“With enough butter, everything is good,” Julia Child said. Her 1961 classic cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” coupled with her popular television show “The French Chef” brought French culinary classics to the masses. Her recipes are famous for including copious amounts of butter, cream and sugar. But does including things that taste good in our food mean that we’ve resolved ourselves to a life of being fat?
This week’s release of the new film “Julie & Julia,” an interwoven story about Julia Child’s culinary life in France and Julie Powell’s 2002 year of cooking and blogging her way through Child’s cookbook made me wonder how Child would react to our country’s recent obsession with food regulation.
Child ardently fought nutritional puritans and those who put their politics ahead of their taste buds. She had legitimate concerns about disinformation and overblown fears surrounding food. Ironically, Meryl Streep, who plays Child in the upcoming “Julie & Julia,” testified on Capitol Hill on the use of pesticide on fruits and vegetables. Surely Child would have shuddered, knowing that “endless talk of pollutants and toxins” is indeed furthering “the country’s ingrained fear of pleasure.”
Can you imagine a world where omelets are no longer served in restaurants, buying real butter and salt is more expensive (and harder to find) than artificial substitutes, and chocolate mousse is only made with egg whites and Splenda? Talk about poisoning people’s pleasure. Food would certainly be bland and likely wouldn’t leave us any thinner.
Our nation’s obesity problem isn’t a result of hollandaise sauce and boeuf bourguignon. When millions of Americans tuned in to Child’s show, our nation’s waistlines didn’t expand anywhere near the way they have in recent decades. If our grandparents, Julia’s biggest fans, had far more butter, sugar, cream and bacon grease in their diets and managed their health just fine, logically we shouldn’t continue to attack food for America’s obesity problem.
Julia knew there were “too many experts trying to scare people.” Animal-rights people, screwy nutritionists and dietitians, neo-Prohibitionists and the food police, to name a few. Today trans-fat bans, salt restrictions, soda taxes and menu labeling are cropping up everywhere in proposed legislation. Just last week at the “Weight of the Nation” conference, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, advocated for a nationwide soda tax. Julia Child must be rolling over in her grave.
George Mason University’s Mercatus Center looked at the effectiveness of taxing sugary drinks to curb obesity. The study concluded that “fat taxes” aren’t an effective tool for lowering obesity because people aren’t significantly sensitive to changes in relative food prices. Ultimately, sin taxes are hardly efficient, often regressive, and rarely work as intended. As Julia Child would say, “If you’re afraid of [or can't afford] butter, just use cream.”
As government seeks to interfere with our food choices in different ways, we must look at the real reason for our growing waistlines: laziness. With technology advances and the affordability of convenient transportation and communication, we have become increasingly lazy and less active in our daily lives.
A recent Indiana University study pointed out what foodies have known for years: It isn’t all about the food. The study found that children who lived near recreational facilities had lower body mass indexes. Living near fast-food restaurants or grocery stores selling healthful fruits and vegetables had no correlation to their weight. Obviously being more active — walking an extra 20 feet to your car or taking the stairs instead of the elevator — is going to have more of an impact on your health than any proposed government intervention.
Child, who lived to be nearly 92 years old, would be the first to tell you moderation is the key to a happy and healthy life. Our kitchens and stomachs are forever grateful to Julia, who was a delight to watch, for sharing her cooking. This weekend, you might consider walking to the movie theater to check out Julie and Julia’s culinary mishaps and masterpieces on-screen. But don’t blame butter-laden recipes for today’s obesity problems; blame your own two feet.