Times are changing fast in the bar and restaurant industry. On Thursday (8.20), the James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced an unprecedented two year suspension of their coveted awards. Acknowledging a history of systemic bias and the irrelevance of awards compared to the industry’s greater struggles at the moment, JBF will use the what-was-scheduled as their awards event to honor lifetime achievement type honorees and explore plans to increase diversity in the future.
The majority of the award winners for 2020 will not be announced. In addition, the 2021 James Beard Foundation Awards will also be cancelled. The organization explained that the 2021 awards would have honored performance during 2020, a virtual impossibility given the nationwide quarantines.
“We did not come to this decision lightly,” said James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach. “The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do. In short, an honor which we know is held in high regard, at the moment, feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in.”
“As we strive to provide an Awards program with the highest ethical standards, one that is fair, equitable, and reflective of the industry which we serve, we know that the right move is to step back and take stock of the nominees and honorees achievements. We hope to focus our collective energy on helping our community get through this crisis and on addressing the inequities in the industry going forward. We look forward to bringing the Awards back when the industry is once again ready for them.”
While categories like “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Chef” are off the table, a few winners will be honored during a Twitter streamed ceremony on September 25. Specifically, the previously announced winners for America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards will be honored.
The Foundation added that the evening will also be used to spotlight the recent struggles and triumphs of independent restaurants. The segment, which promises an emphasis on storytelling, will focus on many of the 2020 nominees.
JBF also stressed that the industry’s problems are due to systemic bias as much as the pandemic. In the hopes of fighting ingrained prejudice, the group announced plans for a complete audit of JBF Awards protocols over the next year.
The Awards Committee and Subcommittees will work with the Foundation and an “outside social justice agency” to create new protocols with a focus on equality. “The objectives are to remove any systemic bias, increase the diversity of the pool of candidates, maintain relevance, and align the Awards more outwardly with the Foundation’s values of equity, equality, sustainability, and excellence for the restaurant industry,” the Foundation stated in a release.
To assist with this process, the Foundation named a new Awards Committee Member. Beard Trustee Tanya Holland, chef/owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, CA, author, and podcast, will help guid the process from within.