable moment that she succumbs to in order to save us from … our lust for her? And BTW, is this the first ever nude public health advisory?

WAIR Networks - WAIR Report - Madonna Called The Coronavirus "The ...

But of course , this video appears to have set things off.

This grumpy post from The Guardian (where else?)  lets it all hang out (and is the source for my quotes above). Drum roll please, Yes, capitalism is to blame!!!!!

I think this is over doing it It is true that celebs are clueless and self-absorbed. That has always been true, and we have always known that it is true. That is not why we value them and why they get paid so much.  More bluntly, celebs are not to blame for our own appetites to consume the plonk they have offered us. Nor are they to blame that what they offer is now exposed as silly. We wanted silly, and we got it. Lots of it. Let’s face it. When we can afford to partake in silly stuff, we do so with gusto.

A more serious comment for your cerebral cortex: Visualizing fantasy is a part of human nature. As psychologist Gabriele Oettingen points out, we need to indulge in positive ego building fantasy as a first step in motivating us to meet real world challenges. The problem is that some of us forget that indulging in fantasy is just a first step in the process, not the whole process. Ooops!

Back to the show! In our current messtoid, we now need to move beyond fantasy and cope with Mr. Real World Crisis. I am confident, however, that when Mr. Real World Crisis exits the stage  (when a vaccine is finally distributed) our appetite for what silly celebs offer will renew itself. Will we remember to “curb our enthusiasms”?  If history is any guide, the answer is “not as much as we might have”.

In the meantime, Dave, Madonna et al might want to  keep their egos buttoned up and lay low for a while.

Getting Goopy on a Delayed Transcon Flight

I thought Amanda Shapiro had a nice opening for her post on Goop

I spent Monday night on a cross-country flight that lasted four hours longer than planned, ran out of food and water, did not have functional internet, and made an unexpected layover in Vegas, and no, they didn’t even let us off the plane to play slots. By 1 a.m., we were somewhere over the Midwest and I was down to my last sips of water and the dregs of a bag of PopCorners (kettle-corn flavored, so good). That’s when I turned on The Goop Lab. I’d downloaded Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix series—FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES—before leaving L.A. but didn’t actually think I’d watch it. Desperate times, as they say.

And a lot of folks make fun of Gwyneth and Goop. So what is the appeal? In my book, it is all about safety. If Gwyneth tries something new and “experimental” and shows it off, you can be pretty confident that it is not going to land you in jail or get you addicted. You can “walk on the wild side” without fear of the wild beasts who may roam around over there.

That means, of course it is not “authentic”. So you get this type of Goopiness

the (Goop Lab) show feels like HGTV for the wellness set: utterly formulaic, mildly informative, made for my mom. Ladies, have you heard about ~magic mushrooms~?! The first episode takes Goop staffers to Jamaica, where a white couple tells the group about the importance of psychedelics in other cultures, then guides everyone (not Paltrow, though she admits to taking MDMA once “in Mexico”) through a mushroom trip. Studies are cited, and there are lots of cuts to Paltrow in her pastel-pink office chair, meticulously outfitted and dewy-skinned, pitching softball questions to eager experts. It’s intense and transformative, people are changed, etc., but it’s all filmed in an air-freshened, paint-over-the-cracks kind of way.

Gopy! For sure. But there are worse things to worry about these days.  N’est ce pas?

Beyond Top Down Marketing?

Fred Wilson has an interesting post today where he asks whether we are about to move beyond Google, Facebook and Instagram in marketing new products and services.

He ends with this comment

… the Google/Facebook/Instagram well has not exactly “gone dry”. But it sure feels like steady-state to me now. It is a must-do but you can’t beat the competition there anymore because everyone is there.

So here we are. At the cusp of something new because we need it. Now we need to figure out what it is.

I think we have some clues.  Traditional marketing works by getting large numbers of people to adopt a common mindset about a product or service. Apple is cool. Walmart is a good deal. This type of thing. And while the web offers new channels to deliver this type of messaging, it is still the same type of messaging. Top down.

Producers and suppliers lead. We follow.

What about bottom up? What if folks can start leveraging their own lifestyles to gain followers, thus creating demand for products and services based on stuff that is not under the control of the supplier? And if they can, why not take a leadership role in telling suppliers what to make?

We see some of this now on YouTube and Instagram. I think we will  start to see new platforms that make it even easier for  bottom up marketing to gather steam.

Stay tuned!

Amazing Women: Rosa Lewis … and her doppleganger, Louisa Trotter

Rosa Lewis was a real person, and a rather incredible one at that. She was born in 1867 in London and rose from somewhat a somewhat humble background

After leaving school at 12 and becoming a general servant,she worked her way up through the hierarchy of domestic service eventually running the kitchens of the Duc d’Orleans at Sandhurst.

And she became rather famous for her cooking skills.

Image result for Rosa Lewis

There is more

It was through her cooking that Rosa was linked to Edward VII. He so adored her food that tactful society hostesses employed her when entertaining him for over 20 years, making her services the height of fashion.

She married and in 1902 purchased the Cavendish Hotel, a focal point for aristocratic dalliances and partying. Rosa became known as the Duchess of Jermyn Street.

Image result for historic Cavendish Hotel London

Ah, the Edwardian period!

With the outbreak of WW1, society entertaining came to an end and Rosa turned her attentions to welcoming impoverished military officers to the Cavendish. Her kind and tolerant nature never allowed them to pay and with her tactics of allowing rich guests to cover the costs of the poor, she managed to continue these charitable efforts until her death.

The Edwardian Period may have been over, but Louisa never left its values and routines behind. She remained for years and years, the grand lady of Jermyn Street.Indeed, the father of an American friend of mine told me his story of how he was lucky enough to have a short conversation with her. This painting of her might give you a hint why

Image result for Rosa Lewis Painting

Paradoxically, Rosa herself had a hand in the creation of the false identity. No innocent to the process of publicity, her idiosyncrasies, bad language, extrovert behavior, ‘Cockney sparrow’ approach were all a deliberate device of hers to invent a personality. They constituted a recipe that almost, but not quite, eclipsed the real Rosa.

In other words, Rosa was quite the character! She passed on in 1952, and her life story became a thing of legend.

The legend was picked up by able story tellers(including the renowned John Hawksworth) who fashioned it into a TV series called “The Duchess of Duke Street”. Rosa — not exactly the historical Rosa but loosely based on her l— became Louisa Trotter, played by Gemma Jones.  The show ran in the 1970’s became a hit in the US in the PBS Masterpiece Theater series.

What was so special about it? Like Upstairs Downstairs (another Hawksworth effort). each episode of the show captures a slightly different dimension of  the mood of the times in London at a period just before what we would call “modern”. And as in Upstairs Downstairs, the first World War proves to be a major pivot.

This nice video montage profiles the various escapades that Louisa Trotter finds herself in and I think capture some of the spirit of the thing. Enjoy!

The History of Dave Lebovitz (his blog that is)

Dave is one of the original food bloggers, and writes great posts on a regular basis about cooking, food, Paris, and other “stuff” that gets his attention. He has been at it for 20 years!

During that time he learned a lot and he gave a lot to us all FOR FREE!

Thanks Dave!

You may want to head over to Dave’s 20 anniversary post where he lays out how things developed over the years. A basic point — Dave does not blog for the money (neither do I). But he gets a lot out of blogging (so di )). And that is useful to think about.

There is something very fun to get into the routine of expressing yourself to the world. You might want to give it a go!

TikTok is Bullshit … and its Good Bullshit

In case you missed it — as I did — TikTok is the fourth most downloaded app of 2018. It is a social network — ho hum — and it does not pretend to be anything other than a distraction.

yet another one.

So why is it so popular. This article gives you a hint.

Or you can just read this on why folks get into it

… it had been designed to perform algorithmic pyrotechnics that were capable of making a half hour pass before I remembered to look away.

In other words, it is manipulative in the extreme.