March 20, 2017
An obituary for Lucky Peach
by Peter Clark
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.—William Butler Yeats, A Drinking Song
“[Lucky Peach] made space for complex issues of identity, dumb food stunts, exactingly technical recipes, and the hybridization of street food and haute cuisine,” noted Jonathan Kauffman of SFGate in a piece this week about the magazine’s closure. But it really did more than that: it connected readers with the culture, the politics, the love, the breadth, and the majesty of the foods they often casually consume.
Filled with quirky illustrations and photographs that didn’t feel sterilized by perfect studio lighting, Lucky Peach could foster an intimacy with even complex gastronomic oddities. Bone marrow? Sure. Pickled eggs? Why not? Foie gras with mustard seed and crème fraîche and mint leaf garnish? (I just made that one up, but I’m sure Lucky Peach would have found a way to make me understand, appreciate, and fall in love with it.) Each issue, online post, and twitter link was an escape from the world of boxed groceries and pre-packaged blandness. Lucky Peach made us feel, either again or for the first time, that the world of food was something worth exploring with our mouths and intellects instead of watching a celebrity chef mix and mingle it in high definition for us to salivate over at a distance.
From deep dives like On Prawns and Men in the Bali Straight by environmental reporter Melati Kayeo, which proved to be a heart-wrenching political exploration into the devastated aquaculture of Indonesia, to culinary genius and magazine owner David Chang’s prognostications on The Future of Pho, Lucky Peach proved time and time again that we need to be smarter and better-informed about what we eat. As for us subscribers and devotees, we truly felt that, although we may ourselves never understand the intricate tastes of cuttlefish, they are there to be known. Like a scientist making fundamental discoveries, working changes to our technology and culture that laypeople understand even while their mathematics remain obscure, Lucky Peach has enriched culinary knowledge and culture for all of us.
And yeah, there are incredible recipes and stuff, too. Yeah, the magazine has won a bunch of awards. And yeah, it probably has the most innovative designs since a caveman first put a line on a horse head and invented the unicorn (this is meant to be high praise). For me, these aren’t the reasons to read it. These are the things we should expect from great food publications. What made Lucky Peach stand out was their fearlessness in taking readers outside the safe, marketable consumerism of food, and into the (vegetable) garden of earthly delights.
So after reading to the bottom of their announcement and seeing that the article was aptly tagged “death,” we’ll want to squeeze every last bit of joy that we can out of them. They have a new book coming out April 4 called All About Eggs. There’s still one more issue due out in May, and possibly a final double issue in the fall.
And if you refuse to give up hope, well, Chang could still sell the magazine, in which case we’ll have to pray that the new corporate overlords don’t sully this breathtaking and important art.
Art, I sigh.
Peter Clark is the sales manager at Melville House.