Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Still mourning

In the wake of Gourmet's closure this week, I mourned its passing here and in comments on dozens of other beautifully composed odes on the Web. A core component of our community outcry centers around Gourmet's role in the food world that we care so much about. The magazine isn't ("wasn't?" ouch.) just an industry-leader; it's a moral center, the heart of how many of us approach food, celebration, and everyday pleasure.

As comforting as many blog posts have been, most of the mainstream coverage about Gourmet has put me on edge. Major newspapers have adopted similar themes: Gourmet couldn't compete in a Rachael Ray world; the magazine was elitist and beyond the comprehension of most Americans; food doesn't matter the same way it once did; no one has the time or interest to cook from scratch anymore; the magazine would die with the oldest generation anyway.

Well, wait a minute there. Because I, for one, feel like Food-tainment is ruining us. Instead of spending time in their kitchens, viewers who might actually cook for themselves are spending even more of their time on the couch. As for elitism, in the current issue, Gourmet gives us a dozen pages on street food alongside a paragraph writeup of a gourmet tasting menu. That balance of high and low, that carving out of space for other cultures and price points in a previously-Francophile world, is how editor Ruth Reichl helped establish what amounted to a dining critic revolution nearly two decades ago. Are Gourmet's recipes tougher to follow than another magazines? I don't believe so. They simply ask for good technique and the best ingredients you can find - and those ingredients are typically not found in the packaged food or freezer aisles. And I'd say food matters more than ever. The U.S. saw a 13% increase in farmers markets between 2008-2009 alone, and a 297% increase in farmers markets since 1994. That's astounding. Due to food safety concerns, a wider availability of organic and local produce, and publicity about why these choices matter, we are beginning to eat more consciously as a country and, I believe, can begin slowly making up for some of the havoc large-scale food production has wrought. And I know people care about cooking, because I see it everywhere I look. I see it at the market, I see it in blog-world, I see it in my friends and family. What's more? I'm not a graying, stuffy elite. I'm 31 years old. And Gourmet was my favorite magazine.

Embodying all these points and more is a new piece from Salon that also takes offense at the mainstream reaction to the news, "Gourmet was for the young and scrappy, too." This piece cuts to the heart of why much of the coverage has been so wrong-headed. Finally. Alex Van Buren characterizes Ruth Reichl in the way that I see her, as an "egalitarian badass."
There is a split in the so-called foodie community between those who consider themselves entitled to the good life and those who are just so abuzz with glee about being in a restaurant or eating something delicious they can hardly stand it. It’s my opinion that -- despite its visions of opulence -- Gourmet appealed to the latter instinct in us, and that it’s the better one.
 I couldn't have said it better myself.

And while I'm at it, another piece that's driven home for me the bigger picture of losing a central publication in a digital world is Abbey's "Still Heartbroken", which focuses on the loss of paper we can hold in our hands, from "The internet is ultimately unsatisfying," to "And please, what about reading on the toilet?," to finally, "No one is archiving the internet." Food for thought, all of it.

Me, I'm still in mourning. I love paper, photography, and words that matter. It's why my apartment is overflowing with books. It's why I subscribe to the New York Times even though I live in Dallas and it's ridiculously expensive to have it delivered daily. It's why I loved Gourmet. There is presence to paper for me that does not exist on the screen upon which you are reading these words, and cannot exist.

So I'm mourning, yes, but I'm still cooking. And you can, too. Join me and other scrappy, egalitarian badasses for a blogging event to honor Gourmet. Simply cook your favorite Gourmet recipe by October 15 and link to the site, where next week we'll peek into Gourmet readers' kitchens and see how they've honored the dearly departed. I call it proactive, joyful mourning.


  1. Great post, Maggie! I like the Salon article too. Ruth Reichl may get to sit at some elite tables, but she is NOT an elitist! Thanks so much for linking to the event!

  2. I will admit, being late to the I Heart Cooking Club, I was not an avid reader of Gourmet. However, I have been loving all the blog tributes and can't wait to see what you and others decide to cook for the Let's Celebrate event!

  3. I agree- the visceral need to hold paper in my hands and read will never allow books or magazines to become obsolete in my world. Thanks for the event link.

  4. I haven't read the Salon article yet, but your return to the subject of the Food Network reminded me of this Michael Pollan piece in the New York Times Magazine where he writes about the dichotomy that is America's obsession with watching cooking/food shows on television, but not wanting to spend time cooking their own meals. Very interesting:

  5. Sasha, that's the exact piece I linked to in this post! Great minds think alike :-)

  6. Excellent post! Couldn't have said it better myself ;-) Although I'm not a cooking aficionado myself (I hope to be one day, when I have one of those non-psycho jobs that actually has set hours and allows for a life outside of work), but I completely think the Food-tainment is ruining a beautiful art and past time. Hugs friend! Maybe Gourmet will resurface when the ad environment gets less ugly.

  7. Thanks for your advice! I think I will see what Food and Wine is all about. :-)

  8. This has been on my mind and I'd been hoping to find the time to get in on that event.. happy to say I'm working on it today! Thanks for sharing.


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