In “Julie and Julia,” the new movie about Chef Julia Child, there’s a charming restaurant scene where a middle-aged Julia (played by Meryl Streep) asks her husband (played by Stanley Tucci) what she should do with the rest of her life. Her husband inquires, “What is it that you really like to do?” Julia, with fork poised in mid-air, replies, “Eat!” Her husband smiles and says, “And you are so good at it.”
The real Julia Child went on from some such turning point to write one of the immortal cookbooks of the 20th century and to awaken the “talented eater” in millions worldwide, sowing the seed of the foodie movement along the way. That culinary impulse is now taking shape in the healthy fresh and local foods revolution, with its subsets of organic veggies, natural dairy products and grass-fed meats.
Child’s popularization of French cooking with marbled beef and buttery sauces had a liberating effect on gastronomy not unlike the effect “The Pill” had on the sexual revolution. Of course, by freeing Americans from the puritanical view of food as mere sustenance, Child may also have inadvertently laid the foundations for the country’s obesity epidemic, but we can’t blame her if we like to eat a bit too much.
My youngest daughter, growing up, really liked to eat, but her essential food groups were three: starch, dairy and peanut butter. She explored their variations with scientific curiosity, but settled on a few standbys. How long can you survive on macaroni and cheese, you ask? At least 18 years.
When she went away to college in Iowa last fall, something clicked. A new food consciousness dawned. Surrounded by cornfields, she began to send back reports to us of how our entire food system is infused with cheap corn or cheap corn-fed meats and dairy products. She came home determined to learn more. She spent this summer working for Kearsarge Gore Farm in Warner, planting and weeding and harvesting organic vegetables, coming home with muddy pants and armloads of kale and curly bundles of garlic scapes. Onion peels filled the mulch bucket and the electric wok became the center of our kitchen.
Meanwhile, the farm family she worked for became more than mere employers to her. Just as they opened her taste buds to new foods, they opened her eyes to new ways of looking at the world and relating to what we put on our plates.
Another movie in theaters as I write is called “Food, Inc.” It’s part education, part expose and features a local hero of the organic movement, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Yogurt fame. While not a star-powered charmer like “Julie and Julia,” the film has been packing the Red River Theatres in Concord where they have hosted numerous panel discussions with local farmers on what can be done to improve the quality of our food and to increase the quantity of fresh and local sources.
Seems like the culinary movement begun by Julia Child is at its own turning point, much like the one my daughter experienced. We know we really like to eat. Now we just have to get good at it.
This article appears in the September 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine