Laura Shapiro,
Julia Child
(Viking, 2007)

Did you know Julia Child was a devout atheist? There are many details about Child's life that her adoring public did not know. This small but comprehensive biography is an excellent overview of her long life and successful career.

I had heard about her work during World War II, but I didn't know the details of her training, how her acclaimed first cook book came to be, or what went into the success of her TV shows. All these things and more are included here.

What shocked me the most was her siding with the food industry when radical changes in production came to be. She was against organic food, calling it "even worse than health food," and was quoted as saying, "There is no room for the cult that regards 'natural methods' as good, and all improvements on nature as bad." She called the genetic engineering of food "one of the greatest discoveries" of the 20th century and spoke out in favor of irradiation while calling opponents "nervous nellies." She supported the food industry on changes such as pesticides, hormones in beef and antibiotics in chicken.

I would have imagined someone so enamored of food in its natural state would have been at the very least leery of such radical changes.

To her credit, she encouraged young female chefs and did all she could to advance their careers through publicity and by funding scholarships for these female culinary students. As she advised all her students, she believed love for the food that went into preparing it is what made an exceptional meal. Interestingly, later in her career, she turned to more convenient methods, such as using frozen foods. She was a great fan of the American supermarket, and believed a good cook could create fine meals with all ingredients from a supermarket.

This little biography is a wonderful look into the life of this fascinating woman, and includes much about her exceptional qualities as well as her more controversial views. Laura Shapiro has created an enlightening narrative which gives a complete picture of our one and only Julia Child.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

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