The decline of Food & Wine magazine, Dana Cowin's fault or my own?
Since this is my first post, I'll give a quick bio: I've been a foodie (I hate that word, but lack a better term) for almost a decade now. At the time I was in my college years and was hoping there was more to food than pizza, ramen, and the relatively recent memories of my mom's casseroles and endless variations of hamburger helper. I started venturing out into unexplored parts of town in search of a meal and soon found the ordering process at taco trucks and noodle houses to be intimidating, as well as the unwritten etiquette of the high-end dining world. Being from a small, Middle-American town I was never exposed to these things growing up. I needed help from a trusted source and happened to notice the latest issue of Food & Wine at the local mega-chain bookstore.
F&W soon became my go-to resource on the subject. I read every issue cover-to-cover and "dog-eared" several pages for further reference. Some of my first issues, which I still have, are on the verge of falling apart. Fast forward several years and I have progressed from "budding home cook" to a professional chef at a local neighborhood Italian joint.
The last couple of years I've found that I'm not as excited when I find the latest issue in my mailbox. That day is far from the glorious and momentous occasion that it once was. The March 2012 issue arrived yesterday and I did my normal routine of sitting down with my afternoon coffee to peruse the magazine. Hmm, another recipe for quinoa salad. More articles about hipster interior designers hawking $2800 reclaimed wood tables and $795 welded metal planters, more b.s. about why Napa Valley is the greatest food/wine scene on earth...yadda yadda. I contemplated tossing this issue directly into my paper recycling bin, but decided to hang onto it for a bit...maybe something that I missed will jump out at me if I give it some cooling off time and return to it later. Then again, probably not.
I'd be lying if I didn't feel personally let down. For family and financial reasons I decided not to attend culinary school, but publications like F&W helped me fill some of those knowledge gaps, which have greatly helped my professional career. But now, when my line cooks ask for reference materials, I find myself handing out Bon Appetit or Saveur instead.
Can any long-time F&W readers attest to this? Has the quality and content been decreasing as of late, or is it that I'm just becoming more jaded or discerning in my expectations? To be honest, the magazine has always had some content devoted to stemware, interior design fixtures, custom dishes, etc. but to me, the food content definitely trumped the rest...now I'm finding this isn't the case.
I agree that not only F&W, but also Cooks Illustrated and Saveur hold little interest for me anymore. Very, very rarely do I find recipes or stories that don't seem to be rehashed. I feel that after subscribing to some for almost 30 years they have a hard time putting a new spin on anything. I think in this instance, yes, I've become jaded.
Not specifically related to F&W, but that's pretty the point I got to with Gourmet. My parents got me a subscription when I was still in high school and, like you, I devoured every article when it arrived. There used to be marvelous travel articles and for a 16 year old with wanderlust, I could live vicariously through Gourmet and only dream of one day finally getting to go to wherever was the destination of the issue. The centerfold pictures of the menu of the month inspired me to try recipes I probably wouldn't have otherwise tried. I ended up subscribing for years...and years. Somewhere along the line it changed and tried to be hip and au courant rather than itself. Recipes were dumbed down, the travel articles disappeared and with them so did some of the charm and allure. I let my subscription lapse and never looked back. I let my subscription lapse with Sauver and several others. I don't miss them.
The fact is, for me at least, is that I outgrew all of them. It wasn't necessarily the magazine that changed, but me. Where I was in my life, what I was doing, what I was eating, where I was traveling, how much money I had to spend (or not). It's sad when you realize a publication that has previously provided many hours of pleasure no longer fits. My guess is that you've out grown F & W and now have things happening in your life that have changed your perspective.
I feel that F&W has declined over the past few years. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed one or pulled a recipe. I still look forward to Saveur, though, and BA is increasingly more interesting to me. I just made the fried chicken out of one of the more recent issues and it was excellent.
I think maybe we've reached a tipping point with all the media focus on foods. Yes, I do watch a LOT of food-related programming, and until recently would devour each monthly issue of Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Apetit, Saveur, Fine Cooking, and Cooks Illustrated.
I know that I'm at the saturatiion point. I do like Fine Cooking, but I'm letting the others slip away. First, because they aren't teaching me anything new for the most part. Second, I'm not finding a lot of the content interesting (esp with Bon Apetit lately. Their layout and content feels more like a fashion mag these days.) Gourmet's been gone for a while now.
I think, too, that's why I love the competition cooking shows. They're fun to watch. I'm tired of being subjected to endless variations on the same themes over and over: bbq, smoking, sous vide, molecular gastronomy (enough!) Italian regional, Asian regional, Thai everything, food trucks, Spanish regional, French regional, United States regional, and on and on.
As I mentioned earlier, I think maybe I'm on food-overload. Maybe, but here I am! Reading all the posts - about cooking and FOOD. Help me...
I agree with you, but that's only part of the problem: most cooking shows and magazines aim for the lowest common denominator (beginning or intermediate cooks), and you've moved way beyond the stage of needing another technique for mashed potatoes, or another recipe for wasabi mayonnaise...
After discovering that I no longer dog-eared any of my cooking mags, I let all of my subscriptions lapse except for CI (because I'm geeky), and Saveur (because I love to travel vicariously). I do miss the last era of Gourmet because it started getting into the politics of food (the article on lobsters was the best writing I've ever encountered in a cooking magazine).
I agree about another direction in writing or media production. The history of WHY we eat certain foods, and disdain others. Who thought that eating a snail was a good idea? What historical event may have influenced the way we (or others) eat?
The History Channel has briefly touched on some of these issues, but I think a deeper focus on who we are and why we eat what we eat would be fascinating. Obviously some of it is geological and socio-economic.
I do love the History Channel for what they do offer. Perhaps some Chowser can point me in the right direction for finding such things too.
I think people like us are just kind of saturated, as someone suggested below. It's only relatively recently in my life that I've really started to work on expanding my palate more and trying (or making myself like, after dozens of tries ala Steingarten) things that I wouldn't have previously - I find myself at "foodie" dinners eating the likes of pig ears and face, beef cheeks, blood sausage, seaweed ramen, stuff I never would have eaten when I was younger and less adventerous, and making plans to try to incorporate more of those "odd for me" things into my diet as I go along (sardines and anchovies). A food challenge for me now is getting more back to roots - looking to canning, curing, preserving, how to properly freeze, store and eat more seasonally, digging deeper into the local farming scene and joining a CSA, while also trying to eat a more "mediterranean" diet and less and less a typical "american" one, with restaurant visits getting fewer and further between and only when there is a locally sourcing dedicated chef at the helm. I think stuff like F&W just doesn't speak to folks in our demographic. I'm not sure what does, perhaps there's space for a new rag in this area.
I totally understand the point about being over saturated with information, but I still would welcome any info that was remotely new and/or interesting. Looking over the content in the past year or two, I have to wonder who really enjoys this stuff? I don't mean to sound narrow-minded, but I'm starting to notice a strong vibe that if you don't buy into the whole upper class NYC/Bay Area mentality and way of life then F&W isn't for you anymore.
I've been reading F&W for about 8 years, and I noticed the decline about a year and a half ago, when Lettie Teague's column disappeared. I find the $12 wine bargains out of place with the overpriced wall sconces and jars of artisanal bacon jam. My sub is up next month, and I won't be renewing it.
It really depends on what you're looking to get from these magazines. Bon Appetit has been getting thinner and thinner, a wispy substitute for Gourmet; F&W seems to have more and more "advertorials" masquerading as legitimate content. Saveur is getting better, but I am biased -- it features photography by a friend of mine, and as far as Im concerned, she may as well be the only reason I read it. I continue to subscribe because they've always been part of my life, but like the OP, some are a VERY quick read.
I still sub to F & W but will let it expire. Nothing holds a candle to Gourmet, IMHO, and that's gone. Being in the media business, it's not just food magazines, it's across the board. Almost everything has been simplified and is presented as quick and easy. Next time I hear one of these food tv hosts say, "now don't be afraid, just keep stirring," I'll pull my hair out. They seem to encourage people to fear a freakin' simmering pot. Please.
The other thing I remind myself of is that I am not the typical food magazine consumer. I have decades of experience as an advanced home cook and, like one of the other posters, am not the demographic group they target. I watch the Cooking Channel (not the trashy Food Network) and only do that for an occasional inspiration. Today's announcement of finalists for food media awards by the IACP does not list a single chef or show from either of those networks, BTW. The nominees are Pepin and Ming Tsai (another I don't recall), both on PBS.