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Summer Vacation

I'm a little surprised at the backlash that has begun over the Julie half of Julie & Julia, a film for which I’m probably an intended target but have zero interest in seeing. I was one of those people who kind of groaned over the blog to book deal way back in the ancient days of 2003 before bloggers got book deals for compiling photos of food emailed to them. I scoffed because I'm a bitch who often begrudges the (undeserved) success of others, but what I didn’t realize was how bitchy the general public had become.

Jealous much? Hater. Ick, I keep seeing that catty shorthand in comments (not here, I don't garner comments) when anyone is critical of anyone online. For me, at least, that's not usually the case. I can separate loathing and annoyance from jealousy. And I can admit when I'm envious. That's why I never read the Julie/Julia Project.

We often hate in others what we see in ourselves and the Julie reminded me of me. We were about the same age, lived in crappy outerborough neighborhoods (Sunset Park for me), drank too much, had dull dead end jobs (I was unemployed/temped through much of the early '00s—though I was spurred to go to grad school, which landed me a slightly better paying, slightly more stable, slightly more satisfying career that I sometimes enjoy but am certainly not passionate about), were fairly domesticated (though I would never marry in my 20s, heck, I'm still not in my late 30s even though a ten-year dating anniversary is only a month away) and we both blogged about food and our personal lives, she with the focus of a single-minded project and me in the same rambling scattershot fashion I still can't shake.

She struck a chord with the public and for that I was jealous. Not in an all-consuming way, certainly but it crossed my mind. Cooking has a way of doing that, though. I'm always surprised at the number of comments, sense of camaraderie, rah rah-ness, and sharing I see on recipe-centric blogs (at least the popular ones) compared to restaurant-ish sites full of douche-slinging insults. I wonder if it's a female/male divide. Writing about cooking has never my thing, I only dabble in it occasionally, though there are plenty of meals from scratch in my household—I’m not trying to make Michael Pollan cry.

Cream rises even if that cream is now being derided as a talentless hack.

"Her writing is hollow, narcissistic, and unforgivably lazy—qualities so foreign to Julia that it’s not at all surprising that she once said she couldn’t abide Powell’s work…The idea of Powell as a contemporary heir to this personal and culinary epic is absurd."Laura Shapiro, Julia Child's biographer

“Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn’t attractive, to me or Julia. She didn’t want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn’t like what she called ‘the flimsies.’ She didn’t suffer fools, if you know what I mean.”Judith Jones, Julia Child's editor

"I also read the Julie/Julia Project blog and for a time…Good for her, I thought. What an undertaking. But one day she made a comment implying a recipe being wrong for roast chicken. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it struck me as being so disrespectful, completely without deference to Julia Child, that I stopped. What the hell did she know about food? Had she even heard of poulet au Bresse? Didn’t go back. No malice. Just didn’t want to follow anymore."

" The incredible proliferation and self-indulgent blabber of many food blogs has given people the freedom to hallucinate, 'I can type and I eat, therefore I am a food journalist'!"–Virginia Willis, writer/blogger previously unknown to me

Wow. Time change things. I'm now able to appreciate Julie's success more (especially since I embody emptiness, narcissism and laziness) and feel a little sympathy over the growing animosity. I can also appreciate the following she amassed using just words, no photos. It’s hard to imagine anyone reading a blog without pictures now. I felt like a latecomer not having a digital camera until 2006 but that was then the norm.

And apparently the foodie intelligentsia have come to the conclusion that she's all that's wrong with the world and an insult to Julia Child's memory. Even I, who never actually read the blog or the book, don't think that Julie saw herself as an heir to Julia. That's the movie's problem. Actually, I think it's an old person's problem and this is coming from someone who just turned 37 (old!). The cranks all seem to be middle aged women, I'm afraid. I do think there still is a print/online generational divide, though it appears to be shrinking with the mainstreaming of blogging.  Ruth Reichl immediately comes to mind as a woman who has a good grasp on both print and social media (heck, television, too).

If anything, the Nora Ephron rom-com has created a new younger audience for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Sure, the movie tie-in wrap around dust jacket is corny. But the book is selling. It's as of this writing, the fifth bestselling book in Amazon's Cooking, Food and Wine section, behind the bizarre two versions each of Omnivore's Dilemma and Hungry Girl: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories. Americans are clearly conflicted.

 Maybe I'm burying the lede in this jumble, but for the month of August I will be taking a break from being whatever it is that sits at the bottom of the bottle refusing to rise. Is that milk? And I like to think I know about food. Anyway, a lot has changed since the early '00s. The world, specifically my world, NYC, is now deluged with food blogs. I can barely keep up with my RSS feeds and skim at best. It's hard to care about what hundreds of strangers are eating and cooking every day and in turn I can't expect anyone to care about what I write here. If I never read about another food truck, pig roast, $100 fried chicken dinner or DiFara again, I’ll…well, I’ll be fine.

So, I’m taking August off from food blogging and as ridiculous as it sounds (though slightly less so than juicing fasts or lemonade cleanses) I’m also going completely sugar, bread and alcohol-free. A little detoxing never hurt anyone and even though I already limit my sugar and starch as it is (and so far it has successfully kept my diabetes at bay) I feel like I could be tougher. I’ve slowly let bagels, fries and ice cream to creep back into my life but I don’t want them taking over. Thirty-one carbless days never killed anyone, right?

See you in September.

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  1. I appreciate the discussion my blog post has generated and the discussion about food writing, in general.

    I truly have no malice to Julie Powell and I think it is important to add I also wrote, “Granted, Julie Powell did not present herself as a food expert. I am not saying she did, quite the contrary. It’s also not a case of sour grapes on my part. Bravo for her. Her food memoir was a best-seller. A rising tide floats all boats, and as a food writer, I wholeheartedly thank her.”

    Thank you for including me in your blog post.

    Best VA

    August 2, 2009
  2. Melissa #

    I so totally found you by googling Fuddruckers and have been sucked in since (your other blog too).

    I am bummed that you wont be doing foodie for August. You have made my stomach go to unusual places in the past month. (I had a most awesome lamb marsala dish FOR LUNCH the other day, totally not on the under $5 list, but I took leftovers for dinner if that counts)

    Once you get off the white food, maybe we should meet for a Rutt’s Hut chili cheese dog all the way in Clifton NJ. (I will drive lol)

    August 8, 2009
  3. Melissa: Ha, I almost ate at Fuddruckers in Bridgewater, NJ last night.

    Rutt’s Hut is one of those places I often hear about but have never actually tried. It’s hard to argue with a deep-fried hot dog.

    August 10, 2009
  4. wow, what an awesome entry, one of the best I’ve read. the movie’s PR is insanely pervasive so I didn’t want to go see it and be one of the masses. i agree with the generational divide and the jealousy other writers felt toward her, wonder if the backlash would be as bad for a more photogenic writer?

    August 19, 2009

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