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Did Epicurious break its no-beef pledge? An investigation
The recipe website garnered widespread praise for its 2021 promise to nix beef for the planet. But climate promises only matter if they actually get fulfilled.
“We’ve cut out beef,” the announcement said. “Beef won’t appear in new Epicurious recipes, articles, or newsletters. It will not show up on our homepage. It will be absent from our Instagram feed.”
The announcement garnered a lot of press coverage, and there was a lot of critique. Conservative pundits and agriculture associations scoffed at the idea that cattle contribute to climate change (They do, for the record). Other critics said the climate pledge didn’t go far enough, and that if Epicurious were really serious about the planet, they would ban all meat—or at least remove all the beef recipes from its website.
But HEATED was not among the critics. At the time, Emily called it “the most meaningful climate commitment I’ve ever seen from a business.”
We’re not usually one to praise a corporation for doing the bare minimum to reduce their impact on the planet. But Emily felt Epicurious’s no-more-beef promise had the potential to be uniquely helpful—not necessarily in cutting the emissions of the company, but in shifting American food culture to be less meat-obsessed.
Climate groups and sustainable food non-profits also praised the pledge for similar reasons. “There are plenty of ways to help shift our food choices and culture toward a more sustainable future and this is what leadership looks like. @bonappetit take notes,” plant-based food nonprofit the Better Food Foundation wrote on Twitter.
But climate promises only matter if they actually get fulfilled. So we wanted to know, two years later: Has Epicurious lived up to its pro-planet pledge?
The curious case of the 61 beef recipes
HEATED went on a painstaking review of Epicurious’s articles, recipes, social media, and newsletters since 2021. And here’s the good news: In the two years since Epicurious made its climate pledge, its team has technically stuck to its word. Epicurious hasn’t written a single new beef recipe.
But here’s the problem: Condé Nast, Epicurious’ parent company, has made no anti-beef pledge for the climate. So if you’re looking for new beef recipes on Epicurious, you’re in luck—because Epicurious is still publishing beef recipes. They’re just not technically from Epicurious.
Since its 2021 no-more-beef promise, Epicurious has continued to publish beef recipes from its Condé Nast-owned sister publication, Bon Appétit. It’s no small number of recipes, either: as of publication, we’ve counted at least 61 beef recipes published by Epicurious since its climate pledge. One of those recipes, for strip steak au poive, is dated less than a month after Epicurious announced its beef ban.
So we wondered: Did Epicurious knowingly break its promise? Or was this simply an oversight: a mis-steak, if you will?
To find out, we reached out to the Condé Nast press team, Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Dawn Davis, Epicurious digital director Maggie Hoffman, and former Epicurious digital director David Tamarkin. (Hoffman and Tamarkin were the co-authors of the site’s 2021 announcement).
Despite multiple requests, we did not receive responses from anyone currently at Condé Nast or Epicurious. But Tamarkin, who left Epicurious around the time of the announcement and is now the editorial director for King Arthur, said he didn’t know Bon Appétit beef recipes were on the Epicurious website.
“This was actually the first time I'm hearing of it,” he told us, in one of his first interviews about Epicurious’ no-beef pledge.
According to Tamarkin, the no-beef policy was in place a year before it was publicly announced. “When we went public with it, the company was very much behind it,” he said. “It just took a while for them to get there.”
By the time of the announcement, Tamarkin said Condé had decided to separate the Bon Appétit and Epicurious brands. Bon Appétit then-editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport apparently told Tamarkin that no new Bon Appétit recipes would appear on Epicurious, including beef. (Rapoport would later resign after a photo of him in a racist costume was shared on social media.)
That appears to be true—for a time. According to screen captures of Epicurious from the Internet Archive, in April 2021 and October 2022, a search for “beef” led to the climate pledge, vegan, poultry, and pork recipes. But the strategy seems to have changed. In December 2022, Condé launched an Epicurious app that includes recipes from both Bon Appétit and the defunct Gourmet. But we can’t confirm when the decision to combine Bon Appétit and Epicurious recipes really happened, because no one at Condé Nast or Epicurious will respond to our repeated inquiries. Regardless, the result is the same: dozens of beef recipes on the Epicurious site.
“What you're seeing right now I think is sort of unfortunate because I believe—I do not know—but I think that Maggie has stuck to this policy,” Tamarkin said of Hoffman, who is the current digital director for Epicurious.
And that raises the question: If Epicurious has mostly fulfilled its pledge, how much do the Bon Appétit beef recipes really matter?
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Do these 61 beef recipes really matter?
We reached out to several folks who praised Epicurious’s 2021 promise to see how they felt about the recipes. The ones we heard back from were disappointed to hear about the backslide.
Laura Lee Cascada, director of campaigns at the Better Food Foundation, told HEATED she believes Epicurious’s 2021 promise was “just the start of this area of the sector moving toward more plant-based recipes,” which is overall helpful for the planet.
But now that Cascada knows that Epicurious is still publishing beef recipes from their sister site, “We feel like that's sending mixed messages to eco-conscious consumers.” she said. “They're leading them to believe that they can count on Epicurious to guide them towards sustainable recipe choices, when that may not always be the case.”
Sujatha Bergen, director of health campaigns at the National Resource Defense Council, was quoted extensively in Epicurious’ 2021 explainer “Every Question You Have About Cattle, Climate, and Why Epicurious Is Done With Beef.” When we asked her what she thought now, she said, “Epicurious is fulfilling the promise of keeping new beef recipes off its site, but I would love to see them live up to the spirit of that announcement by reducing the presence of beef recipes from all sources—including links to other periodicals—and make clear why they are doing it in a more visible way.”
But the mixed message Epicurious is sending to consumers may not be as important as the message it’s sending to other food publications. After all, Epicurious is still the only major food publication to take a climate stand on beef.
“Part of the reason I wanted to do it was to go public with it and make a big deal about it,” said Tamarkin. “I wanted to brand Epicurious as a sustainable site and push food media to follow.”
He’s since been disappointed by the lack of progress. “I do feel like the policy that I put into place has not had the impact that I hoped it would,” he said. “I see beef on recipe sites, on my apps, in my emails, sometimes on the cover of magazines, all the time. And I'm just incredulous.”
Tamarkin added he was calling from Vermont, where floods have risen above Hurricane Irene levels. “After these very hot days, after these very smoky weeks, it sort of feels like a punch in the gut each time I see it.”
Here’s what we think: Overall, the fact that Epicurious hasn’t authored any beef content since 2021 is a mile marker. No other recipe website has made a similar pledge in the last two years, even though we are now experiencing the hottest days on Earth. In that sense, Epicurious is still a leader in sustainability.
But one of the most frustrating things about climate change is that you can at once be doing more than anyone to tackle it, and still not be doing enough. That’s true about pretty much every effort to tackle climate change—and it’s what’s true here.
We believe Condé Nast should be held accountable for undermining Epicurious’ credibility. Unless you look closely, like we did, you have no way of knowing that Epicurious’s beef recipes actually come from Bon Appétit. That puts Epicurious back in the same boat as every other recipe website that hasn’t taken a public stance on climate change—and takes away from their impact on shifting meat-obsessed culture.
The broader problem we see, however, is with high-profile voluntary corporate climate promises themselves. Corporations often get a lot of good press for making big climate pledges—and then don’t get any press when it turns out they’re not fulfilling them. There’s a lot of recent data on how companies do this all the time.
The result is often a false sense of security; people believe companies are solving climate change voluntarily, so they don’t push for transformational policy change. This is the kind of stuff that results in climate delay.
On the flip side, when institutions keep their climate promises and thrive, they set examples for how the rest of the world can follow. So despite our skepticism, we always hold out hope. One day, a corporation will actually do what they say.
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