Of Course Food is Just like Fashion

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bacon-cupcakesTut-tutting erupted earlier this week when the soon-to-be publisher of Bon Appetit told an interviewer she didn’t see much difference between food and fashion.

In an interview in Women’s Wear Daily, Carol Smith, senior vice president and chief brand officer of Elle Group, said she was lured from her current job while having a drink with future boss Thomas A. Florio, Condé Nast’s senior vice president and publishing director:

“He said, ‘Could you ever see yourself doing for food what you did for fashion with Elle?’” Smith recalled. “I had never even thought about it….Then I started to think, you know, what’s the difference between food and fashion? Not much.”

Then came the reactions. Pete Wells, Dining Editor of the New York Times,  said on Twitter that when he read the quote he “Dropped my entire tray of food.” A commenter on the ASFS Listserv said, simply, “Yikes,” to agreement. On the fashion side, the Uncouth Gourmands website said it was  funny because “models don’t eat.”

But isn’t food just like fashion? Take today’s most beloved ingredient. While at a Baker’s Dozen event yesterday, a woman told me she had taken part in a cupcake bake-off with a secret ingredient. What was it? She didn’t have to say. It’s all the rage in ice cream, donuts, bread pudding and now, cupcakes. Yep. It was bacon.

What’s more, predicting new food fads is the bread and butter for many journalists. For just a few examples, see

dietcokewithbaconSo how exactly is food not different from fashion? Let me know. I’ll be back right after I get a drink.

Photo of cupcakes courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/clevercupcakes/3562015711/


  1. says

    I have to agree, the food business is like the fashion business. A product is a product. Whether you are trying to sell widgets, or gizmos, you’re going to need the same knowledge of PEOPLE.

    I would imagine that Mrs Smith will surround herself with competent and knowledgeable people that have worked around food. And perhaps she is just the ticket to kick a few behinds into opening minds :)

    I welcome the change!

    • diannejacob says

      Good for you, Nic. I think it’s all about trying to create an empire. Apparently she was involved with TV shows like Top Model.

  2. Kathleen says

    Food is so entirely like fashion.I was just noticing the fashion for snout to tail eating – sometimes pigs feet are for the poor, because no one wants them and then, quick as a blink, they’re in high priced ‘bistros’ surrounded by foams and meat flavoured cocktails. It’s just that not all food is fashion – some is nostaglia, some is necessity, some is indifferent. But how is it different then clothing?

    • diannejacob says

      It’s not. Like clothing, the classics survive. The fads, well, I don’t see how this bacon fad is sustainable, or molecular gastronomy. I hope the whole nose-to-tail thing stays in the public eye.

  3. says

    That’s an entirely Western take on food. Which of course is appropriate in this instance since Bon Appetit is an American magazine.

    And why was Pete Wells shocked? It was NYT that ran that huge story on animal slaughtering/butchering classes last fall … not to mention the rabbits … and if that isn’t an example of food as fashion I don’t know what is.

    In many other settings around the world though, food is not just fashion, except for a small usually urban-dwelling, cosmopolitan, often Western-educated, and well-travelled elite.

    • diannejacob says

      Well said. Yes, butchering is all the rage here. Kind of odd, since meat comes pre-packaged now, unless you’re buying a whole side. I guess those who want to butcher will go that route. Another trend I hope sticks around. My parents bought sides of meat centuries ago when I was a kid.

  4. Erica Peters says

    The nouns aren’t comparable, which is why her turn of phrase annoyed people. If the question had been “could you see yourself doing for food fashions what you’ve done for clothes fashions?” then she would have been better understood. I blame the attractive alliterative appeal of the words food and fashion.

  5. says


    Thanks for the shout out. I was so shocked (and scared) when I saw this news. Carol is a visionary. My only hope is that she understand the Bon Appetit and Gourmet brand in such a way that it doesn’t lose its core essence. And if she manages from a distance, that she keep/bring people onboard that truly understand what food means to so many people in this foodie subculture – as we live and breathe everyday. Kudos on the article!


    • diannejacob says

      Thanks, Josie. I think Nic of Wheeling Gourmet has expressed the bottom line well.

  6. says

    I agree with Erica, The phrase is pleasing to the ear but the comparison is meaningless.
    For the vast majority of people, clothing is functional, only a relatively small minority follow high fashion. The same is true of food. Although bacon flavouring has a band of devotees at the moment, the vast majority of the population will carry on with their vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. I love your chosen photograph. After all, cupcakes suddenly became fashionable when Sarah Jessica Parker ate them in that most fashionable of television shows, Sex and the City.

  7. Candace says

    Sorry, Robyn, but I have to disagree with your comment that, “In many other settings around the world though, food is not just fashion, except for a small usually urban-dwelling, cosmopolitan, often Western-educated, and well-travelled elite.” I think that the opposite may be true.

    These are the old school James Beard and Julia Child types with more sophisticated palates that stick close to classic world cuisine.

    I think this whole paradigm shift has to do with marketing and money. The audience is different now. They are attempting to reach a younger generation: the ones perhaps with less discriminating palates who are looking for the lastest thrill: anything trendy and new. The daredevils of the food world.

    • diannejacob says

      Trendy and new will never go out of style. Also these magazines are read by ambitious home cooks who love to entertain.

      • Candace says

        I was just a young newlywed when I first subscribed to Bon Appetite , enticed by the hope of one day succuming to the their sophisticated and tempting gourmet delights. I had this dream, but it never happened. I became distracted trying to find the perfect recipes for basic all-American dishes like apple pie, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and the like. It wasn’t until later, that I actually became more interested in what Bon Appetite has to offer.

  8. says

    Food as History, Food as Politics, Food as Business, Food as Nurture, Food as Geography, etc., will not sell a mass market food magazine, so why not Food as Fashion.

    What this means is more codification of some almost random trend (bacon in everything) until its impact is expanded, speeded up and exhausted and more important issues and less appealing but more important threads are lost in the noise.

    Having gotten that off my chest — I believe she is being hired for a management style and marketing expertise and that is very transferrable. I hope Bon Appetit goes in a direction I’m interested in, but to me Conde Nast’s decision to keep BA and ditch Gourmet had already cast the die in this direction.

    Will it be a success, yes. Look at Food Network. As it veered to Food as Entertainment and appealed to non-cooks or untraditional cooks its ratings have soared.

  9. says

    Food IS fashion. When you consider all of the facets of culinary life that draw us in, keep us interested, and bring us back for more, they’re all similar to what does the same in the fashion world. I think that it’s naive to say that food is dissimilar to fashion.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, and one magazine is similar to the other, otherwise I could never have been the editor of an international four-wheel-drive magazine. Oops.

  10. says

    Sign at Steak and Shake: Four meals for $4. We’ll get into our spandex jeans and go through the drive through.

    We like to shop and we enjoy purchasing. It doesn’t matter what it is. We can buy FOUR meals for $4 at Steak and Shake. We can buy 4 pairs of shoes for under $50 at Payless. This is how fashion and food really find their connection. More is more, no matter what the quality.

    • diannejacob says

      Usually the quality isn’t very good when more is more. Or am I missing something?

      Spandex jeans? You’re braver than I.

  11. says

    Being a food professional for many years, I found myself in the unlikely position of selling high end clothing (pieces). It was hard until I started looking at clients as food and clothing as garnishes.

  12. says

    My BA subscription is about to run out, and now it’s a conundrum whether to let it lapse or not. Was not happy about my Gourmet turning into BA and am not happy about celebs getting cooking shows and cookbook deals simply because they’re famous. What’s next? Sarah Palin’s food column, “Snowmobile Tailgating Parties?”

    • diannejacob says

      Hilarious! Maybe you should pitch that!

      Seems like an inexorable slide, but at least BA mixes it up with other good content.

  13. says

    Lentil, I hear ya on the famous/food show lament.

    I have to come down on food is fashion, especially in the magazines..the glossies, anyway. Perhaps not so much in Cook’s Illustrated?

    • diannejacob says

      Oh I don’t know about that. They are better about classics, but they sure have capitalized on the fad of comfort food.

  14. says

    I believe the phrase, as Erica Peters keenly points out, nouns compared incomparably- an open field for a barrage of interesting perspectives.

    I also subscribe to Robyn’s observation; it is a western point of view , or perhaps aptly, a modern point of view. Certainly in Asia, where I am from, the argument of whether food is fashionable or not, is lost on many people who see food as an everyday occurrence, woven deeply in culture and beliefs.

    I was schooled abroad and subscribe to many of the culinary magazines- Gourmet for one; when I showed a copy to our old cook back home, (interestingly enough on meat and butchering) he looked at me quizzically and remarked “What is special about that ?! I do that everyday”.

    • diannejacob says

      Hah! Just goes to show you how what is fashionable in one place is commonplace in another.

  15. says

    I just wonder if this will turn BA into a prettier magazine, akin to the recent fashion-like beauty of Gourmet before it was shut down. If she can improve BA’s current food styling then it is a good move regardless.