A few weeks ago I had a rare and gracious opportunity to take part in an interview with Barbara Fairchild — Editor of Bon Appétit magazine. A native New Yorker, Barbara’s family was relocated to L.A. when she was eight years old to support the lifestyle of a working actor father. Her first job after journalism school was at a magazine for Carte Blanche, which was a travel and entertainment credit card. By 1978 she was typing out recipes for Bon Appétit via typewriter and some twenty-two years later, promoted to Editor in Chief. In September of this year, Bon Appétit announced they will be leaving their L.A. post joining the rest of Condé Nast in New York as an attempt to ‘consolidate their assets.’ This seems to be an obvious ramification of the closure of the New York-based Gormet which Condé Nast shuttered in October 2009.
I had two major take-aways from my night with Barbara:
LOOKING AHEAD – MOVING DIGITAL
The slow and painful death of the magazine industry is no news to anyone. It is especially apparent in an economy where advertisers are not spending money to support the editorials and the quality of the publication suffers. The publications that have managed to survive are battling a serious economic illness that they may, or may not recover from. Their only remedy is to put efforts into digital solutions. Personally, I am a literary old soul. I enjoy the tangibility of books, newspapers and magazines. But I am an endangered species in my generation. And for a person who aspires to work in the world of food editorial it’s in my best interest to start spending some time on the iPad.
Barbara was very diplomatic about this issue. She was careful not to knock the product she dedicated two decades of her life’s work and unsell the crowd on the purchase of printed magazines. But did mention ‘only the strong will survive’ and saw a dwindling need for a printed word when you can simply read the magazines on-line. Her love for the short Twitter format and her hopes to start blogging were very apparent.
LOOKING BACK – A GENERATION OF EATERS
As Barbara was reminiscing about the last twenty years she brought up the idea that the generation of eaters has changed.
Lets take a brief look back at the past several generations of food culture. The early part of the century was probably the most wholesome and honest period of eating. Looking back on my own culture, there were many Italian immigrants bringing what they knew from their native villages to the streets of New York City and Brooklyn. They upheld an integrity of fresh meat, produce and fair prices. These great grandparents managed to instill this way of living into my grandparents who would still make four different stops in preparation for Sunday dinner. But, by the 1950s/60s came a little thing called Women’s Rights. My grandmother for one was working as a secretary and bombarded with those cheeky advertisements for TV dinners and microwave ovens. Many women of the day gave in to the fast, easy boxed food and left little skill to carry on to their children. This generation (my mother) didn’t have a very sexy exposure to food. Julia Child made enormous gains as did publications like Good Housekeeping and BetterHomes and Gardens, but the kitchen never seemed to win the status of fun, expressive and entertaining. Until 1993 when the Food Network cut through the bland and by 2000 you had college boys drooling over Giada De Laurentiis in their dorm rooms. My thoughts on the Food Network are mixed. They totally brought sexy back into the kitchen, but now food television is going a little stale. The celebrity chefs are riding their success and personally feel the brands they have built for themselves are getting sloppy. As an almost culinary school graduate I can say their technique and creativity has left me bored. And someone wake me up when the reality shows (except Top Chef) are over. So here we are in 2011 when everyone’s a foodie and all their experience comes from watching Gordon Ramsey and Rachel Ray.
Going back to the idea of ‘only the strong will survive’ where does this leave the several other food publications that don’t have Bobby Flay on the cover? But, if Bobby Flay is what motivates America to spend more time in the kitchen then who am I to judge. I’m hoping, like with every evolution and circle of life, we’ll get back to the little Italian man selling vegetables on a push cart and while we’re tapping through our iPads and be reminded of our roots and embrace food culture with a wholesome yet critical perspective.