Category Archives: Food


New Questions: What Does Oily Gulf Mean to Future of Already Changing Seafood Market?

winespectator_june30_2010.jpgBeing a Gulf Coast gal, I’ve tried to keep up with the progress of capping the oil leak that’s been spewing thousands of gallons into part of the natural habitat that I dearly love and still consider home. Slick balls of tar began washing ashore the first week of June.

Though it didn’t specifically mention the Gulf crisis, an article in Wine Spectator magazine got me thinking about the changes that could lie ahead in the already complex process of putting seafood on the table. I realized that many fishermen plied the Gulf waters to make a living, and
this will certainly bring hard times for them.

Yet seeing the June 30, 2010, article titled “Sea Change: Traditional fishing still exists, but odds are the fish on your plate grew up on a farm” in Wine Spectator took me by surprise, since I fully expected to see a wine-seafood pairing guide as part of the spread.

Growing up along the coast, I assumed–and took for granted–that much of the seafood I ate was pulled from local waters, the same ones in view of some of my favorite restaurants on Mobile Bay. Fish farming, or aquaculture, I believed, supplied the landlocked, but surely not a coastal city. Could the slick Gulf waters change that, I wonder?

If so, the practice of fish farming is nothing new. Many Asian nations have been doing it for thousands of years, according to the Wine Spectator article. North America’s much shorter history of aquaculture is broadening because of its eco-friendliness, which has been a popular topic for discussion in many food magazines–and soon perhaps because of necessity.

Even then, saving the environment comes at a price. The taste and texture of farmed fish versus wild fish can vary, not to mention size or price. As the pursuit of aquaculture in America becomes more widespread, analysts quoted in the article say those higher costs could even out.

On the one hand, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing seafood can always be procured for our tables. Then again, until the Gulf Coast is oil-free, I wonder whether some of that seafood will taste the same in my hometown.

Admittedly, I don’t understand the intricacies of aquaculture, and I can’t fathom what the future of the Gulf Coast might be. But, whether intentional or not, this Wine Spectator article most importantly raised some new questions related to both.


Food With a Cause: Southern Living’s Should-Be New Magazine Feature

southernliving_june2010.jpgOne of my new favorite should-be “sections” in Southern Living magazine is not really a section at all. It’s what I like to call the “food with a cause” feature, and it shows the positive, fulfilling impact that something as simple as a slice of pie can have on its community.

I first noticed it in the May 2010 issue, in the magazine’s special Alabama Living section. Then again in June. And it grabbed my attention primarily because the cause behind the cooking was different from the sustainable, organic, eco-friendly ventures so commonly covered by many food magazines. All great topics, but this was appealing because it was different.

The subject of both issues’ “food with a cause” feature was the same little community-building café, PieLab in Greensboro, Ala. Greensboro is a small, struggling town in the state’s fertile Black Belt region, which was especially hard hit when cotton ceded its long-ago reign as king.

Like many other rural towns across the state–and probably just about anywhere–it’s fighting for its economic life. But enter PieLab, part bakery, part culinary school and part design studio, and you’ve got the recipe for sweet success.

The project not only teaches area youth how to make then sell pies, but it also offers job training programs for area residents. Better still, the café simply brings the community together, one slice of pie at a time, and that small gesture has yielded much bigger results. To top it off, PieLab was tapped by Southern Living’s June 2010 issue as serving up one of the South’s top five pies.

PieLab’s delicious combination of cooking, community and creativity has sparked an entrepreneurial spirit in Greensboro, where residents have been inspired to open their own businesses or share their skills through classes and workshops.

Stories like this reaffirm the power of food to bring people together, and in the best cases, to inspire change. So, Southern Living editors, if you’re reading, please serve another slice of “food with a cause” in future issues.


Bon Appétit Magazine Serves Exotic Tastes, But Saveur Takes You There

bon-appetit.jpgA feast for the eyes and an awakening of the senses, Bon Appétit magazine lives up to the English translation of its title: “Enjoy your meal.”

Everything from its R.S.V.P. section with readers’ favorite restaurant recipes to transforming one meal into leftovers for the week to exploring foods around the world, Bon Appétit magazine presents new and familiar tastes to be enjoyed.

That’s not to say it couldn’t be better. Its May 2010 travel issue shared dishes from Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Britain, but the information was presented with little more depth than a gastronomic tour of Europe, along with recipes to recreate at home.

Saveur magazine, on the other hand, is highly esteemed by its readers for celebrating food within its historical and cultural contexts, almost to the point each meal becomes a must-visit destination.

Unlike Bon Appétit magazine, Saveur is not packed with recipes–less than half the issue is dedicated to cooking instruction and tips. But it shines, and is apparently appreciated by many online reviewers, because it brings food to life.

Described by some as the National Geographic for food, Saveur magazine explores a city–like Los Angeles in its March 2010 issue, for example–and unearths all its culinary gems. Then it shares them from a first-person perspective, as if a trusted local were dishing about where to dine.

This approach, some readers say, has inspired them to take trips to places they wouldn’t have otherwise considered and to venture to out-of-the-way restaurants.

With its heavy focus on travel, Saveur magazine not surprisingly serves up plenty of exotic tastes as well, like the Roman, Taiwanese and Spanish dishes from its April 2010 issue. But it doesn’t shy away from traditional comfort foods like meat loaf and macaroni and cheese in its May 2010 issue.

saveur_may.jpgJust recently, Saveur magazine earned three James Beard Foundation Journalism Award nominations, which recognize writers and media for their food coverage. The titles of some articles nominated are indicative of the context and depth of Saveur’s approach: “Faith and Bacon,” which examined religious taboos related to food, and “The Wonders of Ham,” which introduced readers to different varieties around the world.

Other than Gourmet, which closed after its November 2009 issue, Eating Well was the only other major food magazine to receive a James Beard nomination for its reporting on food.

Despite some criticism that Saveur magazine showcases recipes using ingredients that are hard to find even in diverse urban areas, readers still tend to appreciate the new flavors it introduces among its elegant prose. So much so that since Gourmet magazine closed, some of its subscribers have turned to Saveur and found a satisfying substitute. Having been named to AdWeek and Media Week’s annual Hot List in recognition of increased ad pages, Saveur seems to be picking up where Gourmet left off and then some.

The growing popularity of Saveur magazine–even over the Bon Appétit replacements would-be Gourmet subscribers are receiving–could also indicate greater disposable income among readers to pursue the travel it inspires instead of merely recreating exotic tastes at home.


Why Jennifer Hudson Will Hit a High Note as Weight Watchers’ May/June Cover Girl

weight-watchers.jpgThe loveable, down-to-earth songstress and Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson isn’t the first to lend her star power to Weight Watchers and, thus, appear on the cover of the popular weight loss program’s magazine. But the warbling cover girl may just ring truest with readers, in part because of how she attained her fame.

In 2004, Jennifer Hudson belted her way into viewers’ hearts as a contestant on reality show sensation “American Idol.” That exposure helped propel her to success with a supporting role as Effie in the film Dreamgirls, an album and a reported role as Nelson Mandela’s wife in the upcoming film Winnie.

Not only does her story have a local-girl-makes-it-big feel, but her presence on a reality show makes her seem more accessible. Aside from her unmistakable talent and the serendipitous circumstances that led to her fame, Jennifer Hudson holds a deeper appeal, particularly for readers of Weight Watchers magazine and other similar publications.

Many women will identify with the new mom struggling to lose the post-baby bulge. Even as more females, some as young as fourth- and fifth-graders, fight to accept their body image, Weight Watchers magazine likely struck the right chord by celebrating a happy, healthy, curvaceous Jennifer Hudson on its cover.

Though American women claim to be dieting less, according to a weekly diet survey by the NPD Group, the trappings to get to a slimmer body–gym memberships and weight loss pills–continue to drive a multi-billion dollar industry.

While Weight Watchers magazine’s May/June issue may garner more attention than usual because of its featured star, it also promises a deeper appeal for readers who can relate to her struggles pound for pound. Sweeter still is the potential for this cover to illustrate to women that health and happiness can be achieved without being a size 2.


Food or Fame? Magazines Use Culinary Celebrities to Offer Both

foodnetwork_june.jpgCelebrity star power is used to help boost sales for everything from food to pharmaceuticals, and celebrity chefs help market everything from cruises to condos. So why not magazines?

Three of the four major cooking magazines that regularly feature famous faces on their covers–Every Day With Rachael Ray, Cooking With Paula Deen, Martha Stewart Living and Food Network Magazine–have each eclipsed the 1 million subscriber mark. Relying on celebrities for success can come at a price, but the closer a product is related to the star, the more likely consumers may purchase it, according to brand strategists. Since the art of cooking is what made these chefs famous, it’s a recipe for success in print.

Each issue, Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine and Cooking With Paula Deen magazine feature their namesake celebrities on the cover. Paula Deen, who is nearly synonymous with Southern cooking, is almost always featured with a dish in hand, while Rachael Ray is almost never featured with food.

Still, Every Day with Rachael Ray has been a runaway success–to the tune of 1.7 million subscribers–since its launch in 2005. That’s more than double Paula Deen’s magazine, possibly because Cooking With Paula Deen has more appeal regionally and with out-of-vogue non-calorie-counting cooks.

Martha Stewart doesn’t always appear on the cover of Martha Stewart Living magazine, but when she does, she isn’t the centerpiece of the photo. Yet of the four major celebrity food magazines, hers is the most popular with a subscriber base of 2 million–perhaps because of its broader approach that includes home decorating and crafts.

If these three magazines are using the presence of a star to draw in readers, Food Network magazine is taking it a step further with its “Cook Like a Star!” slogan at the top of every issue. The appeal, in part, of a product endorsed by celebrities is not only that they use it, but that they are also successful as a result.

Launched less than two years ago, Food Network Magazine has experienced sizzling success, boosted by its television popularity, entertaining approach and star power. With a circulation of 1 million, it is on the heels of some of the more established food magazines like Bon Appétit and Food & Wine. Food Network Magazine banks on multiple celebrities to draw in readers and utilizes short articles, tips and suggestions that mimic the faster pace of its TV shows.

All four magazines have an unmistakable appeal, offering readers the chance to decorate like Martha Stewart or cook like Paula Deen, Rachael Ray or any myriad of other Food Network stars. Based on circulation reports, capitalizing on fame isn’t the only thing that matters to readers, but the numbers also prove that it can’t hurt either.


Food & Wine Magazine Partakes Where Wine Spectator Observes

wine-spectator.jpgNow that wine consumption has gained more generational acceptance among Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers and Generation Y’ers according to a 2009 Wine Market Council study, savvier, more inquisitive consumers will likely be drawn to expanding their knowledge of the beverage as its popularity grows.

A Google search on “wine education” yields non-virtual results like classes held in conjunction with tastings and festivals, culinary courses, and seminars offered through various wineries. That’s in addition to the vast amount of information stored on the Internet.

Other introductions into the intimidating subject of wine come in the form of Food & Wine magazine and Wine Spectator magazine, both knowledgeable sources with different approaches to suit varying interests.

As its title suggests, Food & Wine gives ample attention to food and wine and their relationship to each other, while Wine Spectator offers more thorough insight into wine only. Casual drinkers would be satisfied with the array of recipes and information found in Food and Wine, but they would be disappointed if they were to expect the same from Wine Spectator.

That’s because Wine Spectator magazine’s content is deep, rich and full-bodied–perhaps even a little intimidating for those with only a leisurely interest in the fruit of the vine. But for the oenophile, however, who feasts on wine and all things related, it is a robust read.

The March 31, 2010, issue, for example, plucked an extensive feature from California’s Rhône wine-producing district, specifically focusing on its prized Syrah deep red grape and the often hard-to-find wines it yields.

Another article detailed two Napa Valley Cabernet producers’ construction of eco-friendly wineries that utilize Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building standards, with a sidebar on other similar projects.

Aside from this more accessible general interest content, online reviewers criticize Wine Spectator magazine for showcasing a glitzy, high-end, sometimes unattainable lifestyle, while others appreciate living the good life vicariously through its oversized pages.

But Wine Spectator magazine’s 100-point wine rating guide by far generates the most controversy. “The Number” a wine receives can sometimes determine if it will be mildly popular or a runaway success, and some critics say the rating implies an incapable precision of human senses.

Online reviewers echoed similar sentiments, cautioning readers to understand their own tastes before being swayed by Wine Spectator magazine’s often outlandish claims (“Best Red of the Century”) or the high marks it might bestow.

Despite its affluent tone, Wine Spectator’s recommendations are surprisingly not all too pricey, with many in the $20-and-under-per-bottle range.

Still, casual consumers will find a more accessible introduction to wine and food pairings in Food & Wine magazine over Wine Spectator’s cerebral approach to wine alone, which is often delivered in the context of a lifestyle most can only enjoy from the outside looking in.