James Beard Foundation aims to increase diversity of its annual restaurant and food media awards

The organization published widespread policy changes to boost gender, race and ethnic representation among nominees and judges.
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The James Beard Foundation Awards, widely considered the Oscars of the food world, announced sweeping changes Tuesday to its selection and judging processes to ensure a more diverse pool of winners as the restaurant world continues to feel the seismic effects of the #MeToo era.

The changes go into effect this month, the organization said in a statement, and are “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.”

The “initial changes” to the awards for restaurants and chefs, books, design, journalism, broadcast media and leadership center on issues of representation, accessibility and transparency, foundation officials said. Among the changes:

  • Awards volunteers are tasked with increasing, monitoring and maintaining gender, ethnic and racial diversity among awards committees and judges, with the goal of increasing diversity so that the committees reflect the U.S. census.
  • The Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America program, which was established in 1984, is being retired because only past honorees are allowed to nominate new members.
  • The public can now submit nominations for the Foundation’s Leadership Awards, with the goal of increasing the number of candidates working in sustainability, food justice and public health.
  • From Oct. 15-29, entries will be free for the awards categories of Book, Broadcast Media and Design to “remove any financial barrier to entry,” officials said. To attract new voices to the journalism awards, all first-time submissions will be free.
  • “Restaurant culture and leadership values,” first considered by judges in last year’s awards, will continue to be evaluated when selecting this year’s winners. “Extra time for fact checking has been built into the Foundation’s schedule to ensure nominees and winners are vetted to the best of our capabilities,” the organization said in a press release.

The policy changes come as the restaurant industry, and the nation as a whole, grapple with widespread reports of workplace sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. Last month, restauranteur Mike Isabella’s company filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. High-profile chef-owners John Besh, Ken Friedman and Mario Batali have left their operations following allegations of misconduct.

The Awards began in 1990 to recognize culinary professionals for excellence in their fields. Today, the Awards are followed by industry insiders and consumers, with chefs and restaurant owners trumpeting their “James Beard Award winner” status to drive traffic.

The James Beard Media Awards take place on April 26 in New York City, with the full awards gala slated for May 6 in Chicago.

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