My wife, my daughter, and I watched Julie & Julia today. We all enjoyed it immensely. For those who don’t know, the movie interleaves scenes from Julia Child’s life as she learns to cook in Paris and embarks on the effort that would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking with scenes from the life of food blogger Julie who decides to blog about cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s book in a year. Julie and her husband live in a small apartment in Queens over a pizzeria with a tiny kitchen and Julie is not the most experienced cook. Poignancy and hilarity ensue in both storylines.
Julia Child wanted to make the French cooking she so loved accessible to American women without servants. That became a passion for her. It reminded me of the time growing up in Houston when my father and his friend decided to write a cookbook making Indian cuisine accessible to Americans. That cookbook, Not Everything We Eat Is Curry, captures a period in my life filled with nights when my family was experimenting with recipes and alternative ingredients, going through proofs, and living the experience of writing a cookbook from scratch. There’s very little that compares. Unlike Julia’s cookbook, my father’s did not catapult him into fame. It was almost picked up by a major distributor (and there’s a painful story there), but even so I’ve always been glad I lived through the experience. I absorbed a love for cooking and a certain freedom to experiment. I like what the lone Amazon.com reviewer writes (and frankly I’m surprised the book even came up on Amazon). In a lot of ways, my father did develop Indian/Louisiana fusion recipes before fusion cuisine even really existed as a distinct category. So I understand Julia’s passion. And Meryl Streep does an outstanding job capturing her persona. (And if you can avoid cracking up at Julia’s comment when handling the hot cannoli, you’re either a humorless drone or a more pious man than I will ever be.)
As Julia was searching for a purpose in her life when she began learning the art of french cooking, so Julie was searching for meaning when she began to blog her way through Julia’s cookbook. There is a spiritual aspect to Julie’s journey. Yes, it is also deeply narcissistic at times, a point which the movie highlights. If anything, that part helped me understand some of what bloggers who seek an audience receive from their feedback.
(If you’re wondering, I don’t share that impulse. I only decided to write a public blog so that my celiac related posts might conceivably help someone else with celiac. And as a way to deal with the diagnosis. As far as the rest goes, I’m bemused when people want to read it. Though my blog is fairly new, my writing is not. And only a fraction of that will ever be seen here. If I could stop writing and live my life free from it, I would. But that’s not an option for me.)
Julie finds in the Julia she imagines from the text of her cookbook a spiritual mentor, a guide, a companion in life. Cooking with the Julia who Julie encounters in the text provides Julie’s somewhat aimless life with direction and meaning it previously lacked. At the end of the move, Julie makes a pilgrimage to the Julia Child museum exhibit. At the exhibit, Julie sacrificially offers a pound of unsalted butter before the icon of Julia. That act reveals the spiritual connection in a way in which human beings have always offered something akin to worship. The connection Julie feels is real even though the aging Julia, that is the one who in reality exists, does not believe that Julie is a serious cook and is turned off by her frequent use of “four letter words” in her blog.
In many ways, that seems to capture much of the experience in present-day American Christianity. People are deeply and spiritually attached to the Jesus of their imagination, whether that Jesus has any true connection to the actual person of Jesus or not.
There is little that is more visceral, that is more connected to our life, than food. And this film captures that reality on multiple levels. I highly recommend it.