The Risk and Reward of Making ChangesHsiao-Ching Chou
November 29, 2021
The mission of the James Beard Awards is to recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive. In August 2020, we began an internal and external review of policies and procedures, to ensure a more transparent, accessible, and equitable process for future James Beard Awards. As a result of the recommendations, the Foundation has made a number of changes to address systemic bias, increase the diversity of the voting body, and make the Awards more accessible to more communities. The entry and recommendation period for the 2022 James Beard Awards is open now until November 30. Visit our policies and procedures page for more information on updated award categories and eligibility.
Book committee chair for the 2022 James Beard Awards, Hsiao-Ching Chou shares how the changes we make now can help shape the industry for the better.
It’s good to be back. The entry period for the 2022 Awards is wrapping up and the judging process will begin soon. The members of the Awards subcommittees, who administer the competition, have been recruiting and selecting judges in preparation. But it’s not business as usual.
Recently, the James Beard Foundation announced the recommendations from a comprehensive audit of policies and procedures. As the chair of the book awards committee and a member of the Awards committee, I joined numerous colleagues across the five Awards programs in the complex effort to review our practices. We un-siloed the subcommittees and participated in cross-team working groups that met biweekly during the audit. Our goal was to forge a way forward that intentionally reflects the Foundation’s values and Awards mission: to recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.
The audit experience was demanding, exhausting, and tested our collective will, especially given committee members are volunteers. But introspection is messy, and you have to do the internal work before you can make an impact on the community around you. We needed to infuse more rigor and standardize practices across the Awards programs to open the door for all to succeed. The new DEI goals for committee members and judges will increase representation. Having a clear definition of excellence will help, too. Additionally, reducing term limits for committee members and introducing explicit diversity goals are essential to ensuring there’s space and opportunity for everyone.
Another key change is the requirement for entrants to include an alignment statement with their submissions. The statement—up to 150 words or 60 seconds for an audio/video clip—gives entrants an opportunity to describe how their work reflects one or more of the Awards commitments and/or values. The statements will be assessed on the substance of the content, not the quality of the writing or the production value.
For the Book Awards, the alignment statement can provide context to judges for an author’s “why”—a book’s relevance to a cuisine and culture, the format and design choices, or other factors that may not be apparent. It’s indeed an extra step in the submission process, but it layers in an additional way for people to tell us their story.
We on the book committee frequently discuss ways to expand the diversity of the Book Awards. These shifts we are undertaking are ultimately about advocating for change in the systems that govern who gets the opportunity to write and publish a book. From authors to the acquisitions editors to the designers and marketers, there need to be changes to who gets to participate in the industry. If we can broaden who and what receives recognition, then it’ll help influence the shape of the industry.
We’ve only just begun the 2022 season, but I’m hopeful the new policies and procedures will make a difference. Change is risky, but so is the status quo.
Hsiao-Ching Chou is the author of Chinese Soul Food and Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food. By day, she works in communications in tech. She has chaired the James Beard Book Awards committee since 2019.