On Julia Child, fat, life, and Netflix

Note: I wrote this essay several months ago and then, apparently, promptly forgot it. It’s still timely in that I am continually asked “Have you seen ‘Julie & Julia’ yet?” I haven’t, as it happens, and I’ll probably wait until it’s available through Netflix.

Five years to the month after her death, people are rediscovering Julia Child. It’s not as if we didn’t know who she was, of course, but as is the case with many artists, true appreciation seems to come after they’ve passed away.

With the release of the film “Julie & Julia”, people are buying her first cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (from which I first learned to make quiche), and pushing it into the best seller category. According to a story in Sunday’s New York Times, more copies have been sold in one recent week since the film came out than have ever sold in any given year since it was published 48 years ago. According to the same story, folks are a little surprised by what they’re finding in the pages: recipes that call for generous amounts of real ingredients such as butter and lard.

Now that they’re buying the book, here’s hoping they won’t be frightened off by the fat because it was always Child’s lament that too many people are afraid of food. She’s correct: fat, despite what the manufacturers of low-fat anything will tell you, is good for you.

“Fat gives things flavor,” she once observed (One of the chefs under whom I studied in culinary school was more succinct: “Fat is flavor”).

You needn’t eat a ton of the stuff, but in moderation it’s fine, and it certainly tastes and feels better than, say, soy milk made with added carrageen to hold it all together. Ingredients aside, however, what Child taught us most was to enjoy what we have, to take chances, both in the kitchen and out. Even in death, she still continues to inspire. It was after reading her biography “Appetite for Life” by Noel Riley Fitch I decided I wasn’t too old at 39 to go to cooking school. If she didn’t begin cooking until she was 37 – and I had about a 20-year head start on her there – then age truly doesn’t matter.

While I have yet to see the movie (there’s that new Quentin Tarantino flick I want to see first) I’m excited to see people taking such an interest in Julia Child’s work. Whether this current fascination will result in anything more than people rushing out to buy expensive kitchen equipment they won’t use more than one or two times remains to be seen, but for the few who discover the beauty of cooking a meal themselves, and serving it to people they care for, then it’s been more than an opportunity for movie studios to capitalize on the work of a great woman.

Julia Child’s work lives on and, luckily for us, it was work that – at its core – was little more than an example in how to live our lives more fully, more profoundly, more enjoyably.


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