The Inspiring Nature of Julia Child

Given my combined passions of reading and food, one might assume that I’ve read Julia Child’s My Life in France by this time, but sadly, that assumption would be an incorrect projection of my book list. However, I’ve finally made my way into reading Child’s splendid memior, as written with her grandson Alex Prud’homme in the last couple years of her life, and I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to it. I’m about halfway through, currently, and I’m feeling much more inspired to tackle some more ambitious cooking projects, though I don’t know how they would turn out. Child obsessed about food, perfecting recipes and appreciating fine cooking for restaurants and master chefs. Her experience in Paris, surrounded by its beauty in the mid 20th century, sounds like an amazing experience.

I am struck by Child’s candor as she speaks about her family life, her husband, and her growth as a chef and lover of all things French. She married in her thirties, lived a life seeking beauty, truth, and tasty food, and did it all with an upbeat and adventurous spirit. Though my taste buds appreciate our Americanized Mexican, Thai, and Chinese food more than French, I cannot help but admire the complexity and respect that is given to all of the dishes she describes. It seems unfathomable to me, a young woman who has grown up living just miles from farms and dairies yet has done almost all of my food shopping at large supermarkets, that one would have a butcher, a baker, and a vegetable vendor with whom one conversed and visited regularly in search of the freshest ingredients. I suspect that there are cities in this world where that still happens, but it is not true for the suburban towns and cities that I have called home in the past 20-something years.

In addition to Julia’s talk about food, she brings the reality of France to her readers in a time that seems so distant now. Coming out of WWII and into the Cold War, there is much discussion about how cold and hungry people had been just years before her and Paul’s arrival in Paris. She talks about bundling up by a small, useless stove in the winter, and appreciating it since she knew this was far better than having to face the Nazis or go hungry. At one point, she remarks that she seems too spoiled, a comment which makes me reflect on my own life. I have never known hunger or cold or thirst. I have always had a warm place to sleep at night and despite complaints about a rising cost in living, I’ve never really been uncomfortable, much less suffering. I think about all of the social programs that we have now, and know that even though we have poverty today, the poverty we see is so clouded by our views of what is necessary that we forget what the average person put up with three or four generations ago.

Comfort and convenience add to my illusion that my world is all about me. Where’s the adventure? Where are fanciful flops and culinary creations? Julie and Julia is next on my list of books to read, followed by Mindless Eating. I’m hoping by the end of these reads, I’ll appreciate what I’m putting in my mouth a little more, and feeling a little more adventurous in my cooking. I think I’ll start it off with a kale & egg dish. After that, who knows what dishes my little kitchen will see?

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