For the Birds Radio Program: Julia Child
Laura talks about Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, about the Peterson guide in Child’s kitchen as on display at the Smithsonian, and how she identifies with Child’s enthusiasm and sense of adventure.
I’ve never been much of a “foodie,” and although I’m not a vegetarian I eat very little meat, so you’d think I would not at all have enjoyed Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France. She writes about savoring pâté de foie gras—a pâté of fat goose liver and usually truffles, sometimes with added fat pork. She doesn’t mention the cruel force-feeding of the goose to make his or her liver fat before killing the poor thing, but she does talk about a pressed duck dish in which the birds are killed by smothering to keep the blood all within the body. And she talks about her enjoyment of the gamey taste of wild-killed birds. I’m not opposed to hunting, and as I said, I’m no vegetarian, but my personal philosophy is to keep away from wild-shot birds altogether just in case it’s someone I know.
Had our paths ever crossed, I don’t think I’d ever have been invited to dinner at Julia’s, and I know she’d never have condescended to come to dinner at my place. I just don’t have that rarified a sense of taste, nor that rarified a sensibility about fine dining. The very day I finished her book, I sat down to a tuna noodle casserole topped with crumbled potato chips—exactly the kind of cooking she ridiculed in the book.
But I do associate Julia Child with birds—when Russ and I went to the Smithsonian National History Museum a year or two ago and saw her kitchen on display, there was a Peterson and an Audubon field guide on the shelf, making me wonder if she wasn’t an occasional birdwatcher. Her book mentioned nothing of the sort, though she did make an occasional reference to birds she noticed. A couple of friends suggested that maybe she kept field guides on hand to identify an unusual find at a meat market. I wasn’t convinced, but after reading My Life in France, I’m more open to the possibility.
So this sounds rather like I didn’t like the book, doesn’t it? But actually, I related to a great deal about Julia Child and her life. Like me, she devoted her life to what started out as a hobby. She was passionate about sharing her love for food in the way I am about birds. And she loved adventure—going places open to whatever they had to offer. She describes birdsong, flowers, clouds—she may not have been a birder, but knew how to savor the out of doors. She was definitely more judgmental than I am, dismissing some meals in ways I’d never dismiss any bird. But at heart, she was warm and enthusiastic, and grabbed at life with as much gusto as a Blue Jay, and just about as much ruthlessness and fun and warmth toward the people she loved. Also like a Blue Jay, she was deeply in love with her mate, Paul Child, and they did almost all their traveling together. I can’t remember when I was so sad for a book to come to an end. It wasn’t about birds, but was about enthusiasm. I’ve read a lot of memoirs, but never one so intimate, or one I could so fully relate to, as Julia Child’s My Life in France.