Really Good Food — and Changing the World

Is it possible that cooking good food can change the world? Or that eating such wonderful food could change our lives? Sounds a little preposterous, I know, but I thought about these questions last night.

Sharon and I went to see Julie & Julia last night. While I have grown so impatient with most movies these days, this was moviegoing at its best. What a delight. The movie is about the inimitable Julia Child, mostly. Of course Julia Child is the one who brought beef bourguignon, cordon blue, lobster thermidor, and soufflé into the American kitchen of the 1960s. She also believed in the magic of butter, lots of butter, a conviction I share.

Measured in terms of impact, her great Mastering the Art of French Cooking is indeed one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.

Go see this movie. Meryl Streep is simply stunningly good in capturing this bright, eccentric, energetic, and engaging woman. The story is about Julia Child, of course, caught in Paris through her husband’s work as a diplomat. “But what will I doooo?” she asks. When we see her first in a French restaurant taking a bite of delicately prepared, flakey sole meuniére — we get the answer. Her eyes light up. Her whole body and being seems absorbed in the delight of it all. We find that Julia has a gift — enjoying food, good food, food that is well prepared, food that is fresh and healthy, food that is French.

This is her gift. But she has another gift as well. Could she learn to cook this way? Could she write a book? “This book might change the world,” her wonderfully patient, supportive husband, Paul, says at one point. We are blessed to watch the discovery of a genuine calling as the movie proceeds.

And then there is a parallel plot. Here we enter into the drama of Julie, a young woman in New York today, living in a tiny apartment with her husband above a pizza joint. We watch her story unfold as she cooks all of Julia’s 524 recipes within a year. She writes a blog of this venture and builds an incredible following. Her story is true too. Julie grows exceedingly close to Julia, from a distance of course, and we grow to love them both.

This is a movie about great marriages, sustained by love through so many tough times. It is about taking the time to eat and enjoy wonderful food. It is about taking the time to prepare that food. It is about discovering our gifts, about trying to use those gifts effectively, meaningfully. It is about not giving up. It is about joy and fulfillment.

Eating for us these days is a huge guilt trip: too many carbohydrates; simply too much food; too much sugar and too much butter. We find ourselves thinking we’re going to die if we eat that chocolate cake. Maybe if we learned to love food like Julia did, we might live to a ripe old age and at the same time live with a delight that shapes our whole lives. This might change the world for us. Our joy might even change the world for others.

I want to eat like Julia Child. And someday I’d love to learn to cook like Julia.