Thanks to a combination of economic hardship and a proliferation of cooking shows, home cooking is back. A Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans are cooking at home more.
That would surely cheer famed chef Julia Child, who would have turned 100 this August and brought the art of French cooking to America’s televisions and dinner tables.
But she was legendary not only for bringing French cooking to American homes but also for proclaiming the virtues of enjoying, rather than fearing, food. Her recipes – heavy with butter, cream and sugar – offered the common household a taste of the good life.
They would also offend the nation’s growing class of government worrywarts.
Throughout her life, Child stood against neo-puritans who demanded universal adherence to one view of the perfect diet. Whether she was arguing against organic evangelists with their “endless talk of pollutants and toxins” that played on “the country’s ingrained fear of pleasure,” or telling The Associated Press that scolds and nags “see no beauty in food,” Child had no time for overblown hype in the kitchen.
But some would say we suffer because we enjoy the taste of the good life that Child provided. After all, we seem to read constantly that we’re fat, even as we pay more attention to carb-counts, calories and any number of food rules than ever. But despite millions of Americans tuning in to her television shows and trying out her rich recipes, our grandparents’ waistlines weren’t ballooning to anywhere near what they are now.
Clearly, blaming food hasn’t slimmed a nation down.
That hasn’t stopped the nags and scolds, and this time they’ve brought the government to do their dirty work. We’ve even seen them claim that food is addictive like illegal drugs. Child once predicted that people hounded by nutrition nannies would see “sitting down to dinner is a trap, not something to enjoy.” She probably didn’t think it would be the scolds’ playbook.
David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told “60 Minutes” last November that food companies are making “super palatable” foods that are “fat on fat on sugar on fat with flavor” and “hijack our brain.” Of course, that’s exactly what Child was doing on television 40 years ago, and waistlines weren’t ballooning.
And now some have argued that this so-called “addiction” should force governments to adopt food taxes or even forbid letting a kid buy a cookie. But Cambridge University scientists found the “vast majority of overweight individuals have not shown a convincing behavioral or neurobiological profile that resembles addiction.” And the claim gets more ridiculous. The purported evidence for food’s addictiveness is that it makes our brains’ pleasure centers light up. News flash: Everything pleasurable lights up our pleasure centers, whether it’s your favorite music or exercise.
And mixing uncertain science with activist agendas to target ingredients or foods hasn’t ever proved a path to good health. Remember how eggs were “bad” before they were “good” again? Rather than following the blame-a-food-any-food crowd, Child preached a different message: moderation.
If we want to slim down, we’d be wise to follow that advice not only at the table but also in the rest of our lives. CDC figures show that only about 20 percent of American adults get the recommended amount of physical activity: Three one-hour sessions of moderate physical activity and two muscle strengthening sessions per week.
And whether you’re gardening, carrying your golf clubs, running some routes for your future quarterback, walking the dog or taking a hike, most people can find a physical activity that will bring both health and pleasure. Compare that with the misery and complaints of dieters.
When she passed, Child was two days short of 92 years old. Not bad for a woman who wrote, “With enough butter, everything is good.” Moderation served her well, and it could serve us all well if we give it the chance.
J. Justin Wilson is the senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.