It’s no secret that the stressful and competitive world of the restaurant industry can be a breeding ground for aggressive, demeaning, and drug-addled behavior, but in recent weeks, the food world has seen their own “Harvey Weinstein moment.”
In October, famous New Orleans restauranteur John Besh was forced to step down from his restaurants after an expansive investigation by the Times-Picayune revealed prurient behavior with 25 different women detailing abuses.
From the Times-Picayune:
“Taken together, they and other women described a company where several male co-workers and bosses touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments about their appearance and – in a few cases – tried to leverage positions of authority for sex. Several women said female colleagues, including in some cases their immediate managers, warned them to beware of ‘handsy’ male supervisors – at times on day one on the job. Those who complained of sexual harassment were berated, ostracized or ignored, the women said.”
Today, renowned New York chef and food personality Mario Batali stepped down from his restaurants after allegations of inappropriate touching, groping, and other behavior mounted.
Restauranteur and writer Jen Agg wrote in an October piece for the New Yorker on the coming “Weinstein moment” in the food industry and how women basically have to pick and choose what lewd behaviors they can tolerate:
“It’s not only the overwhelmingly male culture of kitchens that makes it difficult for women to combat the status quo. Many of us, like women in Hollywood, have had to be a little bit complicit in order to have a career. As a restaurateur, I find myself frequently torn about how to navigate my relationships with famous food-world men, weighing what I know a man can bring to my brand (ugh) against my desire to ask him why he isn’t doing more to help women succeed and why he won’t speak out against sexism.”
The toxic machismo of the food industry is not unlike that in Hollywood, politics, music, fashion, or Wall Street.
In a recent interview with Slate, Anthony Bourdain wondered aloud about his own glorification of ‘meathead’ culture in food with his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, which chronicled his experiences with sex and drugs in the restaurant business.
“I’ve had to ask myself, and I have been for some time, ‘To what extent in that book did I provide validation to meatheads?’ If you read the book, there’s a lot of bad language. There’s a lot of sexualization of food. I don’t recall any leeringly or particularly, what’s the word, prurient interest in the book, other than the first scene as a young man watching my chef very happily [have a] consensual encounter with a client. But still, that’s bro culture, that’s meathead culture.”
None of this is altogether shocking, which is perhaps the most depressing thing to take away as powerful restauranteurs are revealed for their aggressive and abusive behavior.
We are still at the tip of the iceberg with fallout in the post-Weinstein world. In the meantime, sit down and listen to women.