The movie Julie & Julia has left a feeling of nostalgia for the finer foods Americans supposedly brought to their tables in years past. As Julie Powell, the movie’s modern-day cook says, “She changed everything. Before her, it was frozen food and can openers and marshmallows.” (Like these are bad things.)
Was Julia Child really anti-processed foods? Historical characters are often taken out of context and repositioned to better reflect current values and thoughts. As some currently lay blame for the world’s march toward obesity and poor food choices on food manufacturers, it is politically convenient to place Julia Child and quality, healthful cuisine on one side of the fence and pre-prepared foods on the other.
Born in 1912, “she was part of that generation where most everything was prepared from scratch,” notes Wilbert Jones, a contributor to Prepared Foods and personal friend of Child’s. “As time went by, she grew to appreciate certain quick-and-easy foods, such as canned tuna fish (in oil, not water) or mayonnaise from a jar,” he adds. “And, like many, she appreciated Burger King Whoppers and McDonald’s French fries.”
In agreement, a September 2, 2009 article from The Washington Post quotes Laura Shapiro, author of Julia Child: A Life, “I felt like jumping up in my seat in the movie and saying, ‘No, no, no!’ There were things that came in cans she liked just fine, like chicken broth. She dubbed Uncle Ben’s rice ‘L’Oncle Ben’s.’ Child adored supermarkets...She thought premade pie crust a wonderful invention... Cooking, for her, was not in conflict with progress. Rather, it was, or could be, in partnership with it.”
Perhaps that is the most important take-away message. The goal is not to have all foods purchased in farmers’ markets and all meals prepared from scratch. Few Americans have the time, skill or desire to spend most of their spare time in the kitchen, just as not all Americans can afford Child’s carefree love of butter or use of rendered beef tallow.
With thoughtful choices, high-quality, nutritious meals can be created in the kitchen or purchased from the store. What may have attracted Americans most to Child was her bon vivant image. As a 2004 Prepared Foods interview with Child reports: “When asked about her guilty pleasures, she would respond, ‘I don’t have any guilt.’”
To read this interview, go to PreparedFoods.com and type in “A Chat with Julia Child.” pf
Article: Editorial: Julia Child in Context -- November 2009
November 1, 2009