Monday, October 5, 2009
Shock and Awe
I can hardly believe it: Conde Nast, the publisher of Gourmet magazine, is closing the magazine. What is the world coming to? Oh, right: a new great depression.
It's ironic that Gourmet magazine began just at the end of the last Great Depression, in 1940. I imagine it must have been amazing for people who had been surviving on beans and cornbread to read about food like caviar and tomato aspic, or whatever it was that people made for fancy food in the 1940s.
That would have been my grandmother's heyday; she was a gourmet foodie avant la lettre. Before Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, she advocated local fresh food in season, and she grew it, just to make the point more clearly. My grandfather had a small hospital in Lebanon, TN, and she supplied the hospital with heirloom tomatoes (only back then they were just called tomatoes), cantaloupes, butterhead lettuce (she was the first person I knew who switched to that from iceberg lettuce), green beans...well, all the vegetables that could grow in Wilson County, plus some pasture-raised beef (again, back then it was just called beef) and free-range eggs (eggs). Never had there been hospital food like that, before or since. But it does make you healthier, and isn't that what hospitals are supposed to do?
Anyway, in the six decades after the war and before the End of Gourmet, Americans learned a lot about food: we learned that there were more kinds of cheese than Velveeta; we started cooking with garlic and arugula; and we launched a movement for local, organically grown, fresh food in season. (See a book called The United States of Arugula for the whole story of this amazing transformation.) Maybe Gourmet has done its job and can retire from the field proudly. But I can't say I think we don't need it any more. I will miss it.