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If you haven't seen the delightful confection Julie & Julia, I summon my best Julia Child imitation to say: You must simply must! The film has helped me understand that Julia Child was a culinary green goddess. (I know, I know, the French Chef did commit innumerable sins against creatures great and small, including throwing live lobsters into boiling water. That said, please hear me out.)
The first thing that got me to thinking about a "green" Julia came not five minutes after the movie's final credits, as my DH and I strolled out of the theater with another couple. As we cooked up dinner plans at a French bistro, we happened upon a huge stoop sale, where I quickly spotted two lovingly displayed vintage "pearl" necklaces. I couldn't stop laughing through our meal as Susan and I wore our precious jewels -- hers $5, mine $3 -- in homage to the movie's titular characters and their taste in baubles. Voila! Classic repurposing!
Am I being a bit tongue in cheek? Peut t'etre. But all joking aside, years before the rise of Alice Waters and the green market movement, Julia Child was joyfully shopping in Parisian open-air markets and little shops around the corner, extolling the merits of using the freshest ingredients from local producers.
While Child was discovering her inner French locavore, Americans were driving their gas guzzlers to vast supermarkets, where they purchased prepackaged meats from factory farms along with waxed, chemically enhanced fruits and vegetables.
As Child recounts in My Life in France, her best-selling memoir about her formative years in Paris during the 1950s that partially inspired Julie & Julia, her favorite vendor was "the vegetable woman, who was known as Marie des Quatre Saisons because her cart was always filled with the freshest produce of each season...She took great pleasure in instructing me about which vegetables were best to eat, and when; and how to prepare them correctly." And then there was that "excellent crémerie," with its freshly churned butter and "a container of fresh milk, waiting to be ladled out." Yum!
Child also describes her wonderment the first time she ate a chicken that tasted like "what real chicken tasted like!" My guess: Today, she would settle for nothing less than all-natural.
And then there was the way she wasted nothing, even organ meat. (Sorry, Julia, but as for that last one, phooey!) She placed great value on such economy in others, too, devoting a section in the book to the proprietress at Michaud, one of her and husband Paul's favorite Paris restaurants. Madame had "a thrifty Gallic 'save everything' quality," Child writes.
I wanted to confirm my hunch about Child's green leanings, so I checked in with Alex Prud'homme, her grandnephew and the co-author of My Life in France. He e-mailed back, "Julia never talked about being 'green' -- it wasn't something her generation focused on. But she did encourage people to buy the freshest possible food, prepare it with care, and not waste anything. (She was a big fan of leftovers.)
"JC was thrifty and practical," he continued, "and though I can't remember if she recycled, I'd bet she did. Paul would have loved the green movement, but it was before his time." Paul Child, Julia's devoted husband of nearly 50 years, was an artist and a world traveler who worked in the diplomatic corps.
Don't get me wrong: I have many a bone to pick with the famous chef, whose opus Mastering The Art of French Cooking recently hit the top of the best-seller list nearly 48 years after it was first published. While I still eat fish and chicken (for now, at least), I'll never, ever toss a moving crustacean into the cookpot, eat the meat from a calf fattened in a pen, or understand how anyone could be so diabolical as to concoct the the idea of force-feeding ducks.
And yet, like blogger Julie Powell, whose memoir Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously also helped inspire the movie -- I've discovered that when it comes to Julia Child, there's so much more than meets the eye. She had a true joie de vivre that permeated all aspects of her life and loves, including fresh, delicious food. She inspires me to say -- what else? -- bon appetite!