I have a bone to pick with Julie Powell

Eggs in aspic. "Bitch Rice." Live lobster, split and grilled. Those are just a few of the things Julie Powell cooked in Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, and 1 tiny apartment kitchen. This book came out last year but I just bought it as a remainder and devoured it over a few nights.

Shortly after September 11, 2001, Julie Powell was an aspiring actress and frustrated temp secretary about to turn 30 in New York City. She was miserable and unfocused. On a drunken whim, she decided to try to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol 1) ... in a year. She started a blog with her husband's help -- nothing like readers to keep you from quitting -- and the Julie/Julia Project was born.

Powell is an extremely funny writer, guzzling vodka gimlets as she piles up dishes in the sink and rails against the many shortcomings of her pseudo-loft in Brooklyn. She dishes about the sexploits of her various lunatic friends enough to give grieving Sex in the City fans a boost. And her fly-on-the-wall view of 9/11 memorial machinations provides some nice breaks from the cooking.
My only, ahem, beef with the book is this. Early on, Powell blithely dismisses seeking out organic and ethical ingredients as elitist. "Wealthy Victorians served Strawberries Romanoff in December," she writes. "Now we demonstrate our superiority by serving our dewy organic berries only when they can be picked ripe off the vine at the boutique farm down the road from our Hamptons bungalow."

Later, she gushes about the "oomph" that beef marrow adds to a dish: "What it really tastes like is life, well lived. Of course the cow I got marrow from had a fairly crappy life -- lots of crowds and overmedication and bland food that might or might not have been a relative. But deep in his or her bones, there was the capacity for feral joy. I could taste it."

So she knows. Yet like many many people, she chooses to build a Chinese Wall between her brain and her tastebuds. Just as millions of other people spend thousands of dollars to send their dogs to pet shrinks and make sure their beloved cats get enough omega-3's for fluffy coats, yet continue to eat beef from cows that live their entire lives ankle-deep in shit eating chicken manure, GMO corn that they can't digest, and ground-up bits from other cows.

Eating Ethicurean isn't about being elitist. We are not the food police -- which, by the way, is a really sneaky bit of agribusiness framing that should be refuted at every opportunity. (I for one prefer "food detective.") Any person who can look one of those cows in the eye and then chow down on a McDonald's hamburger is welcome to. Anyone who can see in person what pesticide runoff down the Mississippi River has done to the delta in the Gulf of Mexico and then cheerfully say that eating organic is only for rich hippies, well, I hope their SUV flips over before they find out their kids are infertile from rBGH and antibiotic overdoses.

Julie Powell can hardly stand to kill a lobster, which makes me think that her toughness about that factory cow is just an ignorant tough-girl pose. So there's probably hope for her, assuming she survived a year's worth of industrial butter and factory meat. And you know what, Julie? I think if Julia Child were writing MtAoFC today, she'd say to start by strolling through the farmers' markets, not Wal-Mart's meat section.

Shameless plug: Buy Julie and Julia from our Powell's Bookshelf and we'll spend our wee kickback on more books we can rant about here.

One Responseto “I have a bone to pick with Julie Powell”

  1. Man of La Muncha says:

    People who think that only the rich can afford organic, local food should be forced to live with Mom of La Muncha. This is a woman who has managed to eat only organic food for the past 25 years on a very limited income. She affords this lifestyle because she made a choice that would stick in the craw of many people: She doesn't eat meat, cheese or milk.

    Mom's reasons for excluding these categories are not financial, and I suspect that she could manage to include those three categories in her diet if she wanted them. It's all about being resourceful and a little frugal and willing to eat what's in season.

    If Julie were willing to put as much effort into selecting and cooking ingredients as she did in following Julia Childs' cookbook, she would see that organic found can be had without breaking the bank.