Julia Child, one of America’s greatest personalities and its foremost ambassador to the joy of eating, died yesterday at the age of 91. In addition to her longevity and zest for life, what was remarkable about Child was the pleasure she took in eating, drinking, and cooking — as well as her willingness to stand up to the food-cop crowd that lives to scare Americans away from our favorite meals. Child had especially strong sentiments for the nutritional scolds at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who have a food-enemies list a mile long. The Boston Globe wrote in 1995 that a “steaming” Child took CSPI to task: “Those people see no beauty in food. It’s a terrible thing. I don’t think they’re going to live very long.” Perhaps that’s because, as America’s favorite cook explained on another occasion, “When you’re afraid of your food, you don’t digest it well.”
In 1985 Child and Robert Mondavi formed the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF), and installed as board members a variety of noted chefs, food writers, and nutritionists. The organization’s mission was an apolitical one: highlighting the pleasure of eating and drinking. Its first meetings, however, were anything but pleasurable.
Child’s biography describes her own fiery exchange in which she berated Alice Waters (who later became a central figure in the organic-only-preaching Chefs Collaborative) for incessantly evangelizing about organic foods. Waters was “bringing the whole spirit of the thing down,” Child would later recall, “with this endless talk of pollutants and toxins.” Child wanted the AIWF to avoid emphasizing such talk of doom and gloom, because she believed that it would serve to reinforce “the country’s ingrained fear of pleasure.” She also thought Waters’ “romantic beliefs would not help feed two hundred million people.”
In 1994 Washingtonian magazine reported that Child “thinks the new puritans are ridiculous.” The atmosphere they create is “poisoning people’s pleasure,” she told the Baltimore Sun that same year. “This sounds like the death knell of gastronomy … People need to take an adult point of view. We know what we need to do: eat in moderation, small helpings, a great variety, weight-watching, moderate.” And back in 1981 Child warned: “What’s dangerous and discouraging about this era is that people really are afraid of their food … Sitting down to dinner is a trap, not something to enjoy. People should take their food more seriously. Learn what you can eat and enjoy it thoroughly.”
That’s a lot of wisdom from a lady who was beloved by countless Americans. To remember her well, we should all keep a Child-like joy for food and life.