The James Beard Foundation, which has bestowed top honors to culinary professionals since 1991, announced on Thursday it will not name winners at its 2020 awards ceremony.
The annual awards for excellence and achievement in culinary fields ― restaurants, chefs, books, journalism, design, broadcast media and leadership — will be put on hold for both 2020 and 2021, meaning eligibility for the 2022 awards will span two years.
The reason for the pause, according to a press release from the foundation, is “to begin a year-long initiative to audit and overhaul awards processes with intent to remove any systemic bias.”
The awards have been criticized for years for lacking inclusion of women and minorities, and James Beard employees have recently demanded more diversity in their leadership and salary transparency.
The foundation offered several reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic, for putting the award show on pause in Thursday’s press release:
The choice comes as restaurants continue to suffer the grave negative effects of COVID-19, and as substantial and sustained upheaval in the community has created an environment in which the Foundation believes the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle. The Awards’ usual positive impact on restaurants and chefs’ businesses will likely not be fully realized due to the current state of the industry, with many restaurants closed permanently or temporarily or operating at minimal capacity. These factors helped to inform the decision not to assign winners during a time of such turmoil.
“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,” Reichenbach added. “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.”
Response to the decision has been mixed:
A Sept. 25 broadcast will celebrate previously announced honorees and nominees in the following categories: America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon and Leadership Awards.