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Last week, I devoured three books about food. First, Julia Child’s My Life in France; second, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food; and third, Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia. All were delightful in their own way. It was a bit jarring to go from Child’s autobiography to Pollan’s description of the crap we Americans will put in our body. I have mentioned here before how I love cooking and eating, so going through these three books was soul satisfying, though not quite as soul satisfying as cooking and eating a good meal.
Child’s book was a good book to start the vacation with. I’m sure her autobiography paints a specific picture of her, but the picture I got was of a woman who loved life and lived every moment with gusto. Whether she chose cooking or flower arranging, I think she would have thrown herself in full force. I very much enjoyed her descriptions of Paris. Her apartment was mere blocks from the hotel we stayed in ourselves and a stone’s throw from Mr. Geeky’s conference. I recognized streets she described and even some market areas. It was a nice reminder of our own time in Paris. But more than that, her descriptions of food and wine and the joy she expressed in sharing meals with friends and family were really wonderful. She makes it sound as if her whole life was spent eating and drinking and laughing with friends. She doesn’t, of course, as she also talks about working on the book and subsequently the tv show. Her energy for both is amazing and inspiring.
Pollan’s book is, in many ways, a tribute to the kind of cooking and eating Child espouses. Even Child laments the processed food she finds upon returning to America. I especially liked Pollan’s rules for eating toward the end of the book. They’re simple and easy to follow. I immediately applied them to buying a loaf of bread, though the fewest ingredients I could find in any loaf was 7 (Pollan recommends no more than 5), but I could pronounce all of them. He admits that eating as he recommends is likely to be more expensive and says that it’s a shame that that’s the case. He says, though, that if you can afford it, you should eat organic and local and non-processed food as much as possible. Though it doesn’t get much ink, he also talks about enjoying food and seeing it as something to be experienced with friends (a la Julia Child) rather than as simply fuel. It’s nice to be given license to ignore the low-fat, low-carb crap the food industry throws at us. I’m just gonna eat food from now on. And apparently, not worry about saving money on it. If there’s one thing I do wish he and others would work on is figuring out how to get rid of some of the subsidies that are making it so cheap for companies to make really bad food (and food that is bad for us), because until it’s cheap for everyone to eat real food, we’re going to see more health problems and only the relatively wealthy will avoid them.
Finally, Powell’s book was a fun read, more fun than I thought it would be, and I suppose, because I love Meryl Streep, I might have to see the movie as well. I never read Powell’s blog, though I know some of you out there did and liked it and were disappointed with the book. The whole project does seem a little gimmicky, which is what, apparently, Julia Child claims it is. But in the book, but apparently not in the movie, this upsets Powell immensely, as she sees the project as giving her life meaning, as a way of finding out who she is and escaping the anonymity of her corporate job. Which is, sort of, what Child was doing in France. She had, by this point, identified with Child in a way without really quite realizing and still trying to maintain some distance, so having her project labeled as a stunt by the very person she identified with had to be a blow.
Unlike the other two books, Powell’s book is not really about food, though there are many descriptions of cooking food and eating food, that’s not what it’s about. It’s more about soul searching, about the ups and downs of life. You can sort of argue the same thing of Child’s book, that her book is also about finding oneself, trying to separate oneself from the masses. But Child’s book is less individualistic than Powell’s and less about ego and success. Not that Child doesn’t have some ego in her, but she seems to recognize more than Powell does, that her friends and family have contributed to her life in significant ways. That may be her age (Child was in her late 80s when the book was being written) or it may be the times. Child’s lesson, taking heart in your family and friends seems more important somehow in the end. Powell does recognize this in the end and she does take joy (her word) in some of what’s happened in the course of her project, but that somehow it doesn’t quite match Julia’s life–not yet, anyway.
All three books left me with renewed gusto to cook more and eat well and maybe invite friends over to share it all with.