“How Julia Child Invented Modern Life”
by Karen Lehrman
What were popular American attitudes toward food before Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking?
How did American culture change after World War II?
How did Julia’s book influence the way Americans viewed food?
How did Julia Child influence the way Americans viewed women?
Where and how did Julia Child meet her husband? What was he doing at the time?
How did Julia Child come to learn French cooking? How did that lead to her writing her first book?
Why was Julia Child’s book so much more successful than other books about French cooking?
How Julia Child invented modern life
What Julia started
Julia Child made America mad for food and changed notions of class and gender BY KAREN LEHRMAN
Americans are obsessive about fancy food. At the pricier supermarkets, it's hard to find the hamburgers among the pâtés, the buns among the polenta, the ketchup among the jars of mango salsa. Guests at tony dinner parties twitter about whether one should wok in peanut or canola oil, and why a morel tastes better with a dash of rosemary. Books devoted to cooking, broken down by region, appliance, and heat source, occupy four aisles at the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. Food has become an integral part of high culture. A character proclaims in John Guare's 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation, "The restaurants! New York has become the Florence of the sixteenth century. Genius on every corner." Haute cuisine is embedded in mass culture, too: The corner coffee shop sells pain au chocolat, and Burger King slaps sausage, egg, and cheese between two crescent-shaped rolls and calls it a "Croissan’wich."
It wasn't always this way. In the 1950s, America was a meat-and-potatoes kind of country. Women did all of the cooking and got their recipes from ladies' magazine articles with titles like "The 10-Minute Meal and How to Make It." Meatloaf, liver and onions, corned beef hash--all were considered hearty and therefore healthy and therefore delicious. For many women, preparing meals was not a joy but a requirement, like cleaning toilets and having (male-centered) sex. Food was fuel; it merely satisfied a need.
By the late '50s, though, America was in the midst of a major cultural transformation. The economy was booming, the old WASP aristocracy was beginning to crumble, and opportunities proliferated for a broad group of Americans who had gone to college free of charge on the postwar GI Bill. Upward mobility brought with it, inevitably, status anxiety, which expressed itself in the elaborate cultural signals people sent to tell one another that, in spite of this Brooklyn accent or that Mississippi Delta drawl, the bearer was a cosmopolite. Arguably the most prestigious of these signals was the casually dropped remark indicating that one had traveled by ocean liner or aeroplane to France, visited a great restaurant, and discovered, somewhere between the vichyssoise and the blanquette de veau, that food wasn't fuel, it was Art.
Enter Julia Child. In 1961, a 49-year-old housewife with negligible formal training in cooking published a sophisticated guide to the basic principles, techniques, and recipes of classic French cuisine, titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The first hardcover edition sold 650,000 copies, starting a minor revolution in an American culture still reveling in the convenience of canned soups, frozen vegetables, and TV dinners. Two years after Mastering, Julia Child took her message to an even wider public with The French Chef, broadcast on National Educational Television, the precursor to the Public Broadcasting System. For dinner tables across the country, the program ended the reign of liver and onions--first for the aspiring professional classes and ultimately for much of America. Affluent women clamored to take cooking classes; gourmet "specialty" stores...
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