Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Saying Goodbye To Gourmet Magazine

Earth Eats says goodbye to Gourmet Magazine, which was forced out of business this week by publisher Conde Nast after 68 years

The Cover of Gourmet Magazine

Photo: SuperFantastic (Flickr)

Gourmet Magazine's last issue will hit the newsstands in November of 2009.

gourmet magazine cover

Sad thoughts today as after 68 years as one of America’s leading publications on “high-end” food, travel, and entertainment, Gourmet magazine is closing its pages. Condé Nast Publications announced on Monday that the last issue will ship out in November.

How will the foodies of America ever survive? Will dinner tables stand bare with the death of this beloved publication that, as Los Angeles Times writer Charles Perry puts it, “virtually defined sophisticated cuisine for Americans?”

Never fear my friends; Bon Appétit, a sister publication to Gourmet, will live to see another kitchen. And luckily, the online world of recipes isn’t dying anytime soon! So what do the the newspapers and blogs have to say about this mournful day in foodie history?

L.A. Times: “Gourmet magazine: once, the epitome of good living”

Los Angeles Times writer Charles Perry chose to take a look back at Gourmet’s history over the past 68 years. Perhaps here we may find where the fallen publication went wrong.

In the beginning, the magazine operated almost like a “club” for the world of foodies – people who were wealthy enough to travel the patisseries of Paris or bistros of Italy. Gourmet pages oozed with recipes of fine pheasant and chocolate truffles… foods that some may call “snobbish”.

Even if Gourmet readers enjoyed the mouth-watering photos of these delicate dishes, one had to wonder where such elegant foods could be found? And at what price?

With the ‘70s came the “oh-so-cool” plat-form-shoes, disco fever, and – a hipper generation of foodie. Having no interest in Gourmet, these groovy foodies took a great deal of interest in a French style of cooking, otherwise known as “nouvelle cuisine.”

Gourmet was out of the picture for these aspiring cooks, who later went on to invent California cuisine. But Gourmet changed its tune when Ruth Reichl, a former L.A. Times editor, became the magazine’s new editor in 1999.

Placing a section on “Food and Politics” in the publication, she “successfully updated the magazine,” says Charles Perry, “though it would never again be the center of American food journalism.” Reichl went on to put a heavy emphasis on Gourmet’s on-line platform, which set very high standards for web-based food writing.

Unfortunately, it’s that very platform that is contributing to the decline of the magazine industry these days. Like many other magazines, Gourmet couldn’t find ads to fill its pocketbook. Perry ended his piece with this:

“The October issue seems to epitomize the sort of balancing act Gourmet was eventually forced into: one story where food writers were asked how they’d spend $1,000 in restaurants and another on ‘What’s Your Favorite Hot Dog?’”

hy·poc·ri·sy (hĭ-pŏk’rĭ-sē)

Many of you may have read the Boston Globe’s “recipe” for the stewing of Gourmet magazine:

4 cups culinary excellence
1 cup gorgeous photography
1/2 cup big-name bylines
 bucket loads of money
3 live-in cooks

Along with many others, I find this article particularly ironic. While the Boston Globe weighs in with some rather pointed remarks about the fall of the food magazine, one must consider the source of such remarks.

When comparing Gourmet to the Boston Globe, one commenter on the article pointed out:

Sort of like the Globe and its Sunday Magazine, isn’t it? It is aimed at an elitist audience (just evaluate the magazine’s ads)while hundreds of thousands of middle class Boston area folk drop their Globe subscriptions because of its irrelevance.

While, sure, some blame for Gourmet’s demise could be laid with the publication’s inability to relate to a wide audience, the same could be said for…well, the Boston Globe.

Like Gourmet, the Boston Globe is another company with a print legacy that itself narrowly averted bankruptcy earlier this year. Many commentators believe that the death of Gourmet is just a harbinger of things to come for the magazine industry.

From The Washington Post: For Gourmet, The Unkindest Cut of All

No doubt the economy played the biggest role in collapse of three Condé Nast Publications. But according to the Washington Post, the fall of Gourmet is the biggest “shocker” of all. While in the end their fan-base was small, a good portion of that niche audience will miss the publications that’s been around since 1941.

Washington Post writers Jacqueline Trescott and Jane Black:

“The bound issues provided a history of how the turkey was trussed over the years, how sweet potatoes went from being a marshmallow-crowned casserole to a caramelized confection sprinkled with spiced nuts… The company attributed the decision to the poor economy, which has sharply reduced advertising revenues throughout the industry and spelled doom for several magazines.”

This goes to show how a bad economy can totally destroy an enterprise even when everything is done “right.” After all, according to the Washington Post, editor Ruth Reichl “Did everything a 21st-century editor is supposed to do: Write successful books, appear on the Today Show, use photography imaginatively, have a TV series.” Gourmet even went so far as to put out shorter and simpler recipes.

It’s clear that Reichl made a huge effort to change with the times. And while it may have had a smaller niche audience, Gourmet magazine was unique. It tried to be what every world traveling foodie couldn’t live without. And when the editors of Gourmet began changing their recipe, so to speak, they lost readers and ended up with a half-and-half demographic.

Thankfully, Gourmet will live on in book publishing, TV, and the recipe site Epicurious.com. If you were an avid reader of Gourmet, you might consider looking at some online, sustainable recipe sites (we’re just sayin’…)

Emily Shelton

Emily Shelton is a web producer and blogger for Earth Eats. A native of Evansville, Indiana, Emily moved to Bloomington in the fall of 2007 to attend Indiana University, pursuing a major in Telecommunications and a minor in Business. Emily began interning at WFIU in the fall of 2008 and is now an Assistant Web Producer. As an official Earth Eats "tweeter", Emily loves spreading the word about the importance of environmental issues and "going green". In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, writing, and looking at pictures of delicious meals that she'll only ever dream about.

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