Priya Krishna, 29
Position: Contributing writer, Bon Appétit Test Kitchen
Started: September 28, 2018
Quit: August 6, 2020
Salary: $600 day rate per video
As told to Camille Squires
The first video was so exciting. This was 2018, and I had no idea that there were going to be so many people watching the video. It got to like a half a million views at a certain point. And suddenly all these people were following me on Instagram and emailing me, and I kind of realized like, oh, this channel is like a thing. And I mean, it was super cool. It felt incredibly validating.
Probably after the second or third video, I realized that while I wasn’t getting paid, it was a lot of work for me. It’s really exhausting to do a three- or four-hour video shoot. The opportunity was specifically framed as a PR opportunity for my new cookbook, and I feel like when someone utters the word “PR opportunity,” there’s no payment involved. But then I was like, “No, I’m filming a video for their YouTube channel that they’re making money on. I need to get paid.” So at the beginning of 2019, I emailed and said I’d like to be paid.
Still, in the back of my mind, I had this nagging, sinking feeling, not only about what I was getting paid but just the way I was being framed in videos—like how I was pulled in to be a taster in certain videos where it was a white person making Indian food, or pulled in to be a taster in videos where it was very clear it was just a lot of white people and they needed a person of color. A lot of videos were going up without me being able to approve them and they would go out with wrong information and I would get bombarded on social media from people from my own community who were really upset at me.
It kind of got to the point where I couldn’t even watch the videos; they constantly made me feel like I just wasn’t a valuable member of a team. I pitched all of these video series that didn’t center on my Indianness but on my abilities as a journalist to report my curiosity about food. And those were pretty much ignored. It got to a point where I told myself I just have to grin and bear it. Quitting this would be walking away from one of the biggest things of my career; I was just sort of stuck.
Then, after George Floyd, I think Adam Rapoport started to realize his complacency with people of color being marginalized across all aspects of the brand, including video.
I didn’t think this would be a moment to quit video, but maybe to really change it. I was like, if there’s a chance to do it, now is the time. So most of the people on the Test Kitchen team started sharing, including what their compensation was. We saw there was a jaw-dropping difference between what the white members were making versus non-white members. I remember looking at those numbers and literally just being in shock, because I feel like I am privileged enough to have a number of steady gigs that pay the bills. I wasn’t dependent on video to pay the bills. But seeing how much I could have been paid was just so shocking. It was so disheartening.
So the people of color on video started a kind of pod where we were just information sharing. We teamed up with the production side. We made a list of demands. We said, here are the concrete changes we’d like to see in video. And then leadership had a meeting with us where they’re like, we see all the work you’ve been doing, we appreciate it. And then they presented us with this new pay structure that allowed the white staffers who already had lucrative contracts to keep those lucrative contracts, and it gave us yet another shitty rate. And I remember thinking, maybe there’s a catch, maybe there’s something else. But the saving grace never came. We were being offered essentially the same crappy deal that essentially treated us as if we hadn’t already contributed to the platform’s success.
By the end of it, some of us were keeping each other abreast of how our negotiations were going and even sending each other the contracts that we were offered. We wanted to make this a 100 percent transparent zone so that we could understand what they were offering to each of us. And we could see Condé was just not budging. My agent called me and said, “I have never negotiated with people like this.” It literally felt like we were negotiating with movie villains.
At that point, it wasn’t even just a question of the money; we were all just exhausted and didn’t want to be a part of a system that’s going to continue to marginalize us and to do so in such a painfully obvious way. It was frankly dehumanizing and demoralizing.
Then I suddenly realized that I had the power to walk away. I remember having a conversation and being like, a group of us walking away is not us closing the door on an opportunity, but opening the door to all these new opportunities that are gonna come our way. We will be fine. We have a platform. We are people of color who have been privileged enough to be given opportunities that other people of color have not. We’re hopefully doing this so that other people of color can help to better understand their worth and negotiate accordingly.
I think that’s really, really important to note here: A big part of walking away is privilege. Luckily, I felt like it was going to be fine if I left this particular opportunity.
On the day I quit, my partner made me a giant peach-mango smoothie. It was honestly one of the best smoothies. I sent the tweet saying I quit, and I was like, “Okay, now I’m going to work on the other six stories that I have to do while I drink my smoothie.”
I'm leaving Bon Appétit video. Here's what's been happening over the last few months, and some thoughts. pic.twitter.com/L59blcESLv
— Priya Krishna (@priyakrishna) August 6, 2020
The reason I am in this industry is not to be an “Indian cook.” I genuinely hope that my legacy in food is that I lift it up as many people as possible and help people of color get the platforms that I got. Because I have been tremendously privileged and quite frankly lucky in my career. And I feel really excited about the opportunities I have ahead of me, but I feel less interested in building the “Priya Brand” than helping others get platforms.
I see it like wealth distribution: There shouldn’t be billionaires; instead, there should just be a bunch of people who can make a great living for themselves. I would like to see the same thing happen in food. Instead of there being a bunch of megawatt stars, there’s a range of people cooking all different kinds of food, who’ve achieved a really high level of success.