Saturday, October 24, 2009

Goodbye to Gourmet

So have you heard? After nearly seventy years of publishing, Gourmet magazine is shutting down for good. You can read about it here.

I have been a subscriber to Gourmet for the past year, and though I have enjoyed some of the articles and recipes from the magazine, I can’t say I am very surprised about this news. When my subscription first started, I eagerly looked forward to that one day a month when I would receive a nice, fat parcel rolled up in my mailbox containing the newest issue of Gourmet. All other plans would be forgotten as I would tear open the plastic covering and immediately begin to flip through the glossy new pages. Sometimes, my eye would catch on a recipe I knew I had to try at the earliest opportunity, and even less often, I would find an article that I looked forward to reading. However, as the year went on, I found myself feeling far less excited about the prospect of a new Gourmet coming my way. In more recent months, when I have opened my mailbox to find the latest magazine, I found myself thinking, “Oh yeah, I guess I was due for a new one.” The magazine would then go to my coffee table, where it would sit, unopened, until probably some night later in the week, when I got bored during a commercial break while I was watching TV, I would browse through it. Needless to say, Gourmet has not been very inspirational to me.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a hater. Like I said, I do use recipes from Gourmet, and I do sometimes read its articles. I really liked the fun concept of their latest September issue: recipes from A to Z, including letter-themed menus, with every dish starting with the same letter. Not exactly useful, but definitely fun. Being from Montreal, it was exciting to see the November issue had an article about fishing in northern Quebec. These points that catch my interest, though, are few and far between. My point here is that Gourmet just isn’t keeping my attention, and, so it seems, I am not the only one who feels this way.

The NY Times article I have linked to above talks about the colorful history of Gourmet, and some of the foodie greats, like James Beard and M. F. K. Fisher, who have contributed to its pages over the years. As wonderful as this all is, the article kind of proves the point: in its heyday, this magazine was great, it was interesting, it was current, and it was an influence on many home cooks, but this is all in the past. Lately, it has been stuck in a rut and losing readers. Before I even heard about the imminent closure of Gourmet, I decided not to re-subscribe to the magazine, switching it instead for a year of Food and Wine.

The article also mentions how some readers are miffed that Gourmet is being shut down, while Bon Appétit, also owned by Condé Nast Publications, is not. Just as I understand why Gourmet cannot continue, I understand why Bon Appétit can. I have been subscribing to Bon Appétit for the past year as well, and unlike with Gourmet, my excitement over receiving each month’s issue has not faded, and I still read through the magazine as soon as I receive it. Perhaps this is a matter of personal opinion, but I prefer Bon Appétit’s articles, recipes, and even pictures to Gourmet’s. Every month, I look forward to seeing what the At the Market item will be, a feature that highlights a product that is in season, and gives several recipes to make use of it. I love Molly Wizenberg’s Cooking Life article, the Health Wise section, and The Baker, a new monthly article by Dorie Greenspan. These features are all from Bon Appétit. Gourmet’s monthly features are comparable in theme, but I find they are not as well written, and the topics are often of less interest to me. The bottom line: I chose to keep my Bon Appétit subscription going, while ending my Gourmet one.

Should the magazine carry on just because it is an American cultural icon? I don’t think so. It certainly is a shame that the magazine could not continue to be the inspiration it used to be. This is the end of an era, and that is sad, but inevitable. If I was wearing a hat, I would take it off in respect to the important role Gourmet magazine has played in the history of food literature. For the future, I look forward to being inspired by the quality food magazines that continue to be published today.

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