Last year saw the problem of racial inequality brought into sharp focus around the world and especially in the US, and forced the hospitality sector to take a long hard look at itself in respect to how black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) have been marginalised and given the same opportunities as others.
A report by NPR showed that inequality is greatest in higher-end and fine-dining restaurants, where white staff members tend to make up the majority of front-of-house (higher-paid) employees, while black, indigenous and people of colour tend to make up the majority of back-of-house (lower-paid) employees.
The problem extends to the issue of ownership and funding - individuals from marginalised communities have a harder time accessing capital, often resulting in having to 'boot strap' a business with personal debt or loans from friends and family.
To help address this fundamental skew in opportunity, the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans will provide financial resources for food or beverage businesses that are majority-owned by black or indigenous individuals. The grants are part of the JBF’s Open for Good campaign, launched in April 2020 to rebuild an independent restaurant industry that is stronger, more equitable, more sustainable, and more resilient when it re-opens post-COVID-19.
The James Beard Foundation has come under criticism for appearing to not support diversity as much as it could, and it is criticism the organisation has taken on board.
“We recognize that we as a Foundation have contributed to upholding systems of oppression, especially in the food world, and know it is time for us to take intentional and aggressive action to help create a more equitable industry for communities that are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism,” said a statement by the Foundation.
The investment fund will disburse grants equally across the black and indigenous populations throughout the United States, across six regions of the country, each containing 16 - 17% of the total black and indigenous population in the U.S. This will ensure as broad a geographic spread of monies as possible.
The fund will support all types of food and beverage businesses, not just those traditionally recognised by the James Beard Awards, including food trucks, pop-up supper clubs, fast-casual restaurants, and brewpubs.
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The James Beard organization has made a collective decision to postpone the Media, Leadership, Restaurant & Chef Awards until later in the year in light of the health and safety concerns raised the coronavirus pandemic.