Monday, May 11, 2020

About the Alison Roman Thing...


By now you've probably heard that Alison Roman recently did an interview where she said some rather unkind things about Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo. Among other things, Chrissy Teigen was originally going to be an executive producer on a television show that Roman had signed on to do. (No official word yet on whether recent events have put an end to that.)

About Chrissy Teigen, Roman had this to say:
Like, what Chrissy Teigen has done is so crazy to me. She had a successful cookbook. And then it was like: Boom, line at Target. Boom, now she has an Instagram page that has over a million followers where it’s just, like, people running a content farm for her. That horrifies me and it’s not something that I ever want to do. I don’t aspire to that. But like, who’s laughing now? Because she’s making a ton of fucking money.
Roman's tone was quite vicious as to Marie Kondo, who isn't even a direct competitor to Roman in the food writing and cooking space, which makes this turn even more bizarre to me: 
Like the idea that when Marie Kondo decided to capitalize on her fame and make stuff that you can buy, that is completely antithetical to everything she’s ever taught you… I’m like, damn, bitch, you fucking just sold out immediately! Someone’s like “you should make stuff,” and she’s like, “okay, slap my name on it, I don’t give a shit!”  
That’s the thing — you don’t need a ton of equipment in your kitchen to make great food. “For the low, low price of $19.99, please to buy my cutting board!” Like, no. Find the stuff that you love and buy it. Support businesses and makers. It feels greedy. Unless something just simply didn’t exist that I wish existed, but that would make an inventor, which I’m not. 
There's been some confusion about the "please to buy" wording and why it was there. It was also briefly edited out of the interview by the publisher, but then replaced (see the editor's note at the end of the interview). Roman herself indicated it was not a typo, and claims it was an inside joke about a cookbook titled Please to the Table. 

This is all happening, by the way, in the context of an interview where Roman promotes an upcoming product tie-in that she herself is doing: 
I have a collaboration coming out with [the cookware startup] Material, a capsule collection. It’s limited edition, a few tools that I designed that are based on tools that I use that aren’t in production anywhere — vintage spoons and very specific things that are one-offs that I found at antique markets that they have made for me.
So, you know, on top of all the other issues, there's a distinct lack of self-awareness. And by the way, this is what Roman said when Gwyneth Paltrow's "Goop" brand was brought up by the interviewer in the same interview:
And I do sort of have ambitions to figure out how to channel everything into a site. But I’m really sensitive to oversaturation, again. And does the world need another Goop? It also requires so much money that I would have to take from people that I don’t know. 
Oh and Roman says that she singled out Teigen and Kondo, and not any male chef with a mega-brand and various licensed products (despite the existence of the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, and so on) because: 
I didn't "slam" them, but I don't think that anyone should be impervious to critique re: capitalism. I didn't mention any men because there aren't any doing anything I find comparable, so

So yeah, big yikes all around. I found this Twitter thread to be the most complete accounting of why I found Alison Roman's interview so upsetting and why racism is likely at least part of why she singled out Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, as opposed to someone like Ree Drummond or Rachael Ray.

This incident has also inspired discussions about larger issues with some of Roman's recipes and how she approaches ingredients and recipe inspirations from non-Western cultures. I thought this article did a good job explaining that angle. 

Longtime readers might know that I'm kind of a die-hard Marie Kondo fan, all the way back to January 2015. As such a huge fan, I naturally get quite upset about wrongheaded and racist criticisms of Kondo and her ideas. Remember that hullaballoo last year right after her Netflix show premiered, which included the extraordinarily spurious claim that she apparently wanted all of humanity to limit themselves to the ownership of 30 books at the absolute maximum? (That particular claim had no basis in her actual writing or anything she actually said on her Netflix show.) Around that time, there were also instances of rather explicit racism and xenophobia in some of the criticisms of Kondo's show.

There are so many things wrong with what Alison Roman said about Marie Kondo that it's difficult to know where to start unpacking it all. That I was able to learn about and become interested in Marie Kondo's first book all the way back in January 2015, after reading a New York Times profile of her that had been published way back in October 2014, certainly shows that the growth of Kondo's brand did not happen overnight. (This was years before her Netflix show eventually debuted in January 2019, and before "The Shop at KonMari" opened on her website in November 2019.) Roman's accusation that Kondo "[expletive redacted] just sold out immediately" clearly has no basis.

Plus, it's really quite obvious that, whatever else one might feel about it, the official Marie Kondo shop offers an extremely curated set of products. Given the current selection at the shop, it's probably also clear that there will likely never be a $19.99 cutting board sold there. (A carefully-selected $199 cutting board might be more consistent with the kitchen products currently stocked.)

ETA 5/12/20: Approximately 14 hours after I published this post, Alison Roman issued a new apology on Twitter and Instagram, addressing both Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, unlike her initial attempt at an apology on Friday night, which only addressed Teigen (and only after it became clear that Teigen was one of the executive producers for Roman's upcoming show). I believe this apology meets a minimum bar of professionalism that was not apparent in Roman's initial reactions on Friday. The new apology is also close to comprehensive in that it at least tries to address how (1) she chose to call out two Asian women in a space filled with white women and white men with larger, more longstanding product lines and (2) her use of ingredients and inspirations from non-Western cultures. A cynical person's interpretation would be that while Roman professed to not have a "communications person" before, she's almost certainly working with one now.

It's hard for me to accept this apology as particularly sincere, given how unprofessional Roman's initial handling of this situation was, but well, I had never actually bought anything of hers before - only watched some of her YouTube videos and used her cookie recipe from online - and I will probably not be buying anything of hers in the foreseeable future. The real test is whether she changes her behavior going forward. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.