Gourmet Magazine: Going, Going Gone?

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.

Then, I discovered Fine Cooking Magazine, and later, Saveur, and have not looked back.

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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  1. The likelihood of a new food magazine starting up in this economy is minimal. Okay, it is vanishingly small.

    Um, what about the Edible magazines? New branches of those are coming out all the time.

    Comment by Melissa — October 5, 2009 #

  2. Melissa–I know all about the Edible franchise. And I am not impressed. Zak and I were in negotiations to become franchisees and discovered that the reason that they are coming out with new titles all the time is because they get stupid folks to pony up considerable amounts of cash, while the franchise takes up most of the profits.

    Which is why, after we figured out the business model of Edible, we bowed out really fast. It was not a good investment for us…not about four years ago when we looked into it and certainly not now in the current economy.

    Comment by Barbara — October 5, 2009 #

  3. Awesome. Yet more hand-wringing over Gourmet at the expense of Bon Appetit. Everything I have read today regarding Gourmet has taken a shot at BA. I enjoy my BA subscription. I guess I am just a lowest common denominator-loving yokel.

    Comment by dave — October 5, 2009 #

  4. Dave–I never said anything about the readers of Bon Appetit–if you recall, I myself was a subscriber for many years.

    I may find that their focus is on stuff that holds no interest to me, and you may love it. Different strokes for different folks. I don’t think badly of you for liking a magazine that I don’t care for.

    I am always amazed by how personally some people will take a strong opinion about a publication, film, book or whatever if they like it and the originator of the strong opinion does not.

    I reiterate–I said nothing about loyal Bon Appetit readers, or Gourmet readers, for that matter. I just said that of the two publications, I thought that the writing in Gourmet was more interesting, relevant and plain old better than the writing in the types of articles that Bon Appetit runs.

    That said, I prefer Fine Cooking and Saveur to either of them!

    We won’t even discuss Cooks Illustrated, though. It will likely start another food (magazine) fight.

    Comment by Barbara — October 5, 2009 #

  5. Nice post Barbara, I second everything you said.

    I still have an old March ’82 Bon Appetit with an article entitled ‘Chinese Cooking Class’. Featured Hugh Carpenter and was my introduction to Pot Stickers at home.

    Hate to think they might all vanish, think I’ll go subscribe to something right now!

    Comment by Jim — October 6, 2009 #

  6. Agreed. Thanks for your words on the subject. I’m going to share a link from my site to this article. Well said.

    Comment by Scott — October 6, 2009 #

  7. Found this through Scott’s site.

    I won’t argue that this is a loss to the food publishing world, but I will argue one point: if the quality of content is there, perhaps a magazine was no longer the proper way to reach readers. I know the website will live on for at least a year, so perhaps that could be the new life for Gourmet (through a combination of advertisement and reader subscriptions)…

    Comment by Tony — October 7, 2009 #

  8. Tony–I agree with you to an extent–I think I would subscribe to Gourmet’s website, but I don’t know how many other folks would. Actually, I would subscribe to a lot of good websites if they charged money–I did used to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated’s site, but then I got so irritated with the company over business practices and I had more than one recipe that was supposedly fool-proof come out icky that I unsubscribed–which took three tries, I might add, with a monthly fee being charged the whole time.

    I’d love to see Gourmet take their content into cyberspace–can you imagine if they made an entire archive of all of their old back issues available to readers for a subscription fee? Think of all the writers who wrote articles for them–MFK Fisher, for one–it would be amazing.

    And, it would be a boon for researchers as well.

    But of course, all of this relies on Conde Nast–who still own the property. And print publishers are not that good at the Internet thing, in general.

    Comment by Barbara — October 7, 2009 #

  9. I guess I’m not surprised to see Gourmet go. I subscribed years ago, but got frustrated at the sparseness of the content. As a test, I took one issue (about 12 years ago) and cut out every page that contained a food-related article. Adjusting for ads, there were perhaps 12 full pages of food content in a 200-page magazine. And they weren’t very inspiring pages, either. The days of MFK Fisher and Laurie Colwin had gone. So I let my subscription lapse and moved on.

    Comment by Victor Stevko — October 7, 2009 #

  10. I had a year subscription to Gourmet but let it lapse. While I did enjoy some of the articles and restaurant profiles, every single recipe I tried from the magazine failed or was not tasty. I even wrote a blog post about it. I prefer Fine Cooking now.

    Comment by Shannon — October 8, 2009 #

  11. I’m sad about Gourmet, too.

    Comment by Mama JJ — October 9, 2009 #

  12. I can’t say I’m all that disappointed with the demise of “gourmet”. While I worked in the university library, I had the ability to peruse all of the back issues, and if I recall correctly, year after year, some recipes were perennial retreads, word for word. If they had even given some new ideas to put some “english” on some of these “oldies but goodies”, perhaps I might feel differently. Heck, even Bombauer’s “Joy of Cooking” gets updated, once in a while…

    Comment by Mike — October 10, 2009 #

  13. Hey Barbara,
    Just a note to thank you for the mention and the link to FineCooking.com We appreciate it!

    Comment by Robyn@FineCooking — October 16, 2009 #

  14. I too had let my Gourmet subscription lapse in favor of Fine Cooking. But it doesn’t mean I don’t feel the loss of Gourmet. I am very sad to see it close.

    Comment by annmartina — November 2, 2009 #

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