Food magazines are a mainstay of the publishing industry— whether they’re filled with handy recipes and gorgeous photography, or something a little more unusual, there’s a huge appetite for rendering food and drink in ink on paper. But why do we love them so much?
I think the universality of food plays a part— we all need to eat and drink, and most of us enjoy it most of the time, so that gives a solid foundation for publishers to build upon. But more than that, food gives us a way to talk about ourselves, while apparently talking about something else.
Flicking through the magazines below reveals all sorts of personal food and drink recollections; whether it’s childhood memories of standing by a grandmother’s side while she cooks, or recalling an amazing meal out with friends, food slices through to the core of human experience and communicates something essential about who we are. Of course these magazines are all very different from each other and set about their task in very different ways, but they all go beyond simply writing about food and drink to touch something a bit deeper than their readers’ stomachs.
Swill — Sydney, Australia
This big, beautiful magazine from Sydney landed on my desk at the start of the year, and when I first wrote about it for the Stack blog I focused on the sense of fun that jumps off its pages. It reads like it was created by a bunch of friends who had an amazing time making it, and I totally want to be the sort of person who would hang out with them in one of their bars or restaurants. (I am aware that’s probably not my life, but that just makes the vicarious taste of it all the more intoxicating.) Take a look at that previous post to see some of Swill’s sample editorial pages, because for this short mention I want to focus on its adverts. I don’t think I’ve ever written about liking a magazine’s adverts before, but the group of brands that Swill has gathered around this first issue do a brilliant job of accentuating that feeling of being part of the club. I’ve never heard of most of them before, but I genuinely want to try The Grifter Brewing Co’s ‘Exquisite Piss,’ or drop into P&V Wine + Liquor. Swill is selling a very specific Australian lifestyle, and I want a piece of it.
Sandwich — London, England
A magazine dedicated to the art of putting tasty things between slices of bread, each issue of Sandwich takes a theme that allows it to expand beyond lunchtime basics. The latest issue is themed ‘Leftovers’, and it was perfectly timed to come out in time for Christmas last year, featuring chef and food writer Gizzi Erskine photographed on the cover with her “Muffuletta-style” sandwich. An entire loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with gorgeous-looking Christmas dinner leftovers, it’s a towering, oozing, slab of a sandwich that looks as delicious as it is impossible to eat. Elsewhere in the issue the theme is broadened out to include economist Ha-Joon Chang explaining why Singapore is the economic equivalent of a leftovers sandwich; chef Tom Kerridge picking his football team of Christmas leftovers; and photographer Matt Hass reporting from London’s massive Padworth IVC waste food processing plant. (The smell was apparently so bad, and so persistent, that he had to shave off his mustache afterwards.)
Cake Zine — New York, NY
A clever, playful magazine that uses cake as a way to explore some of our baser instincts, Cake launched in Spring 2022 and was an instant sensation, selling out in two weeks and picking up mainstream coverage in places like Vogue and Vanity Fair. That first issue was themed ‘Sexy Cake,’ and it was followed by Wicked Cake, released just in time for Halloween. I gobbled it up in one sitting, totally absorbed by stories that skip from Inside Sylvia Plath’s Oven, to baking with pig’s blood, to the surprising history of murder by cake. There’s also a short but very beautiful photo story featuring Very Wicked Cakes, which boast names like ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Spirit Summoner’ (served on a ouija board, of course.) The next issue sounds like it will see a change of tone, and a shift in baked goods, away from cakes and onto the Humble Pie issue. I can’t wait.
Farta — Porto, Portugal
Not so much a food magazine as a passionate love letter to Portuguese culture, one dish at a time, Farta dedicates each entire issue to a single menu item. Issue one explores the ‘francesinha,’ the obscure and completely mouth-watering sandwich created in Porto in 1952, and which is now served in many variations across the entire country. The classic francesinha is apparently adapted from the croque monsieur, with a filling of roast beef, pork sausage and linguiça (a sort of chorizo), covered in cheese and hot sauce. These days it’s common to also add an egg and fries, and I loved reading the individual accounts of cooks who proudly stand by their own unique constructions, created according to traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Part of the joy of this magazine is the deep respect it pays to a humble dish served in bars and cafes across Portugal, but which remains virtually unknown outside its home country. Issue two will devote the same lavish attention to the more famous Portuguese export of peri-peri chicken, and it will be interesting to see the difference that international reputation will make.
Guzzle — Dublin, Ireland
A new Irish food title, this first issue of Guzzle is themed ‘Mementoes of Food’, and it asks its contributors, “to relate their food memories while thinking about the significance of eating on both happy and sad occasions.” It leans into its Irishness, with contributions like Lara Hanlon’s memories of living in New York and being unable to find potatoes that lived up to, “the fluffy, golden Irish spud.” Or Ian Ryan’s review of A Pint of Guinness in Crouch End on a Sunny Monday Afternoon, for which he visited McCafferty’s, finding the beer, “solid and creamy throughout with a solidly domed head”. But of course there’s lots more on offer here too, including milky tea, toasties, burrata, and Ode to an Onion, and I particularly enjoyed Irish-Brazilian artist Rudy De Souza’s photography, including the cover photo of a bag of shopping turned into an impromptu still life.
Food& —Berlin, Germany
Always reliably the strangest food magazine on the shelves, Food& also turns to themes to give its issues direction, smashing food into weird pairings like Food& Aliens, Food& Bathrooms, and Food& Gravity. The latest one is Food& Spectacle, which takes big bites of philosophy and critical theory and chews them up to turn them into wider reflections on food. So for example we get Freshness as Spectacle, in which the apparent freshness of food and its provenance can be used to illuminate inequality around the world. Or there’s an essay on food for the eyes, and the significance of preparing food that looks good rather than tasting good. And since this is Food&, there’s also a load of other stuff that seems much less rational and harder to understand, but which has all apparently been incited by the spectacular theme.
Kitchen Table — Portland, OR
Reflecting cutting-edge food culture across the US and beyond, Kitchen Table is all about the people, ingredients, traditions and innovations that are shaping the way people eat. The fifth issue is the first one I’ve seen, but its theme of ‘Roots’ seems to fit the magazine perfectly, allowing it to dig deep into personal and culinary histories, like the story of Rodrigo Huerta and Mary Hatz, who serve fresh Mexican food from their truck Comida Kin. The article details how the two of them met; how they moved together to Portland and started cooking together; how they bought their truck in 2019; and how they’re now using it to help foster community across Washington County. It’s just one story of many in the magazine that emphasises the importance of the relationships that grow up around food, and the many ways in which producing, cooking and eating food is about much more than physical sustenance.
Midnite Snack — Los Angeles, CA
Displaying the most wide-ranging editorial approach in this selection of magazines, Midnite Snack is equally at home with a sexy shoot showing a deconstructed meringue, or a nostalgic trip back to see grandparents in Ukraine that remembers long summers filled with fresh food and hearty feasts. This second issue is loosely themed ‘Multi-Use,’ which allows the team to consider the different ways we experience food, or as editor-in-chief Lyudmila Zotova puts it in her introductory note, the magazine itself is intended to be multi-use: “A companion when you’re lonely; a quick thrill when you flip through and gaze at the photos and illustrations; a deep text when you spend some time with the essays and interviews; a reference and a tool when you cook its recipes.”
Eaten — Cambridge, England
A magazine of food history, each issue of Eaten takes a different theme as a way of digging down into subjects like ‘Salty’, ‘Processed’, and ‘Breakfast’. The latest one focuses on ‘Spicy’, with stories on the fieriness of chilis, and the British origins of curry powder, but my favorite article in the magazine considers the history of paprika and includes the theory that, “the entirety of Dracula is just an elaborate nightmare caused by a British person tasting one (1) spice”. The theory revolves around Jonathan Harker arriving in Transylvania and eating a spicy chicken dish before falling into, “a restless sleep full of ‘queer dreams’ that he blames on the spiciness of the meal.” Of course the theory doesn’t do much to elaborate on Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, but it’s full of fascinating reflections on the creation of paprika and its uses over the years. One of my favorite things about Eaten is its use of vintage illustrations and artworks throughout, with collaged photographs, paintings, drawings and etchings used alongside its historical musings.
This article was originally published by Stack, the organization that searches out the world’s best independent magazines and delivers them to thousands of readers around the world every month.
Do you love independent magazines? Sign up for Stack’s subscription and they’ll deliver a surprise title to your door every month from just £8 / €15 / $17.