Alton Brown is not making many friends online this week.
On Monday, the celebrity chef, author, and onetime Food Network host landed himself in hot water on Twitter with a miscalculated post about his conservative leanings—and days later, he cranked things up to a boil with a couple even more misguided Holocaust tweets.
Brown appears to have removed all of the offending posts and has apologized for the Holocaust tweets. But at this point the controversy has grown into something larger, dredging up troubling comments the chef has made (and allegedly made) in the past. At this point he seems poised to join Bon Appetit and Alison Roman on the list of culinary-world A-listers to disappoint their fans in 2020.
Things first started heating up earlier this week when Brown tweeted, “I have voted Republican most of my life. I consider myself a conservative. I want to believe there are still ‘very fine’ people on both sides of the aisle but…if #GOP leaders don’t get their collective noses out of that man’s ass, we’re gonna have words.”
Brown later clarified that he voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this election cycle, as well as Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in his home state of Georgia. Still, his tweet seems to assume that the unrest we’ve seen in the past four years—now culminating in the President of the United States neglecting to govern while publicly laying the groundwork for a coup—began with Trump. As many were quick to tell Brown, such thinking ignores the bigotry and Machiavellian ruthlessness that has characterized the GOP for decades, especially the past decade or so.
People told Brown as much—and to one fan who said they were “disappointed,” the chef replied, “Frankly, you have no right to be disappointed in me. None whatsoever. I have used my own platform to speak my mind. You may dislike me, certainly but disappointment in me should be reserved for say…bad recipes.”
But as media writer Evan DeSimone put it in his own reply, “You can’t ask to be judged solely on your work and not on your politics when it’s your politics that directly impact people’s lives.”
Frankly, you have no right to be disappointed in me. None whatsoever. I have used my own platform to speak my mind. You may dislike me, certainly but disappointment in me should be reserved for say…bad recipes.
— Alton Brown (@altonbrown) November 10, 2020
Either way, things only got worse a day later when Brown decided to follow things up with few Holocaust references: “So, when they move us to the camps, do you think they’ll let us choose the state?” he wrote Tuesday. “I’m going to ask for Kansas because the sky is so gorgeous there… over the wheat.”
“Do you think the camp uniforms will be striped, like the ones at Auschwitz, or will plaid be in vogue?” he later added. When one person said his uniform would depend on how wealthy he is, Brown replied that he had “no gold fillings.” (Nazis removed gold teeth and fillings from the Jews they murdered in concentration camps.)
The next morning, after a second flood of criticism, Brown put out a statement: “I apologize for the flippant reference I made to the Holocaust in my tweet last night,” he wrote. “It was not a reference I made for humorous effect but rather to reflect how deeply frightened I am for our country. It was a very poor use of judgement and in poor taste.”
To this reader, it’s difficult to see how that “gold fillings” comment in particular was meant to convey a deep sense of fright, but if he says so…
I apologize for the flippant reference I made to the Holocaust in my tweet last night. It was not a reference I made for humorous effect but rather to reflect how deeply frightened I am for our country. It was a very poor use of judgement and in poor taste.
— Alton Brown (@altonbrown) November 11, 2020
But social media users also began to share reports and allegations from years past—most notably, a 2011 blog post written by a fan named David Rheinstrom who said he’d driven hundreds of miles to see Brown at a local library benefit in Iowa only to discover, as he put it, “Alton Brown is a jerk.”
Rheinstrom wrote that as he held a book up for the audience, Brown said, “So, okay—this book’s from the South, where I’m from, and it’s got a few things in it that might be kind of foreign and exotic to you Iowans.” Turning the page, Rheinstrom said, Brown told the audience, “Look! A real live Negro!” When the audience stood in awkward silence, he allegedly muttered, “Okay. Remind me not to make African-American jokes in Iowa.”
Brown seemed to be trying to make fun of Iowa’s homogeneous whiteness, Rheinstrom granted—but his alleged use of the word “Negro” remains questionable at best.
At another point, Rheinstrom added, Brown was bantering with a young girl and her family in the audience when he told the child, “If that guy next to you is your other daddy, I’m in the wrong state.” (Emphasis Rheinstrom’s.)
A representative for Brown did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Brown has also expressed a particular disdain for fat people, whose size he often reduces to a simple matter of diet, ignoring all the other factors that can contribute to a person’s body size.
In 2008 Brown told the East Bay Times, “I’ve struggled with weight all my life, and probably always will. But I was on my most recent book tour I was shocked by the number of overweight families. People would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, we love the Food Network.’ Well, no (expletive); did you eat the TV? There’s only four of you and you can’t ride in an elevator together. I’ll probably make fat people angry, but we need, as a culture, to be ashamed. It’s not ‘… healthy.’”
Regarding whether obesity is a disease, Brown told The New York Times in 2015, “Obesity is not a disease. Can it be caused by diseases in certain rare cases? Yes, but the second that our society starts thinking that shoveling Big Macs into our face is a disease then we’re done, we’re done as a culture.”
What can we say? ... At least we still have Ina Garten?