Their Travel Changed Your World: Julia Child

This is the first of a series of articles about the transformative power of traveling.  No one really knows the impact a trip is going to have on their lives.  It can be a restorative escape, educational, or thought provoking – often all at the same time.  Sometimes the experiences a person has while traveling, can inspire them to not only change who they are, but also, to change the world.

I must admit that I am a bit infatuated with Julia Child.  It’s remarkable the way America changed, largely because of her.  This point cannot be stressed enough.  Books have been written about it, a movie has been made, even SNL took her on.  Coming out of World War II, Americans embraced the American suburban mythos;  life should be easy, and beautiful, and homogenous.  The war, itself had been hard, and ugly, and carried with it dark undertones of the worst of humanity.  Manufacturers of every vein pushed the ease of the new American lifestyle, as one that was at the same time obtainable and desirable.  The simplicity that was being promoted was focused on every aspect of life, even the food that Americans ate.

In the 1920’s food manufacturers began to sell canned goods, a revolutionary way to distribute fruits and vegetables.  However, the sales figures for canned foods only took off  when those same manufacturers began to combine other food products in recipes, and to mass market those recipes to American housewives under the guise of making life easy,  selling the idea that using them could make life happier for their husbands and children.  The recipes were by all accounts dreadful.  Jell-O and other congealed salads were common.  Mayonnaise was an necessary part of such faire that often sacrificed flavor for convenience.  By the late 1940s and 1950s, these types of easily prepared foods had come to dominate the American palate.

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It was during the war that Julia McWilliams, the daughter of a well-to-do California Republican, met Paul Child, while both were working for the government, in an agency that would later become known as the C.I.A.  They met in Asia, and were soon married.  Julia, by her own admission was a dreadful cook, and had little interest in learning the craft.  Julia quit working for the government after the war, but Paul continued, and soon he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France.  She was bored and a bit restless, and soon decided to take up cooking lessons at the famed Le Cordon Bleu.  She trained with men, mostly former G.I.s looking to become professional chefs, and Julia knew that she had finally found her calling.  After successful completion of her courses, she and two friends opened their own cooking school, and the decided to write a little book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

It is interesting to note that Julia wasn’t just a formally trained chef.  After Paris, she and Paul moved regularly – Marseilles (where she learned about seafood), and then to Germany (meats), Norway (fish), Massachusetts (classic American cuisine), and eventually back to California.  All along they way, she studied with locals, both formal restaurant chefs and wonderful home cooks, constantly learning and developing her own talents.

Her writing efforts were initially very slow to find a publisher, most of which in the 1950s were men, who were comfortable with the idea that women should be wives and mothers at home, and believed that Julia’s love of food that required labor and the following of recipes, was simply too complicated for the average American woman who they believed wanted simplicity over flavor.  The book did find it’s way into the hand of Judith Jones, an editor who had lived in Paris, and saw potential in introducing real cooking to the American kitchen.

This was 1961, and television sales were expanding in America.  Paul decided Julia was a natural, and managed to get her onto a series of local New York and New England morning cooking shows, where her brief appearances made her a quick celebrity.  Following this the Boston area public television station signed Julia to host a cooking show “The French Chef” and the rest, as they say, is history.

The importance of Julia Child’s influence on the food that American’s eat can’t be minimized.  Americans today recognize “good food,” but too many freely admit they don’t eat it.  It’s interesting to note how much the culture has shifted backwards.  Yes, there have always been TV dinners, then microwave dinners, but today the number of Americans who sacrifice taste for ease, health for fat and calories with prepared, deep fried, brown-yellow chewiness is mind-numbing.  Perhaps a Renaissance of cooking is needed, or at least a healthy dose of common sense, and Julia Child.

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Categories: Europe, North America, Stories, Thoughts, YUM

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2 Comments on “Their Travel Changed Your World: Julia Child”

  1. Cory R
    April 30, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I enjoy reading all of your articles, but especially loved this one! Nice work!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Their Travel Changed Your World – Buddha | Toland Travels - May 14, 2014

    […] to not only change who they are, but also, to change the world.  Other entries in this series are Julia Child, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mark […]

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