Brave New World

The illustration opposite is by Paula Castro, it comes from the soon to be published TOAST Magazine.


Whenever food journalists meet socially, the conversation inevitably turns to the state of the press.  Until recently, the talk would follow the same pattern, starting with the change in commissions – shorter articles, younger, less knowledgeable editors, PR-fed stories, lower pay … and often ending gloomily with the conclusion that the printed press was in terminal decline due to the rise of the web and the power of bloggers who worked for free.


In recent months the talk has altered. It ranges from how writing styles have changed to adapt to the new web-led content of newspapers and magazines, to the etiquette of Twitter and Facebook.  Both are deemed essential in the modern world if you want to build your profile.  


Many bloggers have now joined the ranks of journalists, while journalists have taken up blogging.  The web has allowed a new enthusiasm to permeate throw the food world.  Chefs and writers alike are experimenting with supper clubs, food forums and pop-up events.  These can then be written about, instagrammed and tweeted – sending out ideas into ever-wider circles around the world.


However, what I find really exciting is the emergence of new artisan magazines and pamphlets.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but it is stimulated by the pop-up scene and fuelled by the web-access everyone now has to writers, artists, photographers, designers and printers.


In 2013, for example, Jojo Tulloh produced a beautiful, illustrated pamphlet called Aunt Liza Had A Cat Called Squeaker, one hundred years of Elizabeth David.  It is illustrated by Katherine Tulloh and designed and printed by Chicken.  The booklet itself is an article that would never have been given the space in a newspaper or magazine, yet is a wonderful piece of writing.  Jojo Tulloh has captured tiny written and anecdotal fragments of Elizabeth David’s life to bring her alive, before the ‘flattening effect of death’ transforms her into a one-dimensional memory. 


The year before, this new cross-fertilisation of ideas had led to the founding of TOAST by journalist and editor Miranda York and fund-raiser Sarah Chamberlain. Its stated aim was to change the way people think about food.  Initially, this took the form of pop-up events that explored different aspects of food culture, but now they’re widening their remit by launching a new magazine TOAST to celebrate food and ideas.


Food magazines are notoriously difficult to publish. They’re expensive to produce so most publishers aim at the mass market, which is very competitive. All of which leads both publisher and editor to commission and design features that they know will sell, such as Nigella Lawson draped on the cover or a tempting article on how to make gooey cakes. None of this is bad, but it is limiting, and many food writers long to write in depth on subjects they think their readership will find equally interesting.


TOAST has cleverly got round the first two problems.  First, they’re only going to publish once a year and second, they are self-publishing through crowd funding.  This allows them to create a magazine that is intended to be a work of art in its own right, as tactile and beautiful as a book. It also ensures an immediate readership, who want what they’re producing.  This independence allows them to commission work by chefs and writers such as Jeremy Lee, Bee Wilson and Marina O’Loughlin, with the express intention of letting them voice their opinions.  It also allows them to showcase the work of artists, illustrators and photographers to create an exciting new forum. I should add, that I too am a contributor, so obviously I am biased, but I am not someone to add my name to something I don’t believe in.


Perhaps we are seeing the dawn of a brave new world, where printed works are once more treasured.  After all, the written word on the web is as ephemeral as the morning dew.

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 Illustration © Paula Castro 2014