“Everytime I find the meaning of life, they change it.” –Unknown
It’s a discomfiting thing, this knowing that the world and its constructs (except perhaps for Brooks Brothers and your mother’s hairdo) are not static. The upside: if you don’t like something, you needn’t worry. It’ll change. The downside: if you like something, you’re pretty much screwed because, at some point, it will evolve into something else.
In the 1960s, a metaphysical starter pistol was fired when a president was murdered; life changed, and nothing would ever be the same—not the political landscape, not the taking for granted of the safety of our leaders. The very act pissed people off, and for the balance of a decade, their anger changed and galvanized and grew and morphed, building in scope like a giant Lego set: an unjust war, the draft, Malcolm X, My Lai over here; women’s rights, Dr. King, Robert Kennedy, and Stonewall, over there. Another day, another hard-fought change. And now, forty-one years after a group of patrons at a small bar in the West Village decided they were officially fed up, I’m married in six states. Could things change back? Certainly. I take nothing for granted. Ever.
As a food journalist, I know that what we eat and the way we eat it is not immune to metamorphisis; in Berkeley, California, children at the urban Martin Luther King Elementary School take part in The Edible Schoolyard, a project launched by Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation. Here, they learn to grow, cultivate, prepare, eat, and enjoy fresh vegetables. A plane ride south in Sierra Mar, Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld writes a cookbook about hiding spinach in your child’s brownies, because (the theory goes) no self-respecting kid wants to otherwise go near it. Challenged in court by Missy Chase Lapine, who’d written a similar book first, the response is unanimous: mothers have been doing this for years. This is nothing new. So where, exactly, is the change? In being deceptive and confirming to upscale moms and their finnicky children that spinach has to be hidden in chocolate to get it down their throats? Or in showing less-priviledged children the glories of real food, grown themselves, and prepared simply so they develop a lifelong love affair with it? Where is the change? In the less intuitive place: the schoolyard.
When Julia Child stepped in front of the camera in the WGBH studios on February 11th, 1963, just nine months before Kennedy was shot, her goal was one thing: to effect change in the way American women and men thought about, shopped for, and prepared food. Nearly half a century later, much has changed: the Food Network and other food television own nighttime entertainment; the gourmeting of consumerism, with Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma leading the pack, is ubiquitous; celebrity chefs now own three and four restaurants in cities on opposite ends of the globe, their faces plastered all over packaged foods lining the shelves of suburban supermarkets. One could say, then, that Julia accomplshed what she set out to do: to change the way Americans think about food. But would she approve? My guess is probably not. The change she was looking for had nothing to do with catalogs and celebrity-branded salsa. She was striving, ultimately, to get ordinary people into the kitchen, and comfortable with the concept of preparing fresh food, from scratch, with simplicity, clarity, and flavor.
Are we there yet? We’re close. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, even in the kitchen. So Julia, wherever you are, we still have a lot of work to do.
Photo Credit: ian_ransley