Julia’s Legacy

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | August 4th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

Maybe it’s simply because I’m so entrenched in the food world, but I’ve been surprised by how prevalent the buzz has been for the film, Julie & Julia, which opens tomorrow. Between the Twitter feed, the Facebook updates and anticipatory articles, I feel almost like I’ve already seen the film (indeed, there have been so many clips released that I finally decided to stop watching them for fear that I’d have seen all the good parts before even getting to the theatre).

The film is the parallel stories of Julia Child, and how the iconic chef (and arguably the first television food personality) learned her craft, and Julie Powell, who, in an effort to make something of her life, challenges herself to cook her way through the 524 recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year. Powell blogs about her trials and tribulations along the way, and gains a following and notoriety, becoming famous in her own right.

One of the most interesting byproducts of the pre-Julie/Julia hype is food pundits reflecting about Julia’s legacy and her influence on America’s cooking habits, and how they’ve changed since her heyday in the ’60s and ’70s.

In the New York Times, Michael Pollan muses on how, decades after Julia took the fear out of French cooking for America, Americans are less interested in cooking food than in reading about it or watching shows about it on TV.

He writes, “How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves?”

It got me to thinking about the world that Julia helped create. I know plenty of people who collect cookbooks yet rarely cook a meal, and others who religiously follow the many culinary competition shows while eating their take-out. While Julia’s show encouraged and taught Americans how to cook, most of today’s many food shows seem to be mainly for entertainment purposes.

That’s part of the reason that Powell’s challenge to herself seems so daunting. In this day and age, to cook one or more recipes nearly every single day for a year, seems crazy and difficult. But in the days before frozen meals and restaurant take-out and delivery, that’s precisely what most housewives did.

Today’s general populace may be more interested in cooking as entertainment than as an everyday practice. But I’m hoping there’s a sea change. We may have been brought up on convenience foods, but with an increasing interest in farmers’ markets, local produce and CSAs, and an increasing suspicion in the “Big Food” industry, hopefully we’ll be spurred to rediscover the simple joys of cooking. After all, there’s nothing ready-made or convenient about a bunch of turnips, dirt still clinging to their roots. Plus, I’m heartened by the interest that kids today seem to have in cooking—my daughter loves to stand on the stepstool next to me and “help,” and in my city there’s a whole roster of cooking classes and summer camp programs geared toward kids.

Could it be that we’re ready for another Julia to show us how easy and fun cooking could be? I’d like to think so.

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