Conde Nast has got me pegged. I’ve been a subscriber to Gourmet Magazine on and off for the last twenty years. Vogue is the only fashion rag I’ll actually spend money on. And if I had the time, I’d read Wired and The New Yorker cover to cover. Most other magazines are far more worthy of my recycling bin than my attention.

Yet Conde Nast (publisher of all my faves) has recently decided that Gourmet is no longer worthy of their funding. This, after Gourmet reemerged from butterfat and beef Bourguignon about five years ago with a shockingly relevant change in direction.

Among its new offerings, a more locovorish approach that embraces vegetarian cuisine and ethnic eating without missing a beat on guilty pleasure standbys like Jane and Michael Stern’s RoadFood column.

Better yet, this modernized Gourmet magazine now openly trades in health and politics. In fact, I don’t think I ever read a piece as pitch-perfect as Daniel Zwerdling’s Politics of the Plate entry on chicken slaughter. It inspired me to re-read Sinclair’s The Jungle and moved me to write more of my own slaughter-themed novel. How many publishers can lay claim to the kind of intelligent, thoughtful writing Gourmet now serves up?

Maybe now you’re starting to understand why a veterinarian might care about a recipe-riddled rag strewn with food porn.

For me, food is at the intersection of all my interests. Feeding my family, reveling in the craft and creativity of cookery, pondering cross-cultural complexities, raising vegetables and bringing forth animal proteins with one’s hands, they’re all represented reverently within Gourmet’s pages. Yet for all the foodie religiosity, neither the photos nor the writing treats food too preciously. Which is as it should be.

That’s why I’ve been in mourning since I caught wind of Monday’s announcement. We need more publications like this one, not fewer.

After all, it’s how I learned to cook. In the absence of a mentor or a grandmotherly presence in the kitchen, Gourmet has been my guide through the years. It’s to its well-rounded guidance that I attribute my respect for food in all its forms...especially for meats, which I once feared to cook, thinking I’d never do them justice.

That’s why I can’t help but think that if more of society was able to view food through Gourmet’s lens, a greater respect for animals––whether on the dinner plate or on the hoof––would doubtless result.

Take last night’s stew, based on a recipe for countrified lamb shanks sourced from this month’s issue: As I deboned the lamb’s leg, chopped it into imperfect chunks and browned them in olive oil, I took my sweet time getting them just right. After all, this little animal deserved nothing less than the kind of attention Gourmet’s guest chef had specified.

Later, as I let them simmer in the heady, Bourbon-spiked sauce, I had to wonder: In the absence of a supermarket checkout publication like this one, how will other generations manage it? How will they learn?

Ultimately, I decided, it’s not so much about me and mine. Rather, it’s more to do with what happens to animals like this one on my stovetop. Without a cultural touchstone like Gourmet to guide an appreciation for their service, how will they fare?


In advance of next week's National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, this week's USA Today column is on pet obesity. Enjoy.