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Brutal Layoffs Cause More Turmoil at the LA Times Food Section

Two columnists and an audience engagement editor were laid off this week as part of the Times’ nearly 20 percent reduction

Signage of the Los Angeles Times on the side of building shrouded by trees.
The Los Angeles Times office building in El Segundo, California.
Photo by Michael Buckner/Penske Media via Getty Images
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

The Los Angeles Times announced layoffs that affected at least 115 employees on Tuesday, January 23. Eater has learned that at least three staffers in the food section were among those impacted: columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson, cooking columnist Ben Mims, recipe tester Julia Giuffrida, and audience engagement editor Amy Wong. About 500 journalists were working for the paper prior to this week’s layoffs, which took place due to ongoing profit losses, estimated to be approximately $30 to $40 million annually.

Peterson and Mims joined the Times’ food section in 2018 when it expanded significantly following billionaire businessman and doctor Patrick Soon-Shiong’s acquisition of the paper. Former Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan was hired the same year to lead the food section, as well as restaurant critics Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega, and cooking columnist Genevieve Ko. Meehan later faced allegations of fostering a toxic work environment and resigned from the paper, a situation that also became the subject of an Eater investigation. Ko departed for the New York Times cooking section in October 2020, while Escárcega left her position after publicly protesting the wage disparity between herself and co-critic Addison.

During Peterson’s tenure at the paper, he brought over the playful and well-read ranking series that he wrote for Lucky Peach, reviewing everything from fast-food burgers and french fries to candy and instant ramen. He won the James Beard Award for his Power Rankings column in 2020. Previously a host for Eater’s Dining on a Dime YouTube series, Peterson also produced and hosted the Times’ Off the Menu, a YouTube video series about the city’s food culture. In recent years, Peterson occasionally wrote restaurant reviews and covered the closure of Cafe Tropical, a haven for those seeking sobriety. He also wrote about gentrification in Glassell Park, a Gardena restaurant with roots in Lahaina, and the questions of recipe ownership after the controversy at Sqirl.

Mims worked tirelessly to revitalize the Times’ once prolific test kitchen with a varied approach to using California’s abundant produce and international cuisines. Highlights from his tenure include Indian weeknight dinners, spring fava bean dishes, essential Super Bowl snacks, and sheet pan dinners, with occasional restaurant-related recipes along the way. Though the Times built a state-of-the-art test kitchen at its El Segundo offices, it was difficult to compete with the likes of the New York Times and Bon Appetit, both of which have substantial staff dedicated to producing recipes.

Journalists hold section paper and pose for a photo.
Members of the food team pose for a picture as the new food section comes off the presses at Los Angeles Times printing plant on April 10, 2019.
Photo By Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Other than Wong, who joined the food section in 2022, no other staffers confirmed on social media that they had been laid off. The website still lists columnist Jenn Harris, deputy food editor Betty Hallock, critic Bill Addison, assistant food editor Danielle Dorsey, staff writer Stephanie Breijo, senior art director Brandon Ly, art director Kay Scanlon, section editor Daniel Hernandez, and general manager Laurie Ochoa.

Eater reached out to Hernandez and Ochoa for comment regarding the layoffs and their impact on the food section. Hernandez said that he was not authorized to comment but directed Eater to the publication’s head of communications, Hillary Manning, who told Eater that the Times could not release information about who was included in the layoff, though individuals could share the news on their own. Manning also said that based on the union contract, an individual’s status could change within a 30-day period, allowing those not included in the layoffs to voluntarily leave or for laid-off individuals to stay with the company.

Before yesterday’s announcement, the Times reduced staff headcount by 74 in June 2023; no members of the food section were impacted at that time. The food section remains a historic part of the newspaper that has included the late Jonathan Gold, critic S. Irene Virbila, critic and editor Ruth Reichl, editor Amy Scattergood, editor Russ Parsons, and the late writer Barbara Hansen, among numerous others.

Update 02/03/24: This article has been updated to show that recipe tester Julie Giuffrida was also among the staffers recently laid off in the food section.

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