Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodybe, Gourmet

In the latest issue of Gourmet there is a story about $1,000 eating spree in New York City entitled “Having a Grand Time, New York City”. If editor Ruth Reichel had $1,000 to spend on dining out in New York, the article dares to ask, how would she spend it? The idea seems a tantalizing romp through the city for some though a sign of a disconnected media for others. As web a commenter calling themselves Fruitbats wants to know, “Have you lost your touch, Gourmet?” Did Fruitbats know perhaps that soon enough Gourmet would lose its magazine as well?

If you are reading a food related blog, odds are good you already know that after a 68 year long run Gourmet has gone the way of Life and Stuff, which is to say, to that big magazine rack in the sky. Odds are good you also have an opinion on the matter. Did she jump or was she pushed? Reading through articles and editorials regarding the passing, most people tend to fall into two camps, neither of which seem to be all too shocked. There are the Glad It’s Gone/They Got What They Deserve (that magazine was always too snobby, their recipes were too hard to make, Reichel ran it into the ground) and the Not Glad/They Don’t Deserve This (their taste was refined, the recipes were fascinating, Reichel was taking it in the right direction).

Regardless of your personal feelings about the magazine and whether or not they got what was coming to them, we have lost a professional magazine devoted to quality food writing. If you can find another publication that would let a David Foster Wallace riff on the ethics of lobster festivals (extensive foot notes and all), I would like to see it. Gourmet certainly had faults but not being another magazine devoted to celebrity chefs and/or supermarket moms who "chop and drop" (to use Michael Pollan's phrase) was not one of them. Though I was never a subscriber, I personally found their travel writing entertaining, their photography excellent (though one user called it “pornographic”), and their branching out to non-culinary writers like Wallace (and their non-traditional culinary views) refreshing. That being said, I think it is safe to say that we can now move on.

As a friend pointed out to me recently, it seems that everyone with a mouth and a computer has a blog devoted to cheeseburgers (or in some cases tea). Joe Hamburger is dutifully informing the internet about every burger stand he can get his grease spattered paws on. After all, people have always had opinions on what they eat, now it is just a whole lot easier to share them with everybody else (though if anyone else actually reads them is a whole other story). Whether this is a good or bad thing is really a non-issue. Like the proliferation of text messaging and the lasting popularity of reality TV, it’s just something that is. It’s how things are now but most likely not how they will be forever.

Now, assuming you didn’t crash your Rolls-Royce or faint into your Faberge egg collection when you heard the news about Gourmet, you are probably OK. I am sure Ms. Reichel and her staff will survive without too much devastation. Even if they have to resort to pillaging the Bon Appetite offices and picking their teeth with their adversaries’ bones, I am sure they will be able to stay warm this winter. What I find to be more important now is the new role of Joe Hamburger pushing those grease spattered paws over the keyboard. Can he and you and me fill this ever widening void of good culinary critique? Should we give up on taste just because Conde Nast canceled one of the more legitimate outlets of food writing? Are we all going to roll over and take whatever sort of wretch the culinary world wants to jam down our (literal) throats?

In short, no.

We may have lost a well edited (and decent paying) source of criticism but that does not mean good criticism has to fall by the wayside. The challenge for those who want to tell the world about their adventures in cheeseburgers or tea or whatever else has merely been increased. Keep in mind Elegant Bride was also canceled but you have not heard of anyone changing their wedding plans or mourning the loss of good weddings. For those who care about these sorts of things we are now living in a post-Gourmet world, one in which we must type more accurately, and (in a way) more bravely.

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