Not only was the revolution televised, but it really exists only on television.
In the fifty years since the first broadcast of “The French Chef”, Americans have bathed in the reflected glory of our culinary revolutionary. But thanks to Julia Child, and all who followed her, the food revolution we celebrate is a more a media event than a culinary one.
Julia Child rang the bell and cried out: “The French are Coming!”, and so they did. We got French cooking in the form of television and expensive restaurants, some new words, and some great kitchen gadgets. But what we never got was the underlying culture which would have allowed us to benefit from this great import, not in the form of showy dishes and a snappy familiarity with puff pastry, but in the form of a true culinary culture.
A culture without roots is a hothouse orchid in a crystal vase.
Rather than construe this as another grumpy vandalization of our self-respect, let’s look at the facts. What is Culture? Is it a way of showing off the flower of our gifts, the poems, the paintings? The real hothouse flowers of our art? It is that. But in our daily lives, culture is how we understand our relationship with our world, how we see ourselves in our land, and how we use the gifts of our earth to feed ourselves, body and soul.
Have we benefited from the lessons of the French culinary culture? Or are we skimming its surface like water lilies, never understanding what feeds its roots and nourishes its ideas.
A country which in 1963 had the potential to change in any direction we choose, overwhelmingly chose junk.
In 1963 there were 500 McDonald’s restaurants. Today there are over 30,000.
A child watching the first installment of The French Chef had a 3% chance of being obese. For his grandchild in 2008, it’s 20%.
And if you still cling to the notion of a food revolution, (rather than a scraggly if devoted uprising), consider this: The top 100 French restaurants in America serve about 1 million people per year.
Fast Food does that every five minutes.
So what is the American Food Revolution? A great idea.