I am fortunate to be part of a vibrant Google group (that has since spun off into an excellent Substack), where weekly conversations can run the gamut from intense national security discussions to analyzing Taylor Swift’s latest album. Several years ago, someone in the group asked for recommendations for a solid cooking magazine, and many folks (myself included) chimed in with a vote for Bon Appetit.
You can tell the BA writers really love to cook, and they want you to love it, too, was an apt description of the mag offered by one group member, to which I heartily agreed. How could I not? As an avid home cook and a loyal BA subscriber, who eagerly awaited the monthly arrival of each new issue to my mailbox, I relished reading it cover to cover, and gaining inspiration for new dishes to share with family and friends.
I can’t remember when that BA recommendation conversation took place, but it had to be pre-2020, a year notable (to my mind, and undoubtedly the minds of other avid home cooks) not only for the pandemic, but as the “Year That Bon Appetit Imploded.” At the end of last year, as I finally pulled the trigger and canceled my annual auto-renewal for 2023, I thought ruefully of that conversation and of the magazine BA had once been. But I had to admit it: after dozens of issues of idly flipping through the “new Bon Appetit,” as they tried to rebrand what is now a woke rag, only ostensibly related to cooking, I couldn’t stomach giving money to a “cooking” magazine that is more devoted to promoting LGBT awareness than teaching readers about delicious food.
A January 2022 article titled “Over Fried Fish, I Said Goodbye to My Wife — And to a Version of Myself” confirmed that year would be my last one as a subscriber. It was a meandering, self-indulgent essay from a trans-identifying man who’d “discovered” he was really a woman after living in Uganda with his wife, while she chronicled the LGBT movement there for her doctoral research.
The article had nothing to do with food, except for the description of the couple’s final meal together — a Ugandan fried fish dish — during which he informed his wife he’d be leaving her to live his new life as a “woman,” a decision with which, I think, we were meant to sympathize. At any rate, the author thoughtfully tacked on a recipe for the dish, so readers could recreate the meal at which he broke his wife’s heart in their own home.
Later that year, for the June “Pride” edition (which was truly indistinguishable from the other editions), the magazine featured an article titled “I Realized I Was Trans While Making Cheese” and a recipe for “Big Queer Cold Noodles.” Yum?
Exotic Recipes with Hard-to-Find Ingredients (That You’re Not Allowed to Make Anyway Because You’re White)
On that note, it isn’t simply these new, bizarre essays that make BA unreadable, but that the tenor of the recipes has changed, too. Laser-focused as Dawn Davis, the new editor, seems to be on promoting “intersectionality” and avoiding cultural appropriation, the only recipes that make the cut are hyper-authentic, traditional, cultural recipes that require a laundry list of exotic ingredients that the average home cook likely does not have in her pantry or refrigerator.
As someone who experiments with all sorts of cuisines, even I balked at the thought of a dedicated trip to H Mart for an additional five ingredients to make a single dish. Now that I live in rural Texas, there’s nowhere within a 30-minute drive to get many of those ingredients.
Where old Bon Appetit featured approachable, slightly anglicized riffs on a cultural dish, or highlighted ways to incorporate a new-to-you ingredient or technique into favorite recipes, “new BA” demands strict cultural homogeneity for each dish, made with all of the most authentic ingredients, lest you (gasp!) stray into appropriation territory (never mind that the synthesis of ingredients and techniques across time and cultures has made food vastly more delicious).
On that note, the recipe had better come from someone who grew up eating it, too, which means that talented BA recipe writers have been pigeonholed into writing recipes from their countries of origin — not a bad gig if you can get it, but pretty darn limiting nevertheless.
I’m Not the Only One Who Realized BA Isn’t Written for Me Anymore
In researching prevailing opinions about the new BA, I found a conversation on Reddit about whether Bon Appetit is “worth it,” (especially as their website is now paywalled) that sums up what BA has become: “It seems like Bon Appetit has decided to market to a worldwide upper-middle class multicultural cooking market (are you a Nigerian-immigrant family Harvard educated surgeon who likes to cook?)”
In other words, if you’re not a woke, elitist member of the BIPOC LGBT so-called community, Bon Appetit is no longer made for you. Subscription, canceled.
But I’m happy to report that all is not lost in the cooking magazine world — at least, not for those of us who are still looking for all the things BA used to be. I’ve learned through a recent subscription to Food and Wine that the genre still has something to offer. The most recent edition featured exactly the kinds of things that I’d loved about Bon Appetit: a fun and delicious-sounding chocolate cake recipe based on a dish from a popular show (FX’s “The Bear”), various iterations of omelets from around the world and how to make them, a primer on all the different kinds of pepper (with approachable recipes that best highlight each one), a feature on good, affordable whiskeys, and more.
As salty as I still am over BA, I surprised myself by reading my new copy of Food and Wine cover to cover, comforted that all was not lost in the food magazine world (and I earmarked that chocolate cake recipe for use after Lent is over).
If you, too, are looking for something to fill in for Bon Appetit, here are a few other suggestions: Friends have also long raved to me about the old standby Cook’s Illustrated (by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen), and I’ve also heard good things about America’s Test Kitchen founder Christopher Kimball’s recent spinoff, Milk Street Magazine. The King Arthur Baking Company has great online content for those who like their baking woke-free (although I’ve never flipped through a copy of their magazine Sift). Garden and Gun, while not strictly a food magazine, has excellent food-related content.
With inflation soaring and budgets tighter than ever before, consumers deserve to get their money’s worth on nonessentials like cooking magazines. Do yourself and your wallet a favor, and put your money towards a food magazine that’s actually about, well — food.