Ambition, imagination and naivety came together to create the World’s second best food magazine – and then sink it. But without it, we wouldn’t be here today - read on...
Eat magazine started as an idea – a place to read about food, not so much the restaurants and recipes – these were commonplace – but all the rest of the stuff, the science, the social and political impact. Why did the UK lose its interest in food after the war? What makes people fat? Is GM food really bad for you? Why are people starving in Africa? What actually goes into a chicken nugget? The list is endless, yet there is (still) not one obvious place you can go to ‘feast’ on such stuff.
Combine that with a second important point – if you want to engage with people, then you have to make it worth their while, you have to cut through the noise, you have to entertain.
And that was the key to Eat – a magazine that looked at food in all its dimensions, in an entertaining and irreverent manner – a somewhat British approach perhaps.
It was to be a magazine with agenda – if people think more about what they eat then they might question the shitty stuff that goes on a little bit more. But most of all, you should buy it and read it and talk about it because it was going to be really, really interesting.
Our first editor had just moved to Japan after a stint as deputy editor of Time Out London. He brought with him a roster of writers from around the world willing to contribute to the new project. Our stance from the beginning was to have a mixture of food and non-food writers, writing about food – it would generate new angles and new ideas. It also allowed us to introduce a cultural and geographical angle – different cultures attitude to pork, for instance? Who ferments what and where? - we wanted context and perspective. The world needs a lot more context.
There was a theme per issue, to force us to think differently or deeper about our subject. Any idea that could generate at least 10 strong stories was in with a chance.
Our design approach would be new too (we were out to change the world!) and challenge the norm – we certainly did that and were more or less successful depending on the issue. There were a few real disasters, but looking back, it's good to see how much worked well and (we’d like to feel in some cases) copied by others later on.
Finally, if all that wasn’t challenging enough, the magazine would be bilingual… who reads bilingual magazines anyway? More importantly, stories need to be written for an audience: a piece on sushi written by a brit, may or may not work for Japanese people because they know so much more about the subject. So we agreed on stories that would work in our main markets – UK / US and Japan and then had our editors and writers approach them as they saw fit in each language. End result, two slightly different takes on the same story. A first I think.
Add to that a website, which in 2000, was also fairly cutting edge (especially that 2-minute flash animation at the beginning that people had to get through to see anything… we had a lot to learn about marketing). Each issue also came with its own party, which if you happened to live in Tokyo, was always an experience.
How did we expect to make money? A combination of naivety and bloody mindedness pushed us forward but by issue 16 with a lack of proper business planning, effective distribution and spiraling costs weighing ever more heavily on our shoulders we were forced to call it a day.
But, if we hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t be here, older and wiser, today.