I woke up this morning and picked up the October issue of Gourmet Magazine, and started browsing through it while I sipped my coffee.
This is not a usual pattern for me–I am not a regular reader of Gourmet, and never have been. But, over the years, I have plucked individual issues off the newsstand because I was intrigued by the stories advertised on the cover and when I read them, I was rarely disappointed. But, the general tone of the magazine, with its emphasis on travel stories and restaurant reviews, tended to be extremely unappealing to me. (I am one of the few people I know who loves great food, but could care less about most travel writing. I just don’t care about where people go on vacation. I’d rather read in-depth memoirs of places and people from the viewpoint of expatriates. My Life in France by Julia Child is a great example of the kind of travel writing I like. Short articles are just too short and too–uninspiring for me to grok.) And the aspirational ads for luxury items from cars that cost more than a small house to pearl and diamond-encrusted jewelry to wine glasses that cost more than most of the bottles of wine I have ever had the pleasure to drink in my life, I found to be preposterous. (I can’t help it. I grew up poor, dammit, and some of the stuff that people will spend huge amounts of money on boggles my mind. Hundreds of dollars for a place setting? Wha? Does it make the food taste better? For that price, it should go in the kitchen and cook the damned food.)
But, it seems that the lack of those annoying ads is why Gourmet is now going away–yes, Conde Nast has announced today that Gourmet will cease publication after their November 2009 issue.
And even though I am not a regular reader, I am very disappointed.
No, disappointed is not a strong enough word. I am, quite simply, sad.
See, here’s why–while I have never cooked a recipe from Gourmet, the writing in its articles–even if they were not something I, personally, was interested in reading, was top-notch. Great food writers from James Beard to MFK Fisher and on to the current editor, Ruth Reichl all have helped make Gourmet magazine the bastion of food journalism that it was until today. Serious in-depth articles on food, politics and the intersections between the two, were part of what made Gourmet unique and interesting, at least from this reader’s perspective.
And I find it really annoying that Bon Appetit, also a Conde Nast product, is going to continue onward, as I find it to be a very shallow, middle-brow mish-mash of aspirational articles showing upper-crust dinner parties, along with menus and recipes from celebrities and other well-heeled folk and entry-level trend-following “fine food” recipes. (I also know for a fact that some of those recipes do not work out too well–I learned that long ago, in fact, much to my beginning-cook’s chagrin.)
I say this as someone who once had a subscription, and kept it for years. Granted, I bought that subscription back when I was in high school and in early college, and I have to say that back then, Bon Appetit did often have technique-based articles that did indeed help me teach myself how to cook. It also helped give me a foundational knowledge of ingredients, the French vocabulary of cookery and second-hand experience with different cuisines than what was available in West Virginia at the time, and for that, I am grateful. But after a few years, I found that the emphasis on expensive tableware, wines I would probably never be able to afford and on those silly dinner party stories (as little as I care about where other people go on vacation, I care less about what the rich family of the month is serving at their latest “casual” dinner party) to be by turns boring and annoying.
Still, I find the lack of Gourmet to be really, depressing. I mean, the magazine has been a part of American food culture since 1940–and having it disappear while a lower-quality publication continues on, essentially in its stead, is really a shame.
But it is all a numbers game. The ad revenues dropped more for Gourmet than they did for Bon Appetit.
And Conde Nast is just protecting their bottom line.
And that, my friends is how capitalism works. You have to go with what makes the most money, quality be damned.
I’m really sorry for the Gourmet staffers–the writers, editors and amazing food photographers. I hope that they can all find employment somewhere, because they are all really good at their craft, and I hate to see them join the vast ranks of the unemployed. (Truthfully, anyone who loses a job in this economy makes me both sad and angry. Sad for the ones without employment and angry at the robber barons and elected leaders who have contributed to the rapid decline and destruction of our economy.)
I am interested to see where these folks go, and what they do. I’d like to think that they might go and start up their own magazine, but I know that is nothing but wishful thinking at best, and a pipe dream at worst. The likelihood of a new food magazine starting up in this economy is minimal. Okay, it is vanishingly small.
All right, it is next to impossible.
But, a food blogger can dream, can’t she?
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