The announced changes are well-informed and seem like a big step forward for an organization steeped in its own tradition. Here's hoping they continue.
— Kristen Hawley
After naming Clare Reichenbach CEO earlier this year — a new role for the organization, which was formerly led by its president, Susan Ungaro — the leadership behind the James Beard Awards said it’s getting serious about diversity. Yesterday, the foundation outlined the changes to expect this year.
In a blog post, the foundation calls the changes “a first step intended to increase gender, race, and ethnic representation in the governance and outcomes of the Awards, as well as to increase transparency of the judging process, and to make entry to the Awards more accessible than ever before.”
Changes include diversifying the awards committees and judges to represent American diversity as represented by the U.S. Census, sunsetting the “Who’s Who” program in which only past honorees could nominate potential inductees, and open suggestions for the foundation’s leadership award. In an effort to encourage diversity among nominated food media, first-time media submitters will have fees waived, and other categories will allow free submissions for the first two weeks of the call for entries.
The James Beard Foundation announced these changes a week after running four op-eds on its site from four notable industry names detailing the changes they’d like to see. It was a well-coordinated but necessary effort, as many agreed the awards themselves needed an overhaul in favor of diversity and representation.
Still, not everyone embraced every change. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells penned a Twitter thread challenging the Beard Foundation’s revised mission statement, which now includes the word “chefs.” Instead of focusing on chefs, which he seems to argue don’t need the spotlight, he believes the foundation should look at American food traditions “that are going to die out of nobody pays attention to them.” (Of note: chef Jose Andres disagreed with Wells, likening the Beard Foundation’s awards to the Oscars or Emmys, “celebrating and nurturing their peers.”)
While last year’s Beard Awards did represent the most diverse group of winners in the organization’s history, Reichenbach clearly set her sights on bigger, lasting changes. “We want to keep the momentum of last year’s awards moving forward, which we don’t want people to think for any reason was some kind of a fluke,” Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano, who oversees the awards, told the New York Times.