Latino Restaurateurs Call Out the James Beard Foundation for Its Lack of Representation

The James Beard Foundation has for years faced criticism about the lack of diversity within the organization and among its award nominees and winners. That backlash is only getting louder.

Recently, the Latino Restaurant Association called on the James Beard Foundation to expand Latino representation among its ranks, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday. The group, which encompasses more than 1,300 Latino restaurant owners across the United States, sent a letter to the organization in late August aimed at adding Latinos to the James Beard board of trustees, in particular.

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A “fair and equitable representation of Latinos” would help the foundation in “embracing the diverse perspectives” necessary for it to carry out its work, wrote Lilly Rocha, the association’s executive director.

Currently, the James Beard Foundation’s board of trustees comprises 27 members, with seemingly just one Latino among them: Herb Scannell, the president and CEO of Southern California Public Radio. In an emailed statement to the L.A. Times, the foundation said that it’s talking with the Latino Restaurant Association about its letter. It declined to answer questions about how the board’s members are selected.

“We acknowledge the need for more Latino presence on the Board of Trustees, especially recognizing the community’s invaluable contribution to the culinary industry, food culture, and the broader food system in the U.S.,” the foundation said.

Christy Vega, the president of the L.A. Mexican restaurant Casa Vega and a board member of the association, told the Los Angeles Times that she’s expressed similar frustrations in the past. She told James Beard CEO Clare Reichenbach that she could even give her names of potential Latino board members, including herself. However, Vega only heard back about how hard it was for the board to find Latino candidates.

Rocha’s, Vega’s, and the association’s frustrations have previously been voiced by others who point out that the James Beard Foundation has historically skewed extremely white and male. In 2018, it changed some of its policies and procedures to “increase gender, race, and ethnic representation,” according to the L.A. Times. Yet many still believe that the organization has a ways to go in achieving true equality.

“We’re demanding the respect that we deserve for really being the backbone of the restaurant industry in this country,” Rocha said. “We’re tired of being [told] ‘know your place, it’s in the back of the house.’ We want to make sure that we’re represented in all aspects of culinary.”

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