The demise of an icon

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I’ve stayed silent for weeks on this subject but writing about what makes you really sad is a good way to work through your emotions. Seven decades was not enough. This publication, so dear to me, was a chameleon, changing with the eras it spanned but always remaining relevant. It could have gone on indefinitely. Gourmet, I will miss you so much!

I began subscribing to Gourmet in the early 1990’s. The magazine was so vibrant. Unlike anything I had ever seen. So beautiful and it opened up worlds to me that I never knew existed. I knew how to cook, but the caliber of the recipes taught me how to cook well. The pictures were ethereal and unworldly. The articles traveled to faraway places I could only dream of seeing. The voices of writers like Laurie Colwin, Gerald Asher and Fred Ferretti were so real it was like having friends tell you stories about their adventures. Through them, I would eventually find my own voice too.

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I do have to admit to falling briefly out of love with the publication when Ruth Reichl took over the helm as editor. Gone were my favorite writers in favor of essays by strangers. She extricated the lush travel articles heavy on ethnic food recipes in favor of writing that was more introverted and experiential about food itself. She started adding more and more writing and less and less recipes even taking away a well loved feature called the last word (which caused such an uproar that she had to add it back). There were growing pains during this time. Who doesn’t resist change and we readers were used to what we knew. However, as we put our trust in Ms. Reichl, the magazine changed and became stronger. Which is why the decision Condé Nast made so suddenly last month to abruptly halt publication on the magazine was such a shock.

Gourmet will be gone after the November issue and we could have a consolation prize in it’s stead. Subscribers were offered Bon Appétit.  Bon Appétit:  a magazine I cancelled for $1 an issue, a magazine I cancelled after receiving it free for a year. I apologize in advance for saying rotten things about a magazine that is probably someone’s favorite magazine, but whereas Gourmet had pictures of food that made you hungry, Bon Appétit has pictures of overcooked food that looks like someone dropped the casserole dish before it was photographed. Very hipster. To me, the writing isn’t much better. The recipes? Fat and sugar do not always create a recipe with depth of character. I prefer much more subtle flavors. I declined taking this magazine as a substitution. It could hardly replace a publication I couldn’t wait to read cover to cover each month.

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Why did I wait so long to vent my frustration in a public forum? Being a romantic, I thought there would be an uproar. I really did. I thought that legions of Gourmet subscribers would rise up in anger and save the magazine from extinction. As I peruse the odes to Gourmet on other blogs, I detect an apathy instead. Some people hate to see it go, some people don’t really care. Some people thought the magazine was a dinosaur, espousing a lifestyle too rich for the normal person to live and recipes too complicated to cook at home. But in argument: That was the point! We could travel without leaving the house. We could eat like kings without dropping a paycheck at a restaurant! But there you have it. Nobody is going to rise up and revolt. Nobody is angry. Nobody is sad. We have too many other problems in the world. Things are so generally bad that caring about the end of something iconic is trivial.

In my own revolutionary little way, I told the girl on the phone at Gourmet how much I loved the magazine and informed her that if it had survived I would have subscribed for life. I would have kept sending a gift subscription to my best friend for life.  I was so fervent with my words that the girl on the phone thought I was a nutcase and politely said she duly noted my comment. That was how I championed my favorite magazine as it faded away.

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