Monday, October 5, 2009

Mourning Gourmet

This morning's news that Conde Nast is shutting down Gourmet is both depressing and infuriating. I understand that we're in a recession; I understand that the magazine profit model is based on print advertisers; I understand that advertising is down; I understand that something's gotta give. However, I do not understand keeping Gourmet afloat while Bon Appetit (a lesser magazine by all accounts) stays as is. Maddening.

As is so often the case, I feel like the lowest common denominator wins here. Why, for instance, should a magazine like Gourmet, with nearly 70 years of rich history, be given the boot, when there are approximately a dozen magazines aimed at young women on the newsstands right now with a not-so-subtle mission of self esteem destruction? It's the same reason that television shows with cult followings are canceled, while lackluster dramas that are neither terrible nor great stay on the air for a decade. Why beautiful films can't find financing, yet a dozen truly awful romantic comedies are produced annually. Why voters are often forced to support a lesser match to their values, just so that another candidate doesn't win. Why people like Sandra Lee have their own "cooking" shows. I, for one, would like some better choices, personally.

Because I'm feeling wounded, I'd like to remind everyone why Gourmet was the best choice, and why to me this decision is terrible.

Ruth Reichl. We already know how I feel about Ruth, and Gourmet was unmistakably hers. Ruth's joy about eating and curiosity about food - from high-end decadence to low-end street food - was splashed across the magazine every month, and it was infectious to read.

Culture. Gourmet captured the culture of eating across the world better than any other print magazine. It's a medium that's far better suited to television than to print, but Gourmet excelled in bringing readers the faces and ways of life and accents and smells and sounds of other countries, through words and photography alone. No one else came close.

Food Politics. Gourmet stood far and above every other food publication in its coverage of food politics. While alternative media and the mainstream press have been increasingly covering topics of labor, scale, safety, and more the last few years, Gourmet was the only food magazine doing the same. Gourmet's ongoing coverage of Florida tomato slavery in particular stood out as top-quality, forward-thinking journalism, done in a time when a puff piece about tomatoes or about politics might have sufficed instead. Gourmet strived to be more than just "food porn," and was the only magazine to consistently prove itself in the real world arena this way.

Literary. So Gourmet was filled with fantastic recipes, timely political pieces, the voice of Ruth, sure, but what's more, it was literary through and through. I loved the writing in this magazine - smart and evocative and never dumbed-down. Each piece was a pleasure to read, and as a reader, you knew that nothing had been scribbled off and rushed to press. There was care behind the sentences, and you felt it.

Gorgeous. Food photography can be done on a table under a bright light in a warehouse. We might never know the difference. But Gourmet's photography took us other places - to kitchens full of cooks, to picnics out in the open, to backyard cookouts, to streets full of vendors, to fields during the harvest. Looking at Gourmet's articles was nearly as pleasurable as reading them, and that's saying a lot.

History. Gourmet was a magazine built upon its own history, and those kinds of traditions are infinitely appealing to me. On Gourmet's website, you can read what M.F.K. Fisher wrote for them in the 1940s, or what New Orleans restaurants were up to in the 1950s, and on and on. Keeping traditions alive are one of the best ways we step forward into the future. Gourmet's beautiful writing helped us do that. It was 70 years strong, and it knew it. How sad for all of us that Conde Nast did not.

Conde Nast says that Gourmet will continue to have an online and branding prescence, but that all new publishing endeavors will take place under the Bon Appetit brand.


  1. I am with you- get rid of Lucky, which was fun for a couple of years, and now tiresome. Keep Gourmet!

  2. This made me sad. That and their closing of Modern Bride and Elegant Bride as well.

  3. SO well said. there are a million reasons that this magazine has stood the test of time and is loved beyond just the cooking community, but designers, travelers, and humanitarians.

  4. Hi Maggie!

    A friend of mine posted the link to your page on Twitter this morning, and while I can't tell you what made me click on it (as I'm not a foor type person at all), I did. I read what you wrote, and all that I can say is that I feel for you.

    I know the feeling of, um... well, loss, that comes with seeing an awesome publication come to an end.

    I'm a motorcycle and car kind of guy, and it saddens me to see a great publication come to an end, while the glossed over crap remains in every supermarket, B&N, and what remains of the dying book and magazine shops around the country...

    I have to say that you seem on point with your feelings and emotion on the subject, and the reason why I took time to stop and write, was to let you know how awesome of a job you did of conveying your feelings on the subject without going into a rant, or bashing the crap out of the other "lesser" publications out there.

    I think that's pretty damn cool! :)


  5. Very unfortunate. I so prefer to hold a magazine in my hand than read it online-- keeping the online presence is nice in order to look up a recipe every now and then, but its just not the same. I just saw Julie & Julia last night which had me thinking about cooks and cookbook writers as intellectuals and scholars, and the difference between Julie following a recipe and Julia spending years studying it. I think the literary part of Gourmet is what is no longer popular. Sad.

  6. Agreed. Paragraph #2 especially hits home. I can't believe the crap that stays on the air/in theaters/on the newsstands, when far better and worthier endeavors get canned. Interesting how, at this year's Emmys, a number of folks won awards from shows that had been canceled. A shame!

  7. Oh wow- what a disappointment. I love reading Gourmet and so this is really quite sad news. It has been quite the year for magazines being shut down- nearly all of my favorites have been closed. And I completely agree with paragraph 2. Such a shame indeed.

  8. This is so sad. It's worse that magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour get to stick around. Where's the content?

    Celebrities sell. Anna Wintour helped Vogue by putting celebrities on the cover. Us Weekly and People are never hurting when it comes to magazine sales. People are addicted to celebrities-- what they're eating, what they're doing, what they're wearing, what they're naming their kids.

    Gourmet didn't give in to that at all and hopefully they'll be remembered for it. Domino had the occasional celebrity home feature, but it didn't make it either. So sad.

    People pay for crap that they end up throwing away after the 15 minutes it takes to read the entire magazine.

  9. Well said! You make me want to subscribe... and now? Well now I'm cranky at the loss of such a treasure.

  10. "Ruth Reichl. . .and Gourmet was unmistakably hers. Ruth's joy about eating and curiosity about food - from high-end decadence to low-end street food - was splashed across the magazine every month, and it was infectious to read."

    I agree and that is why I ended my subscription that I had maintained from 1981 to 2006. All Ruth all the time, everywhere, egocentric, all knowing and condescension ruining what was once a great magazine with articles by M.F.K Fisher, James Beard and many, many more outstanding writers i.e.

    Ray Bradbury
    Robert P. Coffin
    Laurie Colwin
    Pat Conroy
    Elizabeth David
    Ruth Harkness
    Madhur Jaffrey
    Anita Loos
    George Plimpton

    Maybe if Ms. Reichl had paid more attention to the history of the magazine and been less relentless in "making it hers" then it wouldn't be shuttered now.

    Long live Bon Appetit and Ms. Fairchild.

  11. I am SO furious I cannot sit still. How DARE conde nast kill such a stellar magazine, in favor of a piece of lightweight, shallow recipe-ism?

    Gourmet wasn't just pictures of food, and recipes: it was poetry and fine prose,beautiful travel essays... and culinary history. It was artistic excellence and philosophical depth. I am a culinary scholar (M.A. in American Studies, foodways) and I have found the writing and research in "Gourmet" to be top notch!

    Bon Appetit is just prentious picture
    spreads of Beautiful People eating. Food and Wine is too directed towards the food industry. Saveur is full of itself. Gourmet had both
    intellect AND a conscience, and their travel articles were astounding.

    I am canceling every single Conde Nast subscription I have, immediately, in protest.

  12. I used love to peruse Gourmet in my old co-worker's office, as she was a subscriber. This is sad.

  13. Great thoughts, everyone. And to "anonymous" - Ruth Reichl has always had lots of detractors, so your points here are certainly not a surprise. I do think, however, that Gourmet's standard of writing has remained consistent. Take David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster," for instance - it's a legendary piece that is one of Wallace's most-quoted. It was also insanely long by print magazine standards and under another editor might not have made it to print, yet Ruth stood up for it, arguing that someone with DFW's voice and talent warranted the piece running as it was written. I also firmly believe that the political food writing that took off under Ruth's helm was as influential and important as anything that had come before it. In the end, that may well be her legacy.

  14. You did an excellent job of highlighting all the reasons Gourmet was such a valuable, original voice in the food mag space. Made me more sad to read your post!

  15. Very sad. They're no substitute, but try Gastronomica (quarterly) or Saveur.


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