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Circulation: 10,000
Date of Birth: Spring 2002
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $6.95 Canadian, eh
Natural habitat: On the coffee table next to your mug of organic coffee and the Wayfarers you bought to wear while riding your vintage Harley across the Canadian countryside

By David Riedel

Maisonneuve is a thought-provoking magazine before you even open it to look at the contents page. It’s an English-language publication with a French title. Its head office is located in Montreal, a town with a decidedly anti-English bent. And the cover of the Winter 2007 issue features little firemen running across a crème brulee.

When you do open it, you can find articles on Nigerian film culture in one issue and the relationship between sex and death in another. In a third, there’s a story about the Canadian military and its efforts to appeal to young Muslims.

The words “Eclectic Curiosity” beneath the Maisonneuve logo say it all. This is a magazine of disparate stories that wouldn’t normally fit together in the same publication. And they might not even fit in Maisonneuve, except that they’re united under one theme that changes each issue. They have covered good and evil, money and power, and rites of passage. In Winter 2007, the theme is food.

Using food as a starting point for each story (we all gotta eat), Maisonneuve’s writers explore how different religions in the United States shape the way their members eat. They also look at the role science plays in the kitchen and the way land conflicts are resolved over seasonal feasts.

The theme format was a decision that editor and publisher Derek Webster and the editorial staff came to soon after the first few issues came and went. “It helped us organize the editorial content that was coming in and it helped us shape an issue,” he said. In other words, the first issues were unfocused. These days, there’s a bouncy idiosyncrasy pulsing through the pages, tied together by the common themes.

A piece in the Winter 2007 issue, “Catch and Release,” pulls you in effectively, as the writer, Taras Grescoe, describes a goofy tourist struggling to stretch a too-small T-shirt over his paunch. The story swiftly turns into a well-reported article detailing the struggles of the natives of the Haida Nation, who depend on fishing for their survival. Catch-and-release tourists inadvertently kill fish in Haida waters, and the Haida want the Canadian government to do something about it. The article is a good example of what Maisonneuve does best; its writers combine memoir and reporting with a social agenda, which produces stories on subjects you may not have known you cared about.

Mona Awad’s “Dining Among the Saints,” which describes the author’s experiences with her in-laws at Mormon-friendly restaurants and Mormon family feasts, goes a long way toward explaining why Mitt Romney comes off as Ward Cleaver. In Diana Wilson’s “My Vegetarian Affair,” the writer explains her reasons for picking up meat after a 17-year break. (“What we put in our mouths is not a matter of logic, but of ego and emotion.”) And Rina Palta’s “Kitchen Scientists” is a study of the link between molecular gastronomy and a trend sweeping restaurants across the world: the kitchen as laboratory, with chefs tinkering with the atomic makeup of food so that they can offer new tastes.

Less successful is Maisonneuve’s foray into food as fine art, with an article by Meredith Erickson covering the marginal work of artist Nicholas Kashian’s pride-centric series of paintings, “New American Gothic.” Kashian’s work isn’t nearly as important as he and the editors seem to think it is.

And there may be some people who will enjoy a two-page photo spread detailing the tastes and textures of insects. I’m not one of them.

Maisonneuve, which translates to “new house,” strives to be quirky. It publishes poetry and fiction alongside the fact-based articles in an effort to get different types of writers under one roof. Despite the occasional misstep, it works. In an era when so many magazines for people in their 20s and 30s pander to their readership by dumbing down their content or streamlining it to conform to one particular point of view, it’s refreshing to read a thoughtful magazine that invites its readers along on a journey through content that takes some unusual twists.






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