In the best and the worst of times, a good meal has always been a celebration, a safe and happy place for me. Food brings joy and strength to all of us lucky enough to have a table to sit at. And what makes chefs unique is that they are givers who live to see that eye roll when something they made tastes as good as the sandwich in “When Harry Met Sally.”
I never dreamed that something as feel-good as a food event could become caught in the crossfire of what could only be described as cyber-bullying and harassment.
Chefs and owners of restaurants who had signed up for L.A. Weekly’s 2018 The Essentials food festival were sent emails threatening their livelihood if they participated. These emails, which were shared with me by some of the chefs and owners who received them, were written by various people aligned with the boycott. One owner, who asked not to be identified, said he was threatened with mobs outside the restaurant if they participated in The Essentials. Another restaurant was inundated with scathing Yelp reviews after refusing to bow out.
Boycotters bombarded vendors daily with calls and emails, to the point of desperation: “You and I just spoke on the phone, and I'm following up with information. If the event goes on the Boycott will be holding a protest outside and asking for a public Boycott of the remaining restaurants," one of the boycotters wrote in an email to a restaurant.
Many of those who eagerly reached out to us to participate in The Essentials told me they were reluctantly bowing to the pressure at the last minute, because as small business owners they couldn’t afford the controversy. I had tearful conversations with restaurant owners and chefs about the increasing and debilitating stress they were feeling because of the constant harassment — by email and by phone.
From one of our participants:
Hello L.A. Weekly Essentials 2018 Team, I've been receiving several emails similar to this one in the past two-three weeks. We want to be part of a great food event because we love to share and promote our family recipes. I feel we're being caught in the political world that we're not too familiar with at all.
As it’s just few days away, I want to get some answers from you directly. Here are short questions I hope to get answers with an understanding that it is not finalized but I hope to have them today please so I can determine my decision.
How many restaurants are currently still participating. May I know the list.
How many people are you anticipating for this Sunday.
Are you expecting the folks who run #boycottlaweekly will be at the event? If so how will we be protected.
As I have my family and team to take care of, I hope you find these questions valid and within reason.
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The eventual cancellation of the event had nothing to do with boycotting the Weekly but was a decision to spare vendors any more stress and aggravation from a small but loud and threatening group.
The restaurants facing constant harassment had planned menus, bought the ingredients and scheduled staff to be part of The Essentials. Ultimately, they are the ones who have suffered. And that seems to have been of no real concern to those who threatened them, who have no idea the work that goes into chopping hundreds of onions or peeling pounds of potatoes to prepare for a large event. In addition, a handful of restaurants turned down other paid functions months ago in order to participate in The Essentials, which resulted in a financial loss for them.
My beat isn’t border walls, gang wars, hit-and-run drivers or rents in Los Angeles. I cover food culture and the restaurant scene in L.A. I have no clandestine subliminal messages or agendas other than “support your local farmers.” And anybody who thinks I’m doing this for free is sorely misinformed.
Let’s take the fight to a place where it can make a difference. Our Essentials 2018 beneficiary, the Westside Food Bank, also was pressured to retreat from the event. The cancellation of the event led to a loss of resources that this nonprofit can provide to the homeless. Want to make a meaningful statement? Make an online donation here.