Why Reading Food Magazines on Paper Is My Little Luxury

published Dec 2, 2015
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(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

I grew up in the ’80s and watched a lot of TV, so when I was a little girl it was my understanding that stressed-out grown-up women liked to take Calgon bubble baths or eat Nestlé chocolate bars to help them relax. Three decades later, I am a bona fide adult woman, and while bubble baths and chocolate can certainly improve a bad day, the way I treat myself is indulgent for reasons no one in the ’80s could have expected.

You see, my little luxury is sitting down with a new food magazine, opening it up, and reading it — a food magazine on paper, that is.

I work at a computer all day. I video chat with my sisters on an iPad before dinner. I watch an episode of “Fargo” on TV in the evening. I curl up with my Kindle before bed. And throughout the day I make to-do lists, check directions, answer texts, clean up my inbox, search for music, Google that thing I just remembered, and do about a million other tasks on my smartphone. The majority of my waking time is spent in front of a screen, and I’m not feeling great about it.

So instead of downloading the electronic versions of the food magazines I read, I turn my back on the bells and whistles — like one-click recipe saving and bonus content — and sit down with the paper magazine. Just the magazine, and maybe something to sip while I read. It feels different from scrolling through my food blog feed or swiping the pages of a tablet. It feels special: time carved out to be enjoyed; pages turned instead of marked as read; and no alerts and pop-ups to pull me from what is in front of me, right there and then.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

I am not alone in sensing that reading on paper is different. Researchers have been looking at how people read on screens versus paper since the 1980s, according to Ferris Jabr, a science journalist who laid out some of the research in an article for Scientific American. It turns out that the tactile experience of reading on paper matters more to people than you might think, and that reading on a screen can be more physically and mentally exhausting, which may affect comprehension.

Supporting this research, surveys indicate that screens and e-readers interfere with two other important aspects of navigating texts: serendipity and a sense of control. People report that they enjoy flipping to a previous section of a paper book when a sentence surfaces a memory of something they read earlier, for example, or quickly scanning ahead on a whim. People also like to have as much control over a text as possible — to highlight with chemical ink, easily write notes to themselves in the margins, as well as deform the paper however they choose.

Although it is more efficient to save or share recipes and articles I read in electronic food magazines, the process is not as enjoyable as physically dog-earing a corner to mark it for later, or tearing out a whole page to give to a friend or paste up on the fridge. Sure, I may eventually search for that recipe in the magazine’s online archives and add it to my recipe saving app, or pull it up on my phone to share on Facebook, but that doesn’t make the physicality of handling the recipe on paper with my hands any less satisfying. There is a realness on paper that screens can’t compete with.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

In fact, it was a yearning for the tactile and tangible that made me fall in love with cooking in the first place. After days spent sitting in front of the computer at a mind-numbing job in my mid-twenties, I loved getting into the kitchen at the end of the day and on weekends. In the kitchen, the result of my work was a thing that actually existed. You could touch and smell and taste it. My work was real.

So it makes sense that food magazines and cookbooks haven’t made the leap to screens in my household. I’m holding onto the process of turning pages and slowly savoring what I read for as long as I can. Calgon ain’t got nothing on Lucky Peach.

How about you? Do you still read food magazines on paper or are you a tablet fan?