The origins of Taste, a trailblazer of newspaper food sections
The delivery boy for the Minneapolis Star tossed the first edition of the Taste section at my family’s front door, and that of other subscribers, on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 1, 1969.
Fifty years later, it’s available every day online and on Thursdays and Sundays in print.
That first issue was a significant moment in the Twin Cities food world, though no one realized it at the time. In fact, whether those food pages would be of interest was in question.
Its first editor, Beverly Kees, in a 2004 interview, noted that the late ’60s were a time when “food was becoming chic, not just something you needed in order to live.”
As important to both readers and the newspaper, a weekly section was a way to package food ads in one place, hence the Wednesday appearance, which is when grocery specials were announced.
Although a food section would seem like a sure bet, the editors in charge were practical, if not confident, as they created the Star’s first stand-alone weekly section. They chose a title that could be repurposed if necessary. If readers weren’t interested in food, the pages could reflect Taste as a furnishings or decorating section, or even a fashion section.
While the grocery ads made Taste irresistible (there were plenty of coupons on those pages), the writing, both personal and humorous, may have endeared it to readers. “We tried to keep things amusing, so that Taste would be fun to read even if you didn’t plan to cook whatever we were writing about,” Kees said in that same interview.
“We tried to give everyone — men, women and children — a reason to look at it.”
A steady stream of local celebrities landed on its pages. Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby, who lived in the Twin Cities) offered her coconut cake recipe. Twins manager Billy Martin provided his for spaghetti and brazzoli. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, noted, “Every orchestra has its gourmets. The better the musician, probably the better the gourmet.”
Taste has had its longtime fans. On the occasion of the 40th birthday celebration of the section, the son of one loyal reader who was 97 called to say his mother had saved all four decades of the section in her closet.
Those 2,080 issues, give or take the occasional missing one, were saved for the recipes. “I’m not interested in another way to make macaroni and cheese,” she said. “I’m looking for something different, some variety.” And she found that in Taste.
Recipes in a newspaper were not themselves new when food sections began appearing across the country in the late ’60s and ’70s. They had appeared sporadically for almost as long as there was newsprint. One early mention appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune in 1888, in an article called “Gossip About Books,” where not one, but two cookbooks were reviewed.
The occasional recipes in newspapers got a boost after World War II with the appearance of reader exchange columns — when one reader asked others for a recipe — often found in what were then called the “Women’s Pages.”
By the mid-1980s, most newspapers had traded that multipurpose catchall for its female audience to a focus on food coverage in lifestyle and food sections.
“The shift to food sections came out of the 1950s consumer culture,” said Prof. Kimberly Wilmot Voss, who teaches journalism at the University of Central Florida and wrote “The Food Section: Newspaper Women and the Culinary Community.”
“The stand-alone sections had a lot of grocery store ads that funded other parts of the newspaper, even though they never got credit for it,” said Voss. “Until the early 1970s, it was mostly women who ran them.”
Today, with dwindling grocery ads, many of those stand-alone food sections around the country have been folded into features section, where their content has been minimized. The exceptions are the large-circulation newspapers that have thrown their weight into expanding food coverage, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, as well as the Los Angeles Times, which recently brought back its stand-alone section after a seven-year absence.
“After teaching more than 20 years, I’ve never seen journalism students more excited about writing about food and beyond recipes,” said Voss. “For this generation of journalists, food is as important as anything else, which is how it should have been.”
So who had the first stand-alone food section? It appears that the Chicago Tribune can claim that honor, with its stand-alone section dating to 1953, and an in-house test kitchen, that continues today.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (which, like the Star Tribune, joined its competitor) also began in the mid-1950s. Other publications followed suit much later.
Today we celebrate 50 years of nonstop coverage in Taste.