As eating habits change, so do the magazines that nourish our appetites.
The Gastronomica Reader
University of California Press
$39.95 List Price
Gourmet, as anyone with even the vaguest interest in food knows, is gone. That this is cause for sober reflection practically goes without saying. It was a cornerstone of the food-writing world, one that nurtured adventurous cooks long before most people in America knew what an artichoke was. Fortunately, the magazine met its demise at a time when there are more alternatives than its first readers in 1941 could ever have imagined. Among them is Gastronomica, launched in 2001, conceived expressly to be “edgy, hoping to make its readers think about what lies behind the meal.”
For those of us who don’t have the patience to wade through every issue in search of provocation, now there is The Gastronomica Reader (University of California Press, $40). This collection of forty-two pieces from the magazine’s pages delights in manners ranging from the poetic to the political. My favorite essay is Andrew Coe’s “The Egg Cream Racket,” from the summer 2004 issue. It isn’t just about egg creams, of course, though it does provide a satisfying explanation for why a drink with neither eggs nor cream is so named (hint: It has nothing to do with content, everything to do with context). It’s about New York City racketeering in the 1920s and ’30s and Tammany Hall; it’s about class and ethnicity; it’s about hipsters reviving abandoned neighborhoods and traditions; it is, if only momentarily, about a guy named Isidore Trachtenberg. Coe also includes a pitch-perfect description of the progression of flavors an egg cream leaves in your mouth, beginning with a “richness of chocolate” and ending with