Bad Timing on Book Covers, in More Ways Than One

 Books
Nov 172010
 

Meat cookbooks are all the rage this holiday season. As I perused the latest cookbooks in the Kitchen Arts & Letters newsletter, I saw Falling Off the Bone; Primal Cuts; The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing and Sausage Making; and Cured.

Also included were these two books, with almost identical cover themes:

Yep, art directors at Ten Speed (Meat) and Stewart, Tabori & Chang (Good Meat) had the same idea: Raw T-bone steaks. While Good Meat is about sourcing and enjoying sustainable meat  (hence the “Good” in the title), they still look similar, coming out within a month of each other.

I called Kitchen Arts & Letters to discuss more, but got a busy signal. So I called Omnivore Books, where I left a voicemail that owner Celia Sacks returned promptly (KA&L, take note). She said the covers reminded her of the hugely successful River Cottage Meat Book, now three years old. It was her best-selling book when she opened the bookstore two years ago.

Her California cookbook store isn’t selling many of these meat-centric books, though. “I kind of think this the last gasp for those books,” she said. “I’m noticing a really big drop-off in sales of nose-to-tail and meat books.”

So what are people buying? “Vegetables are where people are going. The vegetable shelves are so picked over.” Sacks has advance orders for the forthcoming American version of Nigel Slater’s vegetable book Tender, due in the spring from Ten Speed. She’s already sold 30 copies of the British version at $60 each.

“Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman are saying to eat less meat, and I think their words are finally having an impact,” she concluded.

What do you think? Is the meat craze (including bacon) ending anytime soon?

Share Button

  56 Responses to “Bad Timing on Book Covers, in More Ways Than One”

  1. Frankly, from your mouth (or fingers) to G-d’s ears. I’m getting very tired of having to ask if there’s pork or bacon in the most prosaic foods. Even chocolate and ice cream. Chefs and cookbook authors need to return to reality. Portraying “nose to tail” as romantic eating is a farce and construct of marketing. People ate entrails because they couldn’t afford meat, not because they’re so delectable. Trying to make eating them fashionable and therefore being able to charge ridiculous prices for them in restaurants, is outrageous. I believe it’s no accident that “offal” is pronounced “awful”. I, for one, will be delighted to see this fad pass.

    • It has gotten a little out of control, hasn’t it? Bacon in everything.

      I’m not sure nose-to-tail eating is just romantic. It’s practical, and wasteful to do otherwise. I’m also not sure humans have to eat it all. Isn’t a lot of it made into pet food?

      • Exactly. Which ties into another marketing ploy, the gourmet/upscale pet food industry. People see the words “meat by-products” on the pet food label and don’t understand that it means, essentially, offal. That’s a government labeling rule. And it’s perfectly healthy meat. For pets. But we tend to anthropomorphize our pets & the upscale pet food industry knows that people like to see certain words. But that’s another tangent. :-)

        I’m simply saying that it’s perfectly fine if restaurants want to put it on their menus. It’s quite another thing to charge more than steak prices and call it haute cuisine – especially when these same places wouldn’t have even considered serving such things, even 5 years ago.

        • Funny. It does seem odd to charge too much. Maybe there’s a rational explanation. ex. hard to get, organic grass fed, etc. Maybe?

    • Oh boy, you both have me sitting here giggling at my computer. Brilliantly put!

  2. I’m noticing more articles about using meats as flavoring agents for dishes rather than the center of the meal.

    I can’t wait to read more vegetable centric books that really celebrate the flavors, not simply use them as meat substitutes.

  3. Well, it’s good news to the folks I know writing veggie books right now!

    I wonder how much these books talk about sourcing of meats as well. Maybe local guides on that would be more useful?

    • Agreed. I’m sure the Good Meat one talks about sourcing. But if you’re a locavore, you probably can find your own sources of organic, grass fed, etc. nearby.

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chef John, Dianne Jacob. Dianne Jacob said: Is the meat craze over for cookbooks? New post @ http://bit.ly/bUagiM [...]

  5. I think this shows that one should not chase trends and expect to be in it for the long haul. Fads come and go and while those things will initially have an audience, writing a single-subject book that will have value after the initial cycle of excitement has passed, such as a valuable reference book on the topic (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Cake Bible, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, How to Bake, etc), will always be of value to readers.

    The River Cottage Meat Book is an extraordinary book, well-written and researched, and James Peterson writes books that aren’t just trendy but books that people keep in their kitchens as reference materials. Vegetables are ‘back’ and there are some classic books on vegetarian and vegetable cookery that will get another look and a second life no doubt because they were great books (and weren’t just chasing the next big thing) but continue to be useful.

    • Good point, David. Reference books will always have a well-earned place on our bookshelves. (Peterson did his encyclopedic guide to vegetables years ago). I don’t think he or Fearnley-Whittingstall would ever consider what they do to be fads.

  6. What I find funny is that here in France (as far as I can see when I hang out at the cookbook section of any one of our bookstores or flip through any number of cooking magazines) – a country where meat is so much a part of their culinary culture – there is a lot less focus on meat in and of itself. I have seen very few books soley dedicated to meat accept a couple written by experts who are known for meat or books that put meat into a cultural or traditional context. Yes there are some, but they are greatly outweighed by all of the “Cooking without Meat” books. Am I simply out of the loop, do I just not see what doesn’t really interest me or is it the anglo-American food cultures that tend to glorify one food (trend) after another rather than making it as one of a whole? And as for bacon, well, I am not adverse to eating a slice here and there but I feel like the whole craze got out of hand ages ago. And as for the 3 book covers you show above, I find only one really striking and tempting enough to make me want to pick up and look through the book. Ah, the magic of food stylists! Thanks for this very interesting (and fun) post, Dianne!

    • Which one do you like, Jamie? You didn’t say.

      Meat is a part of our culinary culture too, just as it is in France. Are you saying that Americans have these crazy cycles of food glorification but France does not? If not, I wonder why.

      • Well, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to say which one I liked but I the cover of the Good Meat book which is fabulous and may be the only one I would open up and look into based on the cover. Well-balanced and striking.

        Crazy food cycles of glorification? Ha that’s a wonderful way of putting it. Maybe I am wrong (and David can correct me if I am wrong) but it seems that the French, although they do go through food crazes, they seem to be a lot less crazy and faddish, more linked to their cultural traditions and the artisanal quality of the food business. Now we are seeing more cookbooks based on vegetables and more and more people are pushing organic, but it just seems that in Europe it never quite reaches the craze/fad/cult phase that it seems to do in the US. Except, maybe, for macarons!

      • Well, the more I think about it the more I’d like to add a slight correction. We have been seeing certain fads here – great chefs cooking only vegetarian dishes, for example (think Alain Passard), which seems to have started a wave among mostly younger chefs, and the whole exotic spice thing (Olivier Roellinger) – but although this seems to have an affect in the culinary world it never seems to get to the fad stage, it seems more just to get others to start thinking about the subject and integrating it into their own cuisine. I am guessing that this could simply be because we are a much smaller country (less chefs, less restaurants, less cookbooks) or could it be that because a country like France has a culinary tradition that goes back much farther and much deeper than American food culture any “fad” or new discovery just has that natural tendency to become integrated into the food culture rather than becoming a food culture in and of itself?

        • Or maybe chefs in the US and France keep track of what each other is doing and now they are focusing on vegetables more?

  7. All I can say is that as a vegetarian, I’m happy to see that there will be more cookbooks about vegetables out there. :)

    Seriously though, I buy cookbooks that I want to keep on my shelf. These kind are those that are well written and have recipes I want to try out, not because they’re the latest trend.

  8. I eat red meat maybe once every two weeks if that, so it’s vegetable cookbooks I’m looking at. I LOVE Mark Bittman’s take on everything. The Brits do wonderful things to veggie dishes and the French are catching up with their designer fast food joints IMHO.
    Here = zero. it’s still soooo heavy.
    I wish I could find a cookbook on Fr veg dishes in English!!!

    • Like you, Carol, millions of people love Mark Bittman’s take on everything. I think it’s fantastic that he uses it to push the boundaries, ex. declaring himself to be a vegan until dinnertime.

  9. I think true nose to tail eating with its philosophy of not being wasteful and respecting the animal by using all its parts has been adopted by very few. The rest of the population has just enjoyed continuing to eat more and more meat (packaged in styrofoam and plastic) in general. And, the bacon crutch in attracting viewers, diners, readers, kills me. I’m thrilled to hear vegetable-focused books are getting more attention!

    • The bacon crutch is getting old. We are moving on now to charcuterie, offal, etc. Or maybe that’s a class thing? Funny that here the “Naughty Bits” are for fine dining, whereas in the rest of the world it’s a necessity.

  10. While my boyfriend would love a cookbook dedicated entirely to bacon, I would not be a fan. However, I think general cookbook sales will be down this year anyway. There internet gives such great access to recipes and reviews, cookbooks are more of a novelty these days unless they have a specific angle.

    • Novelty, reference, gimmick, tome — publishers don’t care what it’s called, as long as it sells. It’s been a tough few years for them.

  11. Whoa, Nellie let’s not take info from one boho-nabe cookbook store and project that on the general public, even here in SF.

    As a restaurant reviewer and writer, I know that steakhouses are the fastest growing concept in the country. It’s number one.

    Better, you should check with several cookbook stores or at least call back the one with the busy signal.

    That’s Journo 101.

    • Yeah, but a blog is not a newspaper or magazine. If I was writing a piece for either, I’d do much more reporting — or I’d have my head handed to me.

      For my own blog, I’m more interested in starting a conversation, and that’s definitely not part of Journalism 101. At least it wasn’t when I went to school.

    • GraceAnn,

      I’m pretty entertained about the title “boho-nabe cookbook store”. But, I would argue that the bookstore actually has some good weight with statistics of cookbook sales. There are a handful of cookbook stores across the country, but the sales at Omnivore attract the cookbook publishers to send their best authors. In the past month, the bookstore has had events with Madhur Jaffrey, Diana Kennedy, the boys from Baked Amanda Hesser of the New York Times, and Rene Redzepi – chef at Noma (the best restaurant in the world).

      As far as the one with the busy signal, it’s Omnivore. It was one of the best business decisions Celia ever made, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think about it first. And her reach is far and wide – she also has a deal with Williams Sonoma across the country consulting on cookbooks and vintage cookbooks. And Journo-101? Omnivore was featured in the NYTimes a few months ago. I sent the clip to my Grandmother.

    • I’m with you GraceAnn – meat isn’t going anywhere, although maybe putting it everywhere, as in bacon ice cream, could stand to be on the wane.

      This reminds me of when, years ago when I worked in advertising, one of the agency’s clients, a fast food company, saw their competition putting in salad bars. The client freaked out, thinking they needed to, at the least, respond in kind and, at the most, abandon their burger-centric format. The agency did a little research and realized that having the salads made people feel better about the place, but burger orders weren’t going down.

      I’ve heard similar stories about the ice cream business – that in the 80s and 90s, when no- and low-fat products proliferated, so did sales of premium ice cream. Partaking of one justified partaking of the other.

      Similarly, I think we all like the idea of eating more vegetables, and some of us do, but those veggies are also a good way to rationalize eating more, and better, meat., an (At least for the omnivores.)

      • It’s true, isn’t it, that for every trend there seems to be a counter trend. Pork belly vs. raw food. Steak vs. vegan. Cupcakes vs.. hmm. KFC’s grilled chicken vs. KFC’s Double Down.

  12. If you’re a restaurant that serves a lot of meat, nose-to-tail cooking is appropriate to be “sustainable” with the meat you purchase (and I use that term in quotes, b/c some people don’t think livestock farming is sustainable PERIOD). But if you’re a home cook, there’s no real reason why you need to continually eat tons of meat all the time. Although, some people, like myself, just buy books to collect. (I have “Primal Cuts”.) Also, that book featured butchers across America, including one in Seattle who I know. So… it’s a very interesting book!

    Okay, so who is Kitchen Arts & Letters (for us who don’t live in the Bay Area)? Is that a publisher? A book store? Curious why you were dissing them for not calling back right away.

    My PERSONAL trend this year has been to buy more veggie/vegan books. Although, I’m fascinated with butchery, and I like to eat meat, so I’m not letting go of meat. I just want to incorporate more veggies and a healthier overall diet.

    I’m sick of bacon.

    • Publishers are counting on people who buy books to collect them, not just to cook from them. How many of us have books we’ve never cooked from? I have dozens.

      Kitchen Arts & Letters (you could have clicked on the link!) is a beloved, 25-year old bookstore in New York specializing in cookbooks for not just consumers but chefs and academics. They import books from all over the world and sell out-of-print and rare books. Anyone can subscribe to the newsletter.

      This place is a little old fashioned. They close for vacation (I excel at being in NY at exactly that time) and they actually have a busy signal instead of voicemail (a proven technology from the 1980s!).

      I was being snarky in my post, and they don’t deserve it. When the first edition of Will Write for Food came out, KA&L’s owner, Nach Waxman, took me across the street for a bagel and tea. He was so kind. I will never forget it.

  13. Meat craze is losing its steam…..Yeah it happens. But I welcomed those books with open arms. I think its great that the public has access to some very very good information from people in the food industry. But like many fads the bubble will eventually burst. Not long before Meat was the cupcake fad. I think there were cupcakes everywhere once. Lately its been superstar butchers where its super hip(ster) to hack up an animal from a sustainable farm. In some ways I see a bunch of overpriced butcher classes/apprenticeships and mark up in meat products. But that’ll probably lose some steam later on. The craze about pork belly and bacon. GEEEZ. I didn’t realize I ate it so much of it growing up I never found out til now with the obsession about pork belly. Granted everyone pays a premium for loins and rib steaks it educates people that there is more to a pig then just a rib chop. I just hope they don’t start hiking up prices for pork belly because its popular. Thank god for Chinatown.

    As for veggies. I think its great. But I read an article in NY mag talking about Veggie being the new Meat. How people were paying $45 a lb for special Mesclun and a $250 dollar veggie tasting menu at Per Se. Honestly that’s just highway robbery and leaving you naked on the side of the road.

    Eventually everything will balance out. I just hope people as a whole adopt sustainable practices rather then just niche snobbery foodie practices that only rich people can afford. Good food should be for the masses. Veggies should be abundant and diverse. Meat should be included but probably treated more as a specialty food not just a commodity. Everyone would probably be happier and healthier and we’d have tastier more nutritional food.

    • I like your perspective. Very balanced. What is it about Americans that we are so fad based about hipster butchers and pork belly?

      Re $250 for a veggie tasting menu, wow. I assume the cost of the veggies is the least of the problem. The one time I dined at French Laundry there were 33 executive chefs in the kitchen.

  14. I’m sorry, but a hunk of raw meat slapped on the front cover of a cookbook, just doesn’t get my juices flowing. But, give me a white plate filled to the brim with a mountain of roasted carrots, glistening with olive oil, and I’m game. I wonder if guys see things differently? Raw meat for them may conjure up visions of swirling smoke filled air, and a spitting, sizzeling barbecue. It must be guy thing.

    • Yeah, it doesn’t do it for me either, but that’s what makes the world go round. I had dinner with a friend the other night, an accomplished cook, who said that when his wife is out of town he eats a steak for dinner every night.

  15. One thing I find interesting is that they changed the cover from the River Cottage UK version – Hugh holding a rack of meat and walking into a cottage door in the UK, to the big, raw hunk-o-beef on the cover of the one put out in the States.

    I’m actually not sure I totally agree with Celia on this one – sure there are several big meat books that seem to have all come out this year and aren’t selling as well as River cottage – but we easily sold out of Primal Cuts, and regularly sell copies of Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. I think it’s a quality issue rather than a trend issue.

    It certainly is true that vegetables are coming to the forefront – I hear that Jeremy Fox is writing the tome of the century. Not sure how it’s going to compete with Tender though :)

    • How lovely to have a second salesperson at Omnivore writing in, Samantha. I love your comment about the former cover. I guess we Americans need to see just a hunk of meat, with no context? It must have worked, since the book sold brilliantly here.

      Charcuterie is a little different — a micro trend under the meat trend, like pork belly. And butchers are hip, which might help explain the success of Primal Cuts.

      Re Jeremy Fox…really? He was working on a book at Ubuntu, which is still going forward with co-writter Jennie Schacht, as far as I know.

  16. FYI grass-fed beef loses in all taste tests against mainstream prime. It tastes metalic and has a higher water content, making it mostly unsuitable for grilling. Any savvy chef,, who knows meat will tell you that.

    FYI all beef is grass fed, but prime is grain finished.

  17. Dianne –

    It looks as if there are at least two conversations streaming here. And I think that might be an indicator for what is happening in the world of cookbooks and cooking and eating. Perhaps the sale of books dealing with meat is slowing down because the price of the commodity is going up and cooks can’t afford to buy it as much as they once did. Or they are beginning to use it in different ways – such as mentioned above for flavor rather than bulk. Economics enters into all aspects of this from the subject of manuscripts accepted for publication to the numbers of books actually purchased. And with the holiday season upon us already, gift-givers (is that another one of “those” words?) may be looking for the newest fad instead of the classics. Vegetarian Volumes? Seafood Specialties? Poultry Publications? Has cookbook writing become another fad-chasing profession or does it reflect the interests of the author and his audience? The customer isn’t always right, but he does determine whether the bus has any riders.

    Karen

    • I’d say the cookbook industry is guilty of both, Karen: embracing fads and publishing reference works and classics. One gives a quick boost with lots of sales, the other sustained sales. As long as both are producing sales, they’re both good.

  18. I’m a meat lover but recently I’ve been loving the vegetarian cookbooks. The Clean Food by Terry Walters is absolutely gorgeous. i would buy it over and over again.

  19. This is interesting and almost seems to be a contradiction from a post you wrote not long ago. If I remember correctly, you spoke with a publisher and they wanted nothing to do with anymore farm to table manuscripts (which would be very veggie heavy) and the vegan market was also over-saturated (another veg-heavy category). Perhaps it is more a trend toward “less meat” that people are cooking with at home, but not actually vegetarian.

    I’ve actually been noting a resurgence of low carbohydrate (but natural, not Atkins style) and Paleo thanks to the large gluten-free movement. In that arena, meat still seems to hold its ground.

    • The post you’re referring to is here. I just reread it.The editors said they wanted books that tell a story, single subject, blog-to-book, baking books, etc. The books I listed at the top of this post qualify as telling a story and single subject. Re farmer’s market, I think what she wants is a new approach, as there are lots of farmer’s markets books out there.

  20. The trend I’m most surprised about is cake pops. First of all, not that tasty, and while it’s cute, I doubt most people are actually making it cute. I guess that book is more about the pictures.
    Bacon, I kind of get it. I like bacon and there’s certainly an interest in the salty/sweet. Sea salt is on every dessert I can think of right now (and not just from amateur chefs either).
    I guess I’m glad it’s bacon and not ground beef. If there’s a resurgence in meatloaf I may have to move to a different country.
    I think this is the only blog where I value the comments almost as much as the post. Great conversation.

    • The cake pops trend is a result of the blog, I think.

      There has been a resurgence of meat loaf! It’s part of the whole comfort food thing.

      Thank you. Aren’t the comments fantastic? I owe a lot to you all for taking the time.

      • Noooooooo!
        I guess I’ll have to eat my words. About the meatloaf.
        No way we would have comments this good if the writer wasn’t fantastic.

  21. Oh, and I forgot to add, I appreciate the classic books of basics, but I cringe when they’re made trendy (aka Julie and Julia–even though I enjoyed the movie too) and I will be sad when they do that to MFK Fisher. I wish it could be a rebirth instead of a trend.

    • Oh my, a trendy MFK Fisher movie with a blogger and swearing and cameo appearances by food writers? Wow. I don’t know if I could take that either.

  22. When I see pictures of meat like on those book covers, I immediately look away, turn the page, or start scrolling down. It makes me queasy. I cancelled a magazine subscription because there were way too many raw meat pictures. Just my take on the issue…

    • I guess for every one of you there’s someone else who’s salivating, Lisa. I think it’s interesting that they chose raw meat instead of cooked on the cover.

  23. I LOVE Omnivore Books! However, I would imagine that Celia would sell more vegetarian and vegan books in her market. The problem is also that there are many books on every subject. When the first couple of nose-to-tail books came out, they filled a need in the marketplace. Now, there is a glut. I have turned in my manuscript for a meatballs cookbook (a mini-trend within a trend), only to find out that there will be competitng title coming out at the same time. Sigh…

    • You mean we Californians love our veggies? True.

      Congrats on turning in your manuscript. Re the competition, what a bummer. When I did the Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas cookbook with chef Craig Priebe, another book on Grilled Pizza arrived on the shelves within a month. That was two years ago. I was concerned then, but the bottom line is that the book earned out, so there was room.

  24. I’ve never been a big eater of red meat (but I couldn’t be a vegetarian either), and since reading Food Matters by Mark Bittman, eat even less. I can’t ever imagine buying a book solely about meat, but I have more than a few that are vegetable focused. My favourite at the moment is Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. It really shows how you DON’T need meat to have a nutritious and fulfilling meal. I’ve made a couple of the meals for my very carnivore hubby and it wasn’t until 2-3 bites from the end that he realised there was no meat. That’s a winning sign for me!

    • Sounds good to me, Mel. I am reading Food Matters as well. I was surprised by how many non-vegan recipes appear in the book, but I guess that’s right for his audience. Better less meat than none. I’ll have to check out Plenty.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.