Eating For Pleasure — What A Concept

Julie & Julia
Image via Wikipedia

I watched the film “Julie & Julia” again last night, the film about a young New York blogger Julie Powell and her quixotic quest to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year. Meryl Streep, once more disappearing into character, was perfect and many say she’ll win an Oscar for her role.

What struck me powerfully watching the film again was one of its underlying themes: eating is pleasure! Cooking delicious food for someone you love is a gift, a great and intimate joy to be savored and remembered and anticipated as much as that other thing couples do to cement their union. Watching the characters of Julie and Julia cook, eat and feed their husbands, each of them groaning and sighing with joy, is a fun reminder that food need not always be a subject of embattled misery.

Today’s New York Times‘ food section has two fun stories, one about the tradition of cookies at Pittsburgh weddings and a stollen recipe.

Yes, obesity is a problem. But seeing food as the enemy is no solution. I once watched Oprah, whose battles of the bulge are legendary, telling Mireille Giuliano, the author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat” how she was so good on a visit to Paris, every single day there denying herself that most Parisian of pleasures — eating a croissant. Finally, Oprah confessed, she broke down and had one.

You could see Giuliano struggling to maintain her politesse in the face of this typical fetishtization/demonization of fat/butter/calories — pleasure. Nonplussed in the face of this tortured relationship to a pastry, she asked: “Why didn’t you just eat one when you wanted it?”

One of the reasons I love visiting Paris is I eat myself silly there: Berthillon ice cream, croissants, 4-course meals, yet always come home significantly thinner. Because I walk for 4-7 hours a day! Not, as I do in my horrible suburban life, eat-drive-repeat.

We went out for a great lunch yesterday: fritto misto, mozarella and tomato salad, pasta, a shared dessert, a glass of red wine each. Cereal for dinner at 9:00 p.m., we were so full. My partner and I love to cook and to eat and to choose and plan recipes and have friends over to eat with us as well. I was delighted when our last guests, one of them half-French, sighed with delight; “Is that a clafouti?” when she saw it on the counter. It was, and we ate it — eggs, sugar, fruit and all — with gusto.

Here’s Wendell Berry’s thoughts on the matter and a new food magazine, Fire and Knives, launched last month, and a book celebrating the idea that food is pleasure.

Whatever your weight and size, I hope you’re enjoying some of the holidays’ culinary gifts.