Tuesday, March 3, 2009

There Is a Difference Between Gourmet and Bon Appetit

A few days ago, Gawker's Hamilton Nolan--noting Conde Nast's financial troubles--did a post headlined, "Bon Appetit and Gourmet Both Exist. Why?" The post went on to note the two mangazine's similar circulations (Gourmet: 950,000; Bon Appetit: 1.3 million) and median reader incomes (Gourmet: $79, 942; Bon Appetit: $81,981) and called the magazines "combo-ready."

As someone who has subscribed to both Gourmet and Bon Appetit, I beg to differ--strongly. Gourmet is for people, like me, for whom reading about food and making dinner are equally important parts of our love affair with food. Their photo spreads are lavish, inspiring, lush; their travel writing makes you want to be in the places they're writing about Right Now (a recent piece on the Camino de Santiago, for example, made me long for some sturdy walking shoes and a ticket to Spain). Their recipes range from simple but elegant to elaborate and time-consuming; they don't assume that just because you made the linguine with broccoli, red pepper and pine nuts on a weeknight, you won't try the cassoulet with homemade confit on a Sunday afternoon. Bon Appetit, in contrast, assumes you're a working mom with a busy life and guests perpetually on the way; their recipes focus on ease and do-ability ("do-ahead" recipes are a big focus), to the point that they will actually recommend you use things like bottled grocery-store pesto and canned broth as shortcuts. I'm not saying I never use such things (hell, I eat frozen dinners), just that I don't want my food magazine to tell me to do so.

Food magazines, at their best, are both useful and aspirational--they give us suggestions and guidelines for how to eat better in our daily lives, and they offer us fantasies of what our cooking and dining lives could be like. I read Gourmet for the same reason people read Martha Stewart Living, or any number of home-decoration magazines--they're an escape into a world I don't exactly have now, but want, and can imagine having. I don't need a magazine to tell me how to have a "low cost pizza party" or to make the perfect "simple chicken soup" to make my "family warm and toasty". And I already know how to make garlic bread, thank you very much. What I want is important news about food politics, riveting travel stories about places I'll never go, and food photography that makes my mouth water. That's why I subscribe to Gourmet. Ultimately, it's about the experience, not the recipes.

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