Category Archives: Food


The Thin Ad Line: Pros and Cons for Food Magazine Advertorial and Content Marketing

foodnetwork_june.jpgAs an admitted cookbook junkie, I tend to err on the side of the more the merrier when it comes to the number of recipes included in my favorite food magazines. But I can’t decide where to draw the line when it comes to advertorials, or what is called content marketing–ads that engage a reader with recipes or coupons with the aim of furthering the reader’s experience through the purchase of a product.

Pro: Quantity, quantity, quantity. Like I said, I love recipes. No matter that I don’t have the time, the need or the waistline for 50 different cookie, pancake or burger variations, I still want the option–and the directions–to make them all.

Con: Obviously, readers turn to food magazines for recipes, and if they’re like me, they prefer getting lost in Food Network Magazine’s creative ideas or Every Day With Rachael Ray’s cooking tips and tricks. But the maze of advertorial and content marketing makes it hard to navigate and determine which recipes are the magazine’s and which are the advertisers’.

What I would consider a hazy or at least muddled advertising-editorial boundary is attributed in part to Food Network Magazine‘s sizzling success with the strategy. I can’t say that I disagree with the effectiveness of the approach, but objectively, the journalist in me has to wonder how far this trend will go. Is this just the apex of a slippery slope for magazine editorial?

bonappetit_june2010.jpgJust recently, Bon Appetit magazine pushed its advertising boundaries a little further by selling the space where it prints its page numbers–what traditionally was considered as editorial space. Blame it on the bad economy, but Kraft was able to purchase ten corner ads in the June 2010 issue. Each features a different dish with the page number in a much larger font size.

Pro: To be honest, I didn’t think the corner ads were that intrusive or confusing–at least not as much as deciphering between recipes in ads and recipes in editorial in some magazines.

Con: In this instance, I can’t shake the seeming abandonment of editorial principles here. This says that editorial space, once sacred ground defended by objectivity, is for sale to the highest and most creative bidder. I realize that ads and advertorials are necessary to fund publishing ventures. But maybe it’s time to reaffirm or reorganize the attitudes toward advertising and editorial, which may be easier said than done in a recession.

Readers already complain about having to sift through too many ads to unearth magazine editorial. Blurring the lines may confuse some into acceptance, while driving others away. What do you think might happen?

My Clipped Recipe Awards: Top Magazines for the Cooking-Challenged

admit it. I’m not the best cook in the world. In fact, I hardly cook at
all. I’ve used my Crock-Pot twice in the past eight years and the last
time I fired up the stove was about three weeks ago–to scramble an
egg. I’ve always been a grab-it-and-go kind of gal. Translation: My kind of meal is anything I can pull out of the refrigerator and unwrap or zap.

Cooking is an area where I find most women’s magazines
intimidating. Oh, I’m just as tempted by the mouth-watering dishes and
luscious confections as the next reader, but one glance at the long
list of ingredients, multiple steps and hours it takes to put it all
together, and my resolve turns to Jell-O. I doubt my attempt could ever
live up.

So when I find a magazine that demystifies cooking and
teaches me how to make tasty meals that are fast, easy and somewhat
healthy too, I say a silent prayer of gratitude. My cooking phobia may
not represent the majority of readers who have women’s magazine
subscriptions, but I’m convinced that there are more of us out there than
most food editors realize. For their recognition of and service to the
cooking-challenged, the following magazines take top honors in my

First Place
Woman’s Day magazine:
For putting the spotlight back on simple but scrumptious combos like
peanut butter sandwiches with sliced strawberries, and mashed potatoes
with pesto; for setting realistic expectations by listing both prep and cooking time; and for noting how much money a dish cooked at home saves compared to the same meal ordered out

Second Place
Ladies’ Home Journal magazine: For
breaking down the basics of baking a pizza and illustrating how to make
different concoctions by switching up the crust, sauce, cheese, veggies
and meat; for explaining the Mediterranean diet by categorizing its eight main food groups and dividing them into recommended portion sizes per day 

Third Place
First for Women magazine:
For suggesting protein-packed meals with minimal ingredients and quick
prep time; for providing tips on how to salvage a disastrous dish; and
for sharing secrets on finding healthy menu items at fast-food

The prize: These publications win my loyal readership and earn my promise to clip their recipes and perhaps even test them in my kitchen.


Rachael Ray vs. Good Housekeeping: Bad Journalism or Something More?

goodhousekeeping_july2010.jpgBy now you may have read that perky celebrity chef Rachael Ray isn’t so thrilled with being a cover girl. Not for any other magazine than her own, that is. So when Good Housekeeping magazine sprung the surprise that she was the face of its July 2010 issue, well, let’s just say she wasn’t so perky anymore.

Critics seem to chalk up Rachael Ray’s blood-boiling reaction to greed or a melodramatic attempt by one or both magazines to spur on some extra sales. Is it possible? Sure, but it sounds as if the skeptical reading public is just building walls to protect themselves from potentially being duped.

At the heart of this debate is the use of unauthorized images and recycled quotes to piece together a “current” Good Housekeeping cover story, which calls up some serious ethical journalistic dilemmas. For one, the images came from a photo shoot specifically done for Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine. And the cobbled together quotes from previous interviews? Let’s just say a college student failed my journalism course for doing the same thing.

Looking at this issue from a marketing perspective, I can fully understand Rachael Ray’s flat-out refusal to be the cover girl for what could be considered a competitor. As the face of her own self-titled magazine every month, she is her brand, and she’s made it quite successful with 1.7 million subscribers per issue to her credit.

So why run the risk of confusing–and perhaps disappointing–fans and would-be readers by plastering her face on anything but her own popular publication? Just think how you’d react if the packaging of your Diet Coke contained another low-calorie soda.

There is another piece to this debate that is more important than marketing and maybe even more sacred than journalism, and that is the seeming abandonment of common courtesy. If Rachael Ray shot down Good Housekeeping’s cover request, why didn’t the ladies’ magazine accept her position and aim a little lower?

A consensual interview with the chef whose name is synonymous with 30-minute meals would have been no less powerful or entertaining if her mug wasn’t the first thing you saw when you picked up the magazine. If Good Housekeeping were really only trying to capture Rachael Ray’s personality and passion for cooking, would it matter whether her face was plastered on the cover?

And if Good Housekeeping weren’t a lifestyle news publication, I could perhaps be a little more forgiving. But because common courtesy, ethics, empathy–whatever you want to call the moral compass directing the coverage–seems to be absent, I’m afraid this is about something much more serious than bad journalism.


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.