The Carton: A culinary journey to the Middle East

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One of the great ways to discover culture is by the food that ties history and its people. The Carton Magazine, from Lebanon, is a publication thirsty to discover the culinary DNA of the Middle East and bring readers from across the world to regions mostly known for its political unrest. Q & A with the editorial director & publisher, Jade George.

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Baron : How did it start?
Jade George : Our modest team has a mixed background that encompasses publishing, food, science and fine arts. We sort of married our areas of expertise and voila! We give you The Carton. We wanted to do our share for journalism, print and our culture – a journal springing out of the Middle East that offered something that may be missing, something that isn’t being produced.

The Carton is a manifesto of food culture through stories, tales and memoirs of people that sometimes satirically portray various aspects of their culture, be it from a socio-political,anthropological or even psychological angle . It’s not limited to  one thing in particular, but  use  something that is undoubtedly  the most important part of a Middle Easterner’s day to day life and events. Food ties the journey together.

B. :How do you approach editorial?
J. G. : We preach for a “slow” journalism first and foremost. One of the major reasons why we exist, however, is to document aspects of Middle Eastern culture that have never been archived, or at the least, not in the way that we do it. What is “history” at the end of the day but a human record of given events? One of the key functions of the project is  to give creative professionals a platform for their experimental work and a voice that is ordinarily shunned to finally provide readers with  a piece of work that is far from intimidating or dictatorial.

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B. : Why choose print? What kind of paper do you use and why? What about the typography you use?
J. G. : It took us a while to source our paper in Lebanon and persisted not to drift away from local production. We print on the most environmentally-friendly paper possible and what we use is wood-free paper made from pulp from well-managed forests. It is FSC and PEFC certified.

If we’re advocating the printed word, we need to at least be sensible to such factors. Which also brings me back to slow journalism and work ethics and integrity. The idea is not to produce any content that is not worthy of print. Those are the standards we’ve set in terms of editorial, design, typography and purpose in general.

B. : How is the public’s response so far?
J. G. : The public is what’s keeping us wanting to challenge ourselves and keep our minds open. They are the project’s fuel in times where success isn’t translatable into financial sustainability.

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On one hand, the international press has shown interest in the project and our bargaining power with printers has demonstrated a positive change of mind. On the other hand, there is our family of collaborators, which is growing richer and more  loyal by the issue. Professionals are eager to work on the project just for the sake of the project.

In parallel, the public is showing a great interest in our vision as a whole and relates to the brand, the work and the people behind it. As I said, they’re after all the essence of The Carton and what’s important is organic growth in that sense.

B. : Print mags get a lot of love, something that is not always translated to sales or advertising. How are the sales And the advertising , do you have a traditional approach on selling an ad page or more a brand ad approach? 
J. G. : Although sales are  growing by the issue, anyone in magazine publishing will tell you that that won’t cover half of your printing costs, let alone secure sustainability.

It’s good to see that all independent print publishers are in the same boat and we’ve launched collectives, movements and affairs to inspire each other and spread awareness around the topic of “keeping print alive”.

What’s important is that we all agree that print, for the niche, isn’t going anywhere and hopefully in time success will in fact translate to commercial sustainability without compromising on quality. This implies finding alternative ways for advertising as well. Selling a page of press ad just won’t cut it anymore and the challenge is to find the right brands, with the right people behind them to collaborate with. In other words open minds that are willing to think alternatively. It’s a constant search for the right equation that suits everyone.

B. : Upcoming projects?
J. G. : We’re currently implementing a school food program in the United Arab Emirates and collaborating on a few projects with other independent publishers as well as a fashion-powered charities-aiding initiative. Also, look out for our Middle East’s indie magazine publishers’ collective, LovePrint. And of course, The Carton’s issue N.5.

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