If you think of 20th century women who changed the world, Julia Child might not be the first name that comes to your mind. Maybe you'd think of Margaret Sanger, or those other activists who gave us control of our fertility, and thus, the rest of our lives. Maybe you'd think of all those nameless suffragists who won us the right to vote. Maybe you'd list the women who went to work during World Wars I and II and by exposing women to the joy of earning our own paychecks changed society forever. Or maybe you have an athlete in mind, someone who proved that having a female body doesn't have to be a handicap.
To be fair, Julia Child would not have always been top of my list either. But lately, I've been changing my mind. Today, as we celebrate her 100th birthday, even though she's not with us to celebrate, it's a great day to assess.
Julia Child went on television and showed us that we could cook. She educated us so that now we think of cooking as more than opening packages and heating. We take raw ingredients and transform them into meals.
She showed us that we didn't have to be intimidated by a foreign cuisine or by snooty chefs. She invaded and transformed a male domain as surely as any 20th century athlete did.
I have always thought of Julia Child as a cook and a television personality, but never really as a fellow writer. How nice to discover that side of her. I didn't really think of her as a writer until I saw the movie Julie and Julia a few years ago.
I was interested in the movie's depiction of women as creative people who have to remake themselves periodically--in fact, that seemed to be the movie's message about the world of work--we'll all have to reinvent ourselves periodically.
I was interested in the idea that each woman was adrift and found herself through cooking--and through writing about her cooking. I spent a lot of time thinking about how small changes in trajectory changed each woman's life so completely.
I had no idea that it took Julia Child so long to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The movie shows the multiple times that she had to make major revisions and how she coped with each twist. I loved the scene where she's thoroughly dejected--nice to see a bit of realism.
What a great movie! Maybe I'll celebrate her birthday by watching it again.
Many critics have pointed out that it's one of the few movies centered on women that doesn't focus on their romantic lives--very refreshing. Yet at the same time, these women are allowed to have healthy relationships as well as creative ambition--and they're not punished by horrible torture, dismemberment, or death. I loved the fact that Julia Child's body looks like a normal woman's body on the screen--a tall woman's body, but a body with a bosom, with hips, with a large behind--the kind of body one would have as one cooks with all that animal fat. I love the fact that her husband clearly desires her, well into their middle ages. I love that he sees her as a treasure, even as the society in which they live sees her as a bit of a freak.
It's too hot where I live to cook some of her signature dishes. Boeuf Bourguignon will have to wait. But we will have a delicious meal that we create by grilling and using our anniversary wood chunks to smoke the meat. We will toast a love that I hope will be as enduring as the one Julia enjoyed. I will take courage from the fact that she was well into midlife before she found creative success. I will take courage from her example of how women can reinvent themselves and transform the world.