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Food by VICE

Sidemouth - Bon Apetit, Here's to Nothing

You can call your restaurant “farm-to-table,” but who really cares? If there is not a feeling accompanying the food, how am I supposed to relate to it? Don’t ask me exactly what I mean by this, but I can tell immediately when it's not there.

by Julia Kennedy
Aug 22 2012, 6:40pm

It was Julia Child’s birthday a week ago. She would have been 100. I was named after her. My parents didn’t tell me that until pretty recently. I guess I should have figured it out, like they thought I would be offended or something? It’s an honor, really. Julia called her style of cooking cuisine soignée—which translates as “basic meals made with great care and using the best ingredients.” I am not Julia Child, I am a Julia child! I am not an amazing cook, but I am OK and feel big love when I do it. I cook really simply and I have a reverence for the whole experience—cuisine soignée-ish. I can let my mind fly and get into a headspace where the color extracted by hanging stewed rhubarb in cheesecloth and allowing the juice to drip through—a very vibrational pink—massages my brain so good my heart turns mauve. Julia C. felt love like this, too. If there is any word that I can respect being thrown around in the food world, it is “love.”

Thinking about her, it makes me feel like all this new jargon born of the “food-conscious revolution” is actually just stifling and delusional avant-gardism. The new semiotics of food land are so tied up in marketing that the heart, the purity, the P.L.U.R. element of what the “movement” is supposed to be about, is tainted. “Local” is not only a philosophy, it is also a premium. The development of new language has been about trying to change things, and it is well-intended. But simultaneous to these positive advances has been a huge, lucrative global marketing ploy of these words that are now leading us back to lack of creativity, plus exploitation and sometimes more harm than good.

For instance, you can call your restaurant “farm-to-table,” but, like, who really fucking cares? If there is not a feeling accompanying the food, how am I supposed to relate to it? Don’t ask me exactly what I mean by this, but I can tell immediately when it's not there. The concept of food as a global, social, political issue has been skewed by exactly the same words that were trying to help forward their positive potentials. Mainly this shows up as commercial appeal, selling people an idea that they are helping the cause by making such-and-such choices. But it kind of stops there at buying those free range eggs, which, by the way, usually means that rather than being crammed into individual cages, the chickens are crammed into a big room where they can “free range” a few inches in the dark. Consumers are stopping short of understanding what exactly they are buying into.

I’m clearly really idealistic about this situation. I believe food is the heart of everything, and if you give me the opportunity, I could probably connect it to every problem in the world somehow. So this is why when I see the positive stuff that good, hard-working, smart people have brought forward bastardized by greed and laziness, I get mad and scratchy. But I want to take the higher road here and bring positive vibes only. So I want to talk about nothing.

The poetic idea of making nothing translates to food for me in the concept of cuisine soignée. It is simple to understand and encompasses all the good qualities of “local, seasonal, artisan,” et al. ideas without making those things about class, capitalism, or any of that bullshit. It's about a style of living, a mindset. It implies honesty, integrity, “soul,” and celebration. For Julia Child, the experience surrounding eating was of just as much importance as the eating itself. She loved everything about food, and led a life practicing this love. A really fun, rich, full life filled with beauty. As a concept today, this brings humanity back into food politics, I think.

And by nothing I really mean a lot of something. It is peeling vegetables by hand and making sure not one seed gets into the tomato sauce because that is how it is done. It is my dinner party where there are white peacocks and Adonis-like boys serving psychedelically carved fruits on amethyst platters during magic hour. It is your wedding for which you asked me to make tacos, and I did so between getting my mind blown at a Snoop Lion concert and braising 30-pound beef shoulders through the night with the backdoor open and the rain falling, communing with a cat that looked like a lion, thinking about reincarnation, and falling in love. It is Twizzlers on the bus on the way to see your best friend you haven’t seen in ten years, listening to the Pixies, and thinking about the time you accidently set a fire behind the school. It is the iconic peach grabbed off the tree in your hand that is sun-warm and perfectly ripe.

It’s so easy for words to become blanket terms that tangle people up. Words are one thing, life is another.