Friday, August 13, 2004

Food vs...

Julia Child has died.

I mourn, as a foodie, and I mourn for the cultural icon she was. She taught Americans to love food like you love a spouse -- the dating, the honeymoon, the moment you realize you're married (AKA the moment you figure out the honeymoon is over). She wasn't glamorous, nor did she try to make cooking seem glamorous. She dropped things, had flour on her dress, couldn't always unmold things, and at least once, she burned the butter melting in a pan for a saute and had to discard it and start over. And speaking of butter...

She was once quoted as saying that Americans have become afraid of food. Forget bin Laden or Saddam Hussain. Fat, carbs, sugar are the new terrorists. They lurk everywhere, laying in wait for the golden moment they can fuse to your thighs, cling to your arteries, ride your hips like a fortunate lover. We must remain at an elevated terror status, orange or higher. They are always looking for new ways to harm us, and so should we.

What the hell is it with our obsession with food? Have we become so enemy-sensitive that everything has a combative element? Once upon a time we drank whole milk with relish, saw sugar as a friendly source of energy, viewed corn flakes as good for you. A fat baby was desirable. Chubby cheeks on children was a sign of health. Now, we fear taking in too many calories because high calorie diets are aging -- the whole aging thing deserves its own post, so I won't elaborate now. We want to know how many carbs are in our cold medicine.

As much as the French may be our cultural enemy now, they have something legit to offer in the food-as-terrorist scheme. The reason why French people, for the most part, aren't as overweight as Americans are is not because they avoid things like fat and sugar, but because they treat their marriage to food as though they were dating. When you're dating, you make it a point to treat your boy/girlfriend well, or you know they'll dog you and/or leave. Perhaps they'll stick around because the sex is good, or because you have a nice apartment or car, or because you're connected and can bring a higher living standard to them. However, if you don't respect, even revere them, they're off like a dirty shirt. The French respect their food. They treat it well, picking the best ingredients, finding the best cooking methods and herbs & spices to complement core ingredients. Food is not a placeholder in time, something to do while watching a crappy movie or giving your mouth busywork so you won't realize you really hate what you're currently engaged in. Food was not meant to be predigested for you; e.g. energy bars and meal replacement shakes. Food is a lover you finesse and caress before consummation.

I was in Paris last November and ate really good food. The worst meal I had offered a first course of an enormous serving of really cold foie gras -- can you imagine sending back a half-eaten plate of foie gras? Every waiter in the cafe came to ask what was wrong and summed it up for themselves as another case of an American with bad taste, but the problem was it was like eating a thick slab of butter that came from the freezer. If you like bread and butter, you know what I mean -- who want to struggle with spreading icy butter on bread? In contrast, the best meal I had offered as a first course the most incredible, perfectly tempered foie gras (yes, I like foie gras!). The food at the latter restaurant was prepared as though we were dating -- dressed great, smelled great, sexy as hell, with nothing but money and time at our disposal. The food at the former was a little more like feeding an army of kids -- heat it up, slap it on a plate, sling it in front of the kids and get them out of the way as soon as possible.

The French also see food like the all-important initial stage of dating -- don't give up too much in the beginning, leave them wanting more. A small piece of really good cheese or a small, intensely flavored pastry is incredibly satisfying, but makes you want to call for a second date -- just not too soon after the previous one. You're left with the memory, lingering, dancing in your mind.

From where I stand, fast food, huge portions, and crappy ingredients are the enemy. Spend a buck or two for good ingredients. Cook well -- learn how to cook. If you want to have better sex, you practice and ask what your lover wants. If you want to be a better cook, learn how and practice. Don't be afraid of a little butter, a bit of stinky cheese, a decadent chocolate. Just don't eat the whole box of chocolate. SLOW DOWN -- isn't that what your date said in bed? Slow down so you can savor -- you'll end up eating less.

By the way, slowing down, decreasing my portions, and cooking with good ingredients helped me shed and keep off more than 40 pounds. I have a little dessert every day, but I also run 2.5 miles and do 30 minutes of strength training 4 days a week.

Chere Julia, we will miss you. Here's hoping there is a good runny Camembert, a rich coq au vin washed down with a good Bordeaux, and a luscious creme brulee wherever you are. Bon appetit!


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