I came across a cooking magazine a couple of weeks ago that I’d never seen before. Healthy Cooking Magazine has a tagline of “simple solutions, healthy alternatives”. I don’t buy a lot of cooking magazines, to be truthful, and grabbed this one only because it was on a shelf next to Eating Well and I was at a friend’s shop and wanted to be a good customer.
It sat around for a few weeks after I brought it home – I’ve been crazy busy the last little while and never really had time to sit down with it. On the weekend I started flipping through the pages as I was eating lunch and noticed something rather peculiar.
Now, maybe it’s just because I’ve been thinking about ethical policies lately; I’ve been drafting up guidelines for writers at TasteTO, as well as the framework for an info package for advertisers. But what I noticed about Healthy Cooking was that the majority of ads within the magazine were for products created by the writers themselves.
Here’s an ad for someone named Holly Clegg and her cookbooks, and oh, look, Holly Clegg writes for the publication. Next page, an ad for a selection of books by Jyl Steinback, who claims to be America’s Healthiest Mom, and sure enough, there’s Jyl Steinback in the masthead. And just in case you’d like to counter with the argument that it’s perfectly reasonable for these writers to advertise their products in the magazine they write for, because, after all, it’s all about cooking… you should note that one of the contributors is a soap star named Andrea Evans who appears on some show called Passions. Guess what the ad is for on the inside back cover? C’mon, have a guess. That’s right – Passions, weekdays on NBC.
Even creepier is the book review section, where one of the books reviewed is by our friend the contributor, Holly Clegg. Yes, there’s also a review of a Donna Hay book, and no, Donna Hay doesn’t appear to write for healthy cooking, but still – that just looks dodgy beyond belief.
I can’t tell if this is just a really incestuous group of friends who all got together to start a magazine as a form of self-promotion, or if maybe they just can’t find any other writers willing to work with them. But it seems really unprofessional and reeks vaguely of the payola scams many indie magazines run where they offer to run a feature on someone if that person/company buys an ad in the same issue (this happened to us when Greg and I were running Piehead Records). It’s not exactly the same thing, but ads for all the contributors’ individual enterprises reeks vaguely of the early zine days when we ran ads for free for the bands we were covering or from other zinesters who happened to be contributing.
The magazine I bought was the first of volume 11, so theoretically, they’ve been around for eleven years. They haven’t managed to break through to any kind of mainstream distribution, as far as I can tell.
As for the actual recipes, they don’t seem particularly healthy, although I stopped looking carefully after the fourth one I found that called for pre-packaged ingredients such as cake mix or low-fat biscuit mix. Neither the business model or the recipes seem particularly healthy to me.