Tuesday, October 6, 2009


So, Gourmet magazine is dead. This seems in every way to be a very bad thing. If Gourmet can’t make it, here’s not much hope for anybody else. The fact that it closed despite having a circulation of a million seems truly amazing, but they say it was the lack of advertising that killed it.

I joined in the general mourning, then realized that despite being a foodie and magazine junkie, and despite the obvious truth that Gourmet contained plenty of good writing – by the likes of Jane and Michael Stern, Jonathan Gold, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Hayes and (once, spectacularly in “Consider the Lobster”) David Foster Wallace - I realized I didn’t actually buy the magazine all that often.

I asked myself why and dug out, more or less at random, one of the issues I did buy, May 2007, the “Special Travel Issue,” to see if I could find any clues to my lack of purchasing. The cover has various shout lines including “+59 recipes we brought back” “The world’s 36 best food destinations” “43 places to stay” the promise of recipes for cocnt mousse and Brazilian shrimp: frankly I can’t imagine why I bought it in the first places.

But good lord, this 228 page issue is awash with advertising, so much so that it’s actually hard to find the content of the magazine. There are full page color ads for Mercedes, Cartier, Ambien, Botox, the Waldorf Astoria, plus various banks and cruise lines. There’s Andy Garcia shilling for Cadillac, and a tousled Kim Basinger who seems to have been ravished by her Baume & Mercier wristwatch.

Yes, yes I know it’s a special issue, but even so all this rather suggested that I wasn’t precisely the demographic these advertisers were looking for. Admittedly there were one or two food ads, but they seemed very low powered by comparison, Wines from Spain, Cacao Reserve, Kashi. I didn’t feel very at home.

And sure, if you could find them, there were some interesting recipes, for veal rolls and lion’s head casserole. But others were way less interesting; grilled pita with Greek salad, radish-cabbage coleslaw (oh boy!!).

And somewhere there were some genuine food articles, one about a search for truffles in Saudi Arabia: who knew? But elsewhere a certain level of humorless absurdity crept in. An article about Tangier had the sub heading “Paul Bowles was onto something when he decided to stay in Morocco for good. Is there another country or cuisine that’s as fragrant colorful and textured .. ?”

You could argue about the cuisine, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of argument to determine what Bowles was “onto” in Morocco. Safe to say that boys and dope were much higher on his menu than the couscous. Were the readers of Gourmet not supposed to know about that stuff, or was it just too indelicate to mention?

Some of the online reaction suggests that the death of Gourmet is at least partly because of the explosion of food blogging, though it seems to me that blogging is the symptom rather than the disease. Either way, I suppose Cartier, Botox, Ambien et al must now be looking for new places to advertise. The Psycho-Gourmet is here, he’s waiting, he’s ready to prostitute himself.

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