Monday, November 9, 2009

Gourmet Magazine, 1941-2009

Citing a slump in ad revenue, magazine publisher Conde Nast announced recently that it will shutter four of its titles including the venerable Gourmet Magazine.

In much the same way that the success of Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia was an opportunity to reflect upon Julia Child's contribution to American home cooking, the passing of Gourmet offers the chance to reflect on the expansion of the average American's palate. When the first issue of Gourmet hit the stands in 1941, the most "exotic" restaurant in most towns would have probably been Italian; today, it's not unusual for a person in even a small town to be able to choose from East Asian, Indian, or Central and South American eateries, plus creative cuisines that transcend geography. My grandparents considered mayo the default condiment; today, I can usually count on finding salsa, soy sauce, and at least one type of hot sauce in my friends' refrigerators.

I have to suspect that at least some of the credit for the wonderful diversity in food choices in the U.S. should go to a couple generations of adventurous home cooks, many of whom surely conducted their kitchen experiments with a whisk in one hand and a copy of Gourmet in the other.

For a terrific example of the thoughtful food writing that Gourmet published, look no further than the August 2004 issue, in which David Foster Wallace takes a characteristically thorough look at the pesky ethical issues surrounding the practice of cooking and eating lobster. "Consider the Lobster," which was later included in a collection of Wallace's nonfiction writing bearing the same name, is an example of how good food writing can transcend mere recipes and touch on issues of culture, philosophy, and community. This type of writing was common in Gourmet and will be missed by many.

To take a look at "Consider the Lobster" or any other issue of Gourmet between 1946 and 2009, stop by the Magazines and Newspapers Center.

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