With the recent passing of legendary chef Julia Child at the ripe old age of 91, America is facing the first Christmas without its grande dame of good eating. Through her books and television shows, Child brought to our dining rooms traditional French cuisine brimming with cream and butter. She stressed “an adult point of view,” advising moderation and variety in food, along with exercise. But above all, Child reveled in the pleasure of fine foods and encouraged Americans to do the same.
Not everyone shares Child’s gustatory joie de vivre, however. As we sit down to our indulgent Christmas dinners, we would be well served by comparing Child’s sensible approach to that of the people she derided as the “animal-rights people, screwy nutritionists and dieticians, neo-prohibitionists,” and “health police.” For them, she observed, “Sitting down to dinner is a trap, not something to enjoy.”
Child reserved a special contempt for the deceptively named Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which proudly calls itself the “food police.” CSPI once dubbed fettuccine Alfredo a “heart attack on a plate,” and has tried to paralyze the public with breathless warnings on the dangers of movie popcorn, Chinese food, and dozens of other menu favorites. The group now scorns its disfavored cuisines as “food porn.”
In 1994, Child warned that CSPI was “poisoning people’s pleasure.” Consider the group’s position on ice cream. While common sense says that the occasional scoop poses neither immediate nor long-term health threats, they say you should never touch the stuff. Appearing on Good Morning America, CSPI’s executive director warned that if you eat ice cream, “just know that you’re going to kill yourself.”
Child, in contrast, took a decidedly more libertine approach to dairy products. When chided by a reporter for her ample use of butter, she quipped, “We often say if you don’t like butter, add heavy cream.”
She liked both, of course. At Christmas, Child gave her fowl a “generous butter massage” before roasting and mashed her potatoes with cream and butter. Her yuletide desserts were equally extravagant, such as rich gingerbread men and a plum pudding made with another two sticks of butter.
Food porn? Hardly. Child gloried in food, once naming red meat and gin as her ultimate meal. Nutritional puritans like CSPI, in contrast, trumpet day-long fasts to reduce calorie-counts and cheer the diets of 17th century peasants who feasted on “a pound of bread, a spud, and a couple of carrots per day.” Now they seek to levy prohibitive taxes on the staples of Child’s kitchen – milk, butter, cheese, and meat.
Child founded the American Institute of Wine and Food to safeguard the pleasures of drinking and eating from the growing threats to our dinner tables. Meanwhile, CSPI and its allies in the alcohol-control movement complain that “the last thing the world needs is more drinkers, even moderate ones.”
Child chastised those who put their politics ahead of our taste buds. She worried especially that “endless talk of pollutants and toxins” in food would only reinforce “the country’s ingrained fear of pleasure.” She felt that “when you’re afraid of your food, you don’t digest it well.”
With so much disinformation swirling about, it sometimes seems that people should run and hide when dinner is served. Thanks to Julia Child’s efforts, though, we don’t have to. This Christmas, while we feast on our roasted turkeys, mashed potatoes, and gingerbread men, we should all be thankful that Julia Child stood against the food police for our enjoyment and benefit.