NEW YORK—Facing backlash from staff, readers, and the culinary community at large, popular food website Serious Eats came under fire Thursday when its creator acknowledged it was originally set up for the purpose of ranking various root vegetables according to their physical attractiveness. “As much as it embarrasses me to admit it, Serious Eats began not as a way to connect people with recipes they love, but as a place where root vegetables were objectified during contests in which users voted on which ones they thought looked hotter,” said site founder Ed Levine, explaining that he was a young culinary student at the time who did not fully appreciate the value of treating produce in a respectful manner. “While it was conducted in a spirit of good fun, I understand now how demeaning it was to pit turnips, beets, yams, and carrots against one another just so cooks could rate them on the superficial basis of their appearance. I should have known better. Looking back, the cavalier way my friends and I spoke of peeling and sautéing jicama is shameful, and I deeply regret it. I didn’t realize how quickly the site would gain popularity, and I apologize for any harm that was done.” At press time, Levine was accused of tokenism after he reportedly tried to atone for his past transgressions with the perfunctory appointment of a rutabaga to the Serious Eats editorial board.