Tonight, I finally saw Julie & Julia. My appreciation of the film is biased enough that it’s almost not worth mentioning if I liked it or not, although I did. Meryl Streep nailed Julia’s voice, Amy Adams was deeply palatable and Susan Spungen’s food styling made both Mike and I immediately go home and look through the fridge.
Forever I’ve harbored a fierce and abiding love for Julia Child. I met her back in 1994 at the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers. Randomly, I met Amanda Hesser then, too. She later went on to be a food writer for The New York Times who helped create a sensation around Julie Powell’s blog, and she makes a cameo appearance as herself in the film.
Food writer Virginia Willis is arguably one of the people in the culinary industry I respect the most. She aired her thoughts in a much-reported post on the subject. Willis’ main beef about Powell was that she took on a tone of disrespect, questioning one of Child’s chicken recipes, and fair enough. Roast chicken represents sacred ground to a lot of cooks, including me.
But for the rest of it, Willis seemed more critical of the media and the publishing industry than of Powell directly. In today’s world, food writers aren’t rewarded for their expertise; rather it’s all about “platform.” Food Network stars sell lots of books, even if they aren’t necessarily trained or knowledgeable cooks. What Willis aired was not sour grapes, but the frustration that many writers feel when someone without a writing background such as Powell gets a big-deal book contract and a national forum to write op-ed pieces in The New York Times while other perhaps more deserving food writers are left hungry, so to speak.
Aware of all this, the day before the film opened, I went for a good comrade gesture and posted a comment on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The gist was that I liked the book Julie & Julia. I’m proud to have Julie Powell is my Facebook friend. (We’ve never met in person.)
The response? I was hated on via Twitter, and via email. Nearly 20 people stopped following me immediately on Twitter. “Did you know that she called 9/11 victims whiners?” or “How could you defend her? She HATES bloggers, she said so.”
On my Facebook entry, a noted culinary icon took Powell to task and pair had a bit of tete-a-tete over the weekend. In over-simplified terms, the older woman took offence to Julie’s swearing and drinking, Julie replied back that it’s her life, so whatever. In the end, it appeared more of a generational gap than anything else. They both graciously noted that when you’re a public person, sometimes people just harsh on you. The exchange came to a concilatory conclusion, which made me like them both even more.
The biggest issue seems to be that in asserting herself as an author, she rejected the role of blogger, and that’s what irks people the most. But titles are complex these days. I don’t consider myself a blogger per se, but here I am writing on my blog. I don’t consider myself a chef, either, even though I’m usually billed that way.
(Photo of Meryl Streep and the Paris on-location set by Mike Klozar; photo of Julie Powell by Ken Lambert of The Seattle Times)