business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New Yorker has a piece entitled “Mario Batali and the Appetites of Men” that is an almost proctological examination of the psychology of the celebrity chef-author-retailer, who has been accused of - and pleaded guilty to - sexual harassment.

The story makes it clear that Batali’s appetite for excess never was far from the surface:

“Batali has always in a sense been selling sex. It’s there in his worshipful gazes at ingredients held aloft, his exhortations to his friends, viewers, and dining companions to taste whatever rests on the tongue—to really taste it, to pour your body and brain into it, to concentrate yourself into nothing but a single scintillating bud of physical sensation. It’s there in his body itself, in an abundant, flushed fatness that seems to physically manifest a flagrant rejection of the superego. And it’s there in his language, his voice.”

In other words, Batali was celebrated for an approach to food that bled over into his behavior in a way that is, to say the least, troubling; it was, after all, just a year ago that Batali was on the main stage at the annual (and final, as it happens, though not for that reason) Food Marketing Institute (FMI) convention, talking about the role of food in our lives.

It is ironic, and worth noting as evidence of a double standard, the story says, “that appetites like Batali’s are, for the most part, not permitted to women; neither are bodies like his, with their evidence of hungers fulfilled … The world does not extend to women the courtesy we have granted Batali, that of reserving our condemnation until his indulgences cross the line into abuse.”

It is seen as a good thing that while “Batali’s disregard for boundaries has in the past been a foundation of his mythology, a thing not to recoil from but to admire,” there has been a cultural shift: “In the context of the current #MeToo movement, his behavior is just repugnant.”

You can read the story here, though fair warning: prepare to be disgusted.

To be clear, this isn’t just about ethics and propriety; it also is about business…

Walmart and Target said this week that in the wake of the allegations, they no longer are selling any of Batali’s cookbooks or food products. Even Eataly - which Batali co-owns - apparently has pulled his products from their shelves.

However … Business Insider reports that Amazon, Kmart, and Costco have made so such decision.

By the way … along the same lines … Walmart also announced this week that it has cut ties with PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, who has been accused of sexual misconduct; Walmart was a sponsor of the TV show, as well as of an upcoming touring theatrical show.

For the record, Smiley has denied the allegations and accused PBS of conducting a sloppy and incomplete investigation, and that he intends “to fight back.”

Still, these are issues to which industry must pay attention, and in doing so must avoid being purely reactive.

It is a cultural moment that is, and should be, an Eye-Opener.
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