Live According to the Teachings of Our Lord and Savior, Julia Child
(Note: we started writing this before the horrifying, seemingly never-ending examples of law enforcement’s brutalization of the black community. That issue is too serious for this piece, or even this publication, but we wanted people to know that the information we offer below is no way is making light of this issue by not including it. #BlackLivesMatter).
We’re polytheists here at Sybarite and worship several gods and goddesses, but our most beloved and powerful deity is Julia Child. We conduct our lives based on her teachings, and often ask ourselves “What would Julia Do?” or when we’re pressed for time “WWJD?” Bumper stickers coming soon.
If you’ve felt spiritually starved after watching back-to-back apocalypses throughout 2020 (locusts, the plague, murder hornets, cannibal rats, systemic and brutal racism by state actors who murder black people under the color of law), we offer some of her teachings below. Our religion welcomes anyone and everyone with open arms. We hope you’ll join us.
Don’t Be a Snob
Everyone’s a critic these days and boy is it embarrassing. Random yahoos on Yelp claim to know how sweet a fig crostata is actually supposed to be, and then give restaurants one star reviews. One of our girlfriends dated a guy with wine cellar and then proceeded to systematically torture waiters, by asking whether the red wine was too “big” or “assertive” or if the white wine was “flirtatious.”
Gah. It makes you want to hide under a table, with all this fake so-called discernment.
Julia, our lord and savior, did not traffic in this bullshit: she freely admitted that McDonald’s french fries were great, at least when they were fried in animal fat. (Hence the past tense). When Amanda Hesser picked her up from the airport in France and had a mild panic attack about where to take her to lunch, Julia was happy to gustily eat eggs with mayonnaise. Lunch for Julia was sometimes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with cheese doodles.
So if you’re becoming one of these people who broadcasts fake discernment as some sort of weak branding, stop it. Admit that you like potato chips and onion dip, admit that you like fast food, and that you don’t really like kale and quinoa. No one likes kale and quinoa.
Criticism is over. Joy is in.
Destroy Your Would-Be Enemies with Humor
Legend has it that the widow of Dr. Pritikin — the doctor responsible for encouraging us to only eat only broth with no salt but who died of a heart attack anyway — basically accused Julia of being a murderer because she cooked with too much butter and fat. In response, Julia apparently penned an open letter for Gourmet magazine, where she said, among other things, Mrs. Pritikin, maybe if you had cooked your husband one good meal in his life, he would have stuck around.
We were worried that this story was not actually true, and we would have to explain that all religions are based on false stories, but we are delighted to report that this is basically true!
As Julia noted in this People magazine article from 1993, this didn’t play out in the public pages of Gourmet, but rather in a series of private letters. Julia happily spills the tea about it without embarrassment: “It’s the zero-fat Pritikin diet [devised by the late Dr. Nathan Pritikin] that’s so terrible. His wife wrote me a nasty letter: ‘You cook with all this butler, blah, blah, blah.’ I wrote her a very nice little note saying that maybe if her husband had had a good meal now and then, he’d still be alive.”
Brutal. And hilarious. So the next time someone undercuts you, or falsely accuses you of murder, respond as Julia would: joyfully shine a light on their own hypocrisy, and then move along.
Organize Yourself, Don’t Be Messy
Julia’s kitchen, which now sits in the Smithsonian Institute, was legendary for its precise organization. Julia’s husband Paul famously mounted all of Julia’s cooking instruments on a peg board, and then outlined the pans so they could be replaced easily without thinking too hard. (If this is not love, what is?). And because redundancy is the key to success, Paul also attached little Polaroid photos to the pegboard, so that nothing was ever out of place. When asked whether any of Julia’s many assistants misplaced a pot or pan, she explained simply: “You don’t.”
Get organized folks. Whether you plan to pursue your passion or just barely survive at your dead-end soul-crushing job, organization is key either way. Clean out your closet, your desk drawer, put a file on your desktop with all documents you can’t afford to lose.
Make life as easy as possible, so you can tackle the difficult bits.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes. Really.
“No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize” was one of Julia’s famous rules.
Instead of twisting yourself into knots after making a mistake, fix it and move on. When Julia tried to make hamburgers on David Letterman with a malfunctioning burner that left her with raw meat, she made beef tartare with a blow torch instead, and barely blinked.
When Julia failed to flip a potato pancake properly, resulting in potato all over her stove, she didn’t apologize but instead explained that her mistake was due to not having “the courage to do it the way I should have.” Then she put the cake back together and moved on.
Be courageous. Make mistakes anyway. Then be even more courageous, skip the rote apology and learn from your mistakes instead.
Be a Feminist by Doing Whatever the Hell You Want
Before Betty Friedan published The Feminist Mystique (explaining that housework basically sucks) Julia had already published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was a newspaper columnist, and had her own cooking show.
Oh, and she was also a spy and developed a shark repellent for the military. Bottom line: Julia waited for no one to give her permission to do whatever the hell she wanted, whenever she wanted. It simply never occurred to her that she couldn’t do any of these things.
So ladies, take note: do you want to be a stay at home mom? Do it without apology. Do you want to be an astronaut AND have an etsy shop of your macrame? Do it. Do not wait for people to normalize your desires. Just do whatever the hell you want.
Show Love by Giving People Pleasure
You don’t have to travel far through the annals of social media to see that pleasure for pleasure’s sake has been hijacked by self-help and checklists to improve productivity. But if Julia were here, she would tell us that engaging in pleasure — free from moralizing — puts the human in humanity.
Indulging in pleasure, especially when you do it with friends, is an act of resistance against a world that thrives on health shaming, fat shaming, talking-out-of-turn shaming.
So rather than composing another performative social media post, invite some friends over for beef bourguignon. Open up more than one bottle of wine. Get drunk and have a conversation. Pick one dinner guest to stay and have hot sex with you, and send everyone else home with a hug.
Stay connected. Stay engaged. Be humorous and don’t apologize for your mistakes. Do things without waiting for permission. And ask yourself, the next time you are confronted with adversity and confusion: What would Julia do?