This week marked the hundredth anniversary of Julia Child's birth. Full disclosure: I am no kind of cook and not much of a foodie. As of this year, I don't even eat meat. But I love and admire Child, for several reasons. One is that she found her way in a profession that scarcely even existed until she came along, and what did exist of it was a man's world: the celebrity professional chef-teacher. You don't have to like what she liked in order to understand the beauty of finding one's true vocation.
Another reason I admire her is that she helped begin the change in the eating habits of the typical American in the mid-twentieth century. Those of you who aren't old enough won't remember the glorification of convenience foods in those years. Even women who didn't have a job outside the home prided themselves in using the latest powdered, canned, and frozen dishes. When I was a kid (okay, I had an excuse, my mother worked), I don't think I ate a fresh vegetable outside my aunt's house until I was in high school. My favorite Sunday evening supper was a TV dinner. (Or canned sardines.) The only two cheeses I had ever tasted were Velveeta and American cheese slices. We ate that way because (a) Mom was busy, (b) that was the food that was available in our local market. While ethnic families living in their own neighborhoods (near markets that sold the ingredients they preferred) were more likely to eat fresh, traditional food, most urban or suburban Americans and even some in rural areas ate out of packages and cans. They baked cakes from a mix and used canned or powdered soup to make sauces.
Julia Child changed that for many people. She helped people question their eating patterns and learn to enjoy fresh foods, which turned out to be inexpensive and not all that hard to prepare. (Of course, there are more elaborate dishes as well, but everyone doesn't have to cook like a food poet!) Today I can go into a regular supermarket and get all sorts of fresh, locally grown vegetables and unusual cheeses, not to mention whole grains like millet and quinoa. I have quite the soft spot for chocolate, but I don't eat sugar flakes for breakfast anymore, and I have actually made my own soup. There's a wonderful scene in the movie Julie and Julia, in which Julia Child's French friend and co-author Simone Beck, on a visit to America, is looking at an American cookbook and encounters Marshmallow Fluff for the first time. Julia Child has made it possible for Americans to be known for more than Marshmallow Fluff.
So happy birthday to Julia. She was one of a kind, but she is an inspiration for others, men and women alike, to be one of a kind in other directions.