Are we really saying goodbye?

summary: Why I am ending our almost 20 year relationship with SAVEUR Magazine;

Warning!! Warning!! Extended ranting and raving ahead… :stomp: I’m taking Mr. Sachs at his word and in my usual long-winded way, am writing down what I think.

SAVEUR Savor a World of Authentic Cuisine My SAVEUR suscription is about to expire; I recently received a letter of reminder from them telling me that it was time to renew.

There are any number of reasons why you might have overlooked renewing your SAVEUR subscription. Perhaps i just slipped your mind. But the fact is your subscription is quickly running out. And whatever the reason, unless you act promptly, you’ll soon be without SAVEUR.
 
-Rich Davis, renewal activation voucher, SAVEUR
 
I’m new here. This is my third issue in the editor’s seat, and while we’re not planning a gut renovation, you might notice a few changes around the place. In the coming months we’ll be tinkering with the recipe a bit, bringing in new voices, refreshing the look and feel fo the brand, and relaunching our website […] Keep in touch and let me know what you think.
 
-Adam Sachs, editor’s note, SAVEUR No.173
 
Why Subscribe to SAVEUR Magazine?
 
SAVEUR is a magazine for people who experience the world food first. Created to satisfy the hunger for genuine information about food in all its contexts, the magazine emphasizes heritage and tradition, home cooking and real food, evoking flavors from around the world (including forgotten pockets of culinary excellence in the United States). It celebrates the cultures and environments in which dishes are created and the people who create them. It serves up rich, satisfying stories that are complex, defining and memorable.
 
In every issue, you’ll:

  • Explore authentic cuisine as you travel east to west, beyond 5-star restaurants to hidden roadside gems.
  • Meet local food experts who open their kitchens and share stories, secrets and family recipes you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Learn tips and techniques from expert chefs who help you recreate their flavors and traditions in your own home.

 
– SAVEUR, Savor a World of Authentic Cuisine

Hmmmm….

Well that certainly used to be the case. In fact, each magazine was so full of enticing new ideas that it took several days to get through the magazine. We did indeed savour virtually every page.

And then we started finding flaws. Was it us? Were we being too demanding? Initially, we thought that was probably the case.

It started with the change in the look of the cover. Suddenly the cover looked just like every other magazine cover on the supermarket rack.

Then it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between actual content and advertisements. Except the advertisement images were often better quality than the magazine’s photos.

Still, the writing held us in thrall. It was articles like Colman Andrews’ article “The Italian Torta” in SAVEUR No.27 that started our love affair with SAVEUR in the first place and then kept us entranced with almost consistently brilliant writing, notably “Hearts and Minds” by Felicia Campbell in No.157. As well as Andrea Nguyen’s poignant memoir “Gifts from a Vietnamese Table” in No.57; Rich Lang’s “Truly a Remarkable Plant” in No.83; Margo True’s “The Pleasures of Strudel” in No.89; “In Deepest Italy” by Francine Prose in No.120; Beth Kracklauer’s article “Season of Plenty: Yunnan’s Mushroom Harvest” in No.140; etc. etc. – all of the articles invariably including one or two excellent recipes as added bonuses.

These were articles that spoke to us, that pulled us deep in to see brief – but not too brief – brilliant glimpses into a world so different (and yet the same) from our own.

When I got to the front and saw the handwritten sign that simply said “$2” and handed over the money, I didn’t look up at the owner of the brown hands that passed me a Styrofoam plate lined with thick, soft, warm flatbread topped with half a chicken. […] I know I’m unlikely to ever see them again, but I still long to thank them for feeding me. With that simple grilled chicken, they nourished my humanity, so often the first casualty of war.
 
– Felicia Campbell, “Hearts and Minds”, SAVEUR No.157
 
On April 23, 1975, a week before the fall of Saigon, my mother filled her handbag with her best jewelry, a couple of photographs, a bottle of water, two packets of dried instant noodles, and an orange notebook containing her handwritten recipes. Then my father locked the door to our house in Saigon for the last time, and we drove silently away.
 
-Andrea Nguyen, “Gifts from a Vietnamese Table”, SAVEUR No.57
 
It’s been almost three years since I first went to Matera [in Basilicata] and fell in love with a pepper. Not just any pepper, but the peperone di Senise, a sweet Italian red pepper with the complicated, smoked-caramel tang of a mild red Mexican chile.
 
Francine Prose, “In Deepest Italy”, SAVEUR no.120

And that’s just the tip of the ice burg!

However, in the last three issues, after the sudden departure of James Oseland as editor-in-chief, SAVEUR has made significant changes. I don’t know if it is entirely due to the new editor-in-chief, Adam Sachs’ influence. But whoever is responsible certainly isn’t interested in keeping people like us on board.

I confess that I didn’t really notice with No.171, “The Saveur 100”. It’s never been my favourite issue anyway. The articles are short; many of them simply seem to be advertisements for restaurants or stores that are far away or too expensive to even contemplate.

It was with No.172 that I saw glaring changes. As usual, I began at the beginning of the magazine and started turning the pages in search of a decent sized article. And there it was {yay!} on page 28, something that looked very promising, Key Ingredients: “The Shape-Shifting All-Purpose Power of Cauliflower” and a wonderful photograph of charred cauliflower. Excited, I read the opening paragraph. And turned the page.

Alas, no. I was wrong. There was no article; there was simply the one paragraph, followed by some recipes. They looked good. But we can get recipes for cauliflower anywhere….

I turned some more pages to see photographs of various dishes with a tiny bit of accompanying text. And more recipes. Then at last! There, on page 55(!), was the lovely long and interesting feature, In Chablis, It’s Called “Rock Juice” by Adam Leith Gollner. This is what I’ve come to expect from SAVEUR!

I decided that even though the magazine was clearly going through some changes, maybe things were okay. Even though someone at SAVEUR foolishly thinks that “Moment” on the back page needs to be changed into “a meal to remember”.

In the past, it would take me several days to savour every page of a SAVEUR issue. Yes, I used to read every page. Even the ads. “Moment” was the place I would reach with a little sigh, gaze at the usually evocative image from days gone by and then riffle back through the magazine to reread favourite parts. Waiting until the next issue arrived in the mail. Which was generally the next day. If it hadn’t already arrived the day before.

Well. I finished No.172 a good two or three weeks before No.173 arrived. I confess that I did not read every word. In spite of the fact that there are so few words. And when No.173 did arrive, I eagerly opened it up. To be disappointed. And annoyed. The first half of the “Spring Issue” is page after page of recipes. Sure, the photos are lovely. The recipes are probably fine. But where are the articles?!

Finally, half way through the magazine, one appeared, “The Food Lover’s Guide to Growing a Garden”.

Or was it an actual article? It looks like a housekeeping magazine article with generic-looking drawings by QuickHoney (not even a person?) and brief, very basic gardening tips aimed at someone who has possibly never stepped foot past a paved footpath in a public garden.

I quickly turned the page. If I couldn’t see it, maybe my disappointment would disappear. The next page looked a little more promising. But, it too turned out to be just a giant photo spread with a few paragraphs of text.

I turned the page and thought I hit paydirt on the next page with a salad article…. Nope. While there are a few recipes, it’s really just a glorified advertisement for expensive table settings.

I started flipping the pages impatiently. Photograph. Recipe. {Flip} Photograph. Recipe {Flip} Photograph. Recipe {Flip} {Flip} {Flip} {Flip} An article appeared about a chef. It was dull as dishwater. I got no sense of how the chef, or the people around him live, no sense of what they thought about, their treasured memories, or the dreams they had. It was merely a report about the kitchens he had created. {Flip} {Flip} {Flip} {Flip}

And suddenly, I was on the last page. Not feeling sated. Not seeing a delightful “moment”. Instead there was “A Meal to Remember” featuring a (granted, wonderful) photo and what should have been the introduction to an actual story in the single paragraph finale entitled “All Night, Wine Filled Pig Roast” by Marcus Nilsson.

My subscription runs out in August. After almost 20 years subscribing to SAVEUR Magazine, it is with many regrets that unless there is a major turn-around in the next couple of months, we have decided not to renew our subscription….

Does anyone know what we should replace it with?

SAVEUR Magazine No.171, 172, 173
The end of an era?

SAVEUR | Savor a World of Authentic Cuisine Grubstreet.com interviewed Adam Sachs to ask him about his plans for SAVEUR magazine.

[O]ver its 20-year history, Saveur has more or less ignored trends and really just done its own thing: telling deep, elegantly written stories about what makes food so meaningful to people all over the world. In a way, it remains a throwback to a different era of food writing.
 
– Adam Sachs, in “Saveur’s New Editor-in-Chief on His Plans for the Storied Magazine” by Alan Sytsma, grubstreet.com, 25 September 2014

Why is this a throwback to a different era? Are subscribers suddenly incapable of reading more than 25 words at a time? Or is it simply too expensive to send writers to various places in the world to do the research?

 

edit 30 March 2015: This post is partially mirrored on SAVEUR’s Facebook page

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  • Barbara M

    I _loathe_ native advertising. It’s evil, evil, evil. I have only dipped occasionally into Saveur, but even I have noticed that there are fewer things that make me think “I wish I could read this a bit longer”.

  • CAM

    I’ve never read Saveur, but I’d love to read the magazine that you used to find in your mailbox! Alas, it sounds as though the new editor has made a conscious decision to try for a different market. From what you describe, I’m suspecting that the magazine must have been losing money as are so many other publications in the internet age, and that the editor has been hired as a last ditch effort to save the magazine from extinction. Of course, this does not endear the “new” magazine to the faithful subscribers who liked it as it used to be. But the editor probably doesn’t care about that demographic as it’s not the group he thinks will save the magazine. The editor needs to see your review — the whole thing.

  • tanna jones

    Good writing is hard to find.

  • GMA

    James Oseland moved over to a new magazine at Rodale called Organic Life. Grub Street did a story about it: http://www.grubstreet.com/2014/10/james-oseland-rodale-interview.html. Sounds like less food but if the content is of the same quality he brought to Saveur I think it will be worth a look.

  • Yes, GMA, I noticed that when I was wandering around on Google. You’re right; it may well be worth a look. But because “Organic Life” is primarily a gardening magazine, it seems likely that the stories about other parts of the world will not be included.

    It was the armchair travelling that SAVEUR used to offer that was most attractive to me.

  • Patricia

    I agree with CAM. He needs to see the whole review. And like CAM, reading your review made me want to read the magazine. I actually picked one up at the supermarket to look at but then remembered what you’d said so I put it down again.

  • I sent a lot of it in email to Adam Sachs. He has not replied….

    I also cc’d the email to SAVEUR’s FB page, with a link going to this post here. Of course, the way that SAVEUR has set up their FB page (and because of FB’s ephemeral nature), the post is no longer readily accessible. But with a little dredging, it is still visible, rather than being deleted:

    https://www.facebook.com/saveurmagazine/posts/10203941619644910

    Our plan is to get the earlier issues out and read those articles. We may see if the library has the first 50 or so issues that came out before we began to subscribe.

  • Mary Scott

    I am so with you. Until last year I had every single issue of Saveur ever published — yes, even the inaugural issue. But no more. Now I glance through it on the news stand and decide it’s not worth the price. Like you I used to read it cover to cover, enjoying the in-depth articles, the research, the cultural and historical connections, the humanity weaved through every longform story — and to be honest, I don’t even cook. But I love the connections we make with and through food. The magazine has changed for the worst — all the great writers seem to be gone. I don’t think there is anything out there to replace it. All that’s left is rereading back copies!

  • Mary Scott

    .. and if you look at the masthead, none of the old staff remain, except Ben Mims, who seems to stick with it through thick and thin — and who can forget that wonderful article he wrote on Southern layer cakes in 2012? I will always remember that story as one of the most moving articles I have ever read in Saveur or elsewhere. I doubt he would be given that kind of space in today’s magazine.

  • I had forgotten about Mims’ wonderful article (thanks for the reminder, Mary!) We have started rereading back issues and once again remarking about what a great magazine this once was. How sad that in its new guise, it seems to be well on the road to oblivion.

    Not all the old articles are available on the internet, but happily, Mims’ Southern layer cake article is (for now): http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Sweet-Southern-Dreams

    Maybe if people buy back issues of SAVEUR and send letters explaining why they are buying the back issues but not the new ones, the editors will come to their senses. Maybe….

  • Exactly! And I have been remiss; I have not yet written an official letter to SAVEUR to say exactly why I cancelled my subscription. (I’ll leave out that one of the reasons was that I feel sure the magazine will fold before a new subscription was finished and I would be out of pocket.)

    “The Art of Eating” has possibilities, even though it’s not the glossy photo essay type of magazine that SAVEUR once was.

    http://artofeating.com/