Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Julia Child Brought Real Food to the Modern World

Julia Child

In the 1960s, a movement began to rekindle quality food, you know, the kind of fresh food that is grown on farms. Michio Kushi came to the United States to teach macrobiotics in the 1950s, but he couldn’t find good enough quality food for his classes. After World War II, the modern world of the United States had embraced technology, mass production and adulterated, processed food, designed in the lab mainly for ease of transport and lengthy storage. In restaurants we had what I call, “the white bucket” fake foods, foods made from mixes provided by corporation headquarters. At home, we had frozen food dinners, Velveeta cheese, American cheese slices, frozen sausages, frozen pizza, cake mixes, instant coffee, I could go on forever listing the faux foods that replaced real foods people used to cook and eat for healthy meals. Even something as simple as an egg had undergone processing that had altered the very nature of an egg. All of these conveniences were a relief from the often hard labor of cooking, but they were not a relief for our overall health.

I still remember the scene in the movie, “Infamous,” in which the writer, cosmopolitan Truman Capote, on a 1959 research trip to Kansas, could not find real cheese. He is standing, lost, in front of a huge display of Velveeta processed cheese, the only cheese in town.

In the movie, "Infamous," Truman Capote 

contemplates the cheese desert in Kansas

Michio Kushi couldn’t find good food so he turned to an import/export business back in Japan, Mitoku. By 1967, he had created his own small grocer called Erewhon (Named after the utopian novel of the same name, Nowhere spelled backwards, it now was everywhere!) that provided fresh vegetables, imported Japanese foods, including sea vegetables and whole grain brown rice, beans from American farmers, fresh sour dough bread, homemade jams and jellies and natural beauty products. A revolution had begun. Countless Mom & Pop health food stores opened, including Autumn Harvest, which saved our lives one freezing winter in Chicago; A New Leaf, where I bought my first macrobiotic cookbook by Eunice Farmilant and  Bread & Circus, a small chain in Massachusetts and who could forget, the indomitable, Trader Joe's. Fifty years later, we also have Whole Foods, a wonderfully monstrous chain of natural food markets!

Similarly, Julia Child, in the early 1940s, in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, while working in the Office of Strategic Services, couldn’t abide the awful food in the barracks, so she and her then, friend Paul, soon to become her husband, ventured out into the city for real fresh food, Asian food.

Paul Child had also spent a good deal of time in Paris where he learned what quality food was. To this day, the United States is not allowed to send our adulterated rBGH dairy to France. By the way, have you EVER SEEN French school lunches? Compared to school lunches in the U.S.? And, while we’re at it, how about the school lunches in Africa? Talk about whole grains! In fact, many of our fake foods, popular and accepted as food in the United States, are banned abroad.

American School Lunch: nothing real here

French School Lunch: real food!

African School Lunch: real food!

In 1963, Julia Child began the first season of her now classic TV show, “The French Chef." Julia was not only cooking with whole, fresh, quality foods, she was cooking on television! She was educating the country mired in artificial foods what real food actually was! Sure, for a good many years, Julia’s meals were considered gourmet - fancy French food - but not all! She also cooked peasant food: good simple stews to be eaten with fresh bread, broiled fish, roasted chicken, simple omelettes, and baked apples for dessert. Along the way, she taught us how to go to the store or farmer’s market and choose fresh meats, fish and vegetables. 

Julia at the market

One of the biggest things Julia accomplished was after the fact of her groundbreaking TV show, that is the interest in real food that in turn created new chefs interested in growing their own organic gardens - chefs like Alice Waters, who, in turn, reached out to young people and children to create organic gardens in schools, to teach children about how food grows, where it comes from, how to cook it, how to make it their own! Now many schools across the country have school gardens! Thank you, Alice! Thank you, Julia! More chefs appeared, chefs like Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, whose enthusiasm for real food reached even more people. 

Chef Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard project

Not exactly a chef, but as the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama began her health program, “Let’s Move,” by encouraging, not only exercise, but school gardens, organic gardens, and organic school lunches. Michelle would surprise students with her visits to their school gardens. She created an organic garden at the White House. 

The First Lady Michelle Obama
encouraging students to learn about food

Michelle Obama also worked hard to do away with “food deserts” in this country by encouraging supermarkets to open in places without fresh food sources. Walgreens and Walmart responded with fresh foods in their stores. Two new Whole Foods were opened, one in Chicago, another in Detroit to fill the need.

Julia created ripples of goodness, far-reaching into the future! When we watch the movies created in her honor, we get a sense of how hard she worked and how long she worked hard! When we watch her on TV, she makes it all seem effortless, but we now know how much resistance Julia received for trying to teach people how to cook! She even paid for the food until the show got its sea legs! Could anyone imagine that when we watch her giggle at her mistakes or moan her appreciation of really good food? “Mmmm!”

Not everyone thanks Michio Kushi for bringing us Erewhon, creating somewhere out of Nowhere. Not everyone remembers what it was like before hummus and whole wheat bread were on every supermarket shelf. When a tuna fish sandwich or a dried up hunk of cod was as close as you could get to a vegetarian meal. Ok, maybe a tiny wilted iceberg salad, if you weren’t that hungry. Thank you, Michio. 

Thank you, Julia! 

©Patricia Goodwin, 2022

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.

Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.

***Disclaimer: The information on this blog is not meant to substitute for medical care. Please consult your physician before beginning any new dietary guidelines.