Tagged: lsa magazine

Feed me

The University of Michigan’s College of Science, Literature, and the Arts publishes a nifty little periodical called LSA Magazine that has done good work over the last couple of years. (Probably for longer than that, but I only started seeing it upon the advent of UMagazinology.) Editor Lara Zielin devoted the Spring 2012 issue to food. “We have some hard-core foodies in the office—we’re talking underground gourmet parties in abandoned warehouses here—and many of our water cooler discussions were leading to food in an organic way, no pun intended,” Zielen told me. “So when, inevitably, someone said, ‘Let’s make the next theme of the magazine food,’ we all rolled our eyes, then realized it was kind of perfect. There were so many angles from which to come at it, we were in story idea heaven.”

I really, really want to be invited to an underground gourmet party in an abandoned warehouse. But I digress.

Among the angles pursued by LSA were alumni who have been part of the rise of farmers’ markets and their thoughts on what’s going on there, including the viewpoint of skeptics who have questioned the assumed good of locavorism; the complexities of food labeling; some of the peculiar things study-abroad students have encountered on the plate, including llama, Vegemite, kangaroo, and fermented soybeans; and alumni chefs Stephanie Izard and Rick Bayless (complete with recipes, thank you very much). Plus what the pharaohs ate as they walked like Egyptians, cannibalism (“the strange and squeamish idea of humans eating humans”), and the neuroscience of tasting food.

Theme issues are common practice at LSA. “It’s so much easier for us to organize our content that way,” Zielin explained. “With tens of thousands of students and faculty, plus 180,000 alumni on our mailing list, it’s really the only sane way we can pull something together. Otherwise we’d probably have to get a story wheel you could spin. Like at a carnival. Yeah, probably that.”

I asked her if she had any particular concerns going into this project. “Magazine concerns are a lot like having a garage sale. You think that your grandmother’s still-in-good-condition table is going to get snatched up, but then no one looks at it. Yet somehow you sell out of your warped Tupperware and used shoes. In this case, the stories we were concerned about didn’t raise any flags, but the ones we thought were safe came under fire. For example, we thought our piece on the murkiness of food labeling would really get readers fired up. Not a peep. We also thought readers might pause at our cheeky quiz asking which was more plentiful, University of Michigan regents or the number of fly eggs in your tomato juice. No response there, either. We never expected the topic, the actual theme of food, to be blasted—but it came under fire. Some people complained it was too light, not academic enough. I guess they missed our stories on how the brain processes the taste of chocolate cake, or studies on toxins in groundwater. Or our essay and stats on hunger. But I digress.”

Digressions are allowed here.

Did anything give the staff special fits as they put the issue together? “Special fits are the new black. For this issue in particular, we had some high-profile alumni that we really wanted on our pages, but initially we weren’t sure if we could get on their schedules. In other words, we budgeted pages for them, then kept our sweaty fingers crossed. Chefs Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard and Gabrielle Hamilton, for example. Also Sanjay Gupta and filmmaker Ken Burns, the latter of whom is not technically an alumnus but he was needed for a quote or two for our story on Prohibition. Wouldn’t you know, they all came through. I like to think about this when I can’t get faculty to call me back.”

I asked her how the issue looks now that it’s out of their hard drives and on the printed page. “I love our spread on ‘How Coffee Works,’ but there’s very little in there that’s alma mater–focused. It was a fun idea to illustrate, but it could have used more institutional grounding—a faculty member to weigh in on the science of roasting, a student to talk about fair-trade beans on campus, an alum who works slinging espresso . . . something. Overall, though, I think ‘Food’ was successful. The range of topics, plus the incredible design, make it a personal favorite. I know I’m biased, but I also wouldn’t say that about all of our issues. You try, you don’t always succeed, but then you cut yourself another slice of chocolate cake and keep going.”

UMag inbox

A random walk through the newish—defined as current sometime in the last seven or eight weeks—issues of alumni magazines turned up some things worthy of notice. Open, the magazine of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, was clever with its letters page (click image to expand). Editor Cory Leahy ran two “letters” about an embarrassing typographical error in the previous issue; one of them reproduces exactly what the magazine received from a member of the Class of ’97, which was the offending page torn out and critiqued via a purple stickynote. Another reproduction tops the page, this one the image of a repurposed opt-out card—the correspondent altered the card so that instead of opting out of receiving the magazine he’s requesting two extra copies. Open also has a Tracy Mueller feature that takes 10 business “rules”—the customer is always right, you have to spend money to make money, etc.—and asks if they still obtain, or ever did. One of that story’s sections begins with what, so far, is my favorite sentence all day: “If a food truck doesn’t tweet, does it really exist?” This story also is part of a peculiar editorial harmonic convergence. More on that later.

LSA Magazine, from the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, has a feature on copyright in the digital age, and I’ll stick my neck out by saying LSA is the first magazine in history to illustrate a copyright story with a photo titled “Zombie Bunny.” (If I read Mary Jean Babic’s story right, I could be sued for reproducing the opening spread here. Lara Zielin edits LSA, and I’m hoping she opts for a cease-and-desist letter first.)

College of Charleston Magazine‘s cover story “Rebel Without a Pause” was scribbled by editor Mark Berry, and it’s awfully good. The piece is a profile of writer Padgett Powell and opens with a well-wrought narrative recreation of Powell’s arrest in the parking lot of his high school for distributing an underground student news-paper titled Tough Shit, which ranks as one of the all-time great names for a newspaper, underground or otherwise. That episode set the tone for Powell’s academic and literary careers. The future novelist began as an English major at Charleston, until an English teacher gave him a D on a paper; Powell took one look at the graded paper and changed his major to chemistry. Clearly, Berry had a lot of good material with which to fashion a profile, and he brings it off with zest.

OK, so back to this harmonic convergence business. As already noted, Open from Texas has a feature that revisits, and questions the validity of, 10 business rules. The new issue of my own Johns Hopkins Magazine devotes part of its feature well to assistant editor Kristen Intlekofer’s round-up of 10 things that people do in the name of health that might actually be injurious to their health. Minor as coincidences go—10 business rules open for debate, 10 health practices open for debate—but wait, here’s where things get weird. Elsewhere in the Hopkins winter 2011 feature well is a long Mike Anft piece on contemporary neuroscience and memory, including help for people suffering from memory loss, plus a feature story on distraction in these digital days. Then I pick up the latest edition of Washington State Magazine and find in editor Tim Steury’s feature well a long piece by Steury about neuropsychologists helping people cope with memory loss, and a second feature, this one by Eric Sorensen, called “Attention!”, about the “poverty of attention” in these digital days.

After a long search for an explanation, I’ve settled on great minds think alike.