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Table Talk goes to the movies

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A blog about everything from cooking food to farming it.

Let’s pause for a second to think about food and the media. Or, for now, just food movies.

Off the top of my head I get Food, Inc., Ratatouille, Supersize Me, Chocolat, Big Night, Tampopo, Babette’s Feast.

Many of these films speak about – and to – those whose lives are consumed by food. Those who think about nothing so much as last night’s dinner or their next meal. Ratatouille is about a rat’s struggle to pursue eating good food while his family is eating garbage (literally). Chocolat: Vianne comes to town and tempts the pious townspeople to indulge in the sensual pleasures of eating chocolate. Big Night: Two brothers struggle to uphold the values of their traditional Italian cooking at their restaurant in New Jersey, while their clients demand Americanized Italian food. Tampopo: a quest to revitalize a Japanese widow’s noodle shop by helping her to master the art of noodle – interspersed with several other (and increasingly bizarre) food stories.

This weekend I saw Julie and Julia, adding one more food film to the list.

It’s true what they say. Don’t go to Julie and Julia hungry, or you’ll spend the movie salivating, completely unable to pay attention to the storyline. I was exceptionally full at the time and still driven to distraction by the luxurious shots of boeuf bourguignon, mushrooms sautéed in butter and raspberry Bavarian cream.

All of these movies deal with food in powerful terms – its transformative ability, its sensual delight, the transcendence that comes with eating it. In many, food is also a way to escape – Julie cooks in order to escape her bureaucratic nine-to-five job.

But most of all, food films are about sharing.

The characters in the films all want to share food with people. They work in restaurants and shops, cook for people, experiment, write cookbooks and blogs. Remy, in Ratatouille, finds himself drawn to the restaurant where he begins making food for others. In Chocolat, Vianne wants nothing more than to show the villagers what a joyful experience eating chocolate can be.

Julia Child wrote “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in order to share the French cooking (and eating) that she enjoyed so much. The film follows her discovery of French food and her quest to share it with baked-Alaska-and-casserole-eating Americans. Her discoveries are interspersed with Julie Powell’s adventures in making that food. Despite the fact that they never meet (and that, as Julie discovers, Julia doesn’t particularly like her blog), they share that common bond of food.

While Julie and Julia are sharing their French food, audiences get to share a collective food fantasy as they watch beautiful and elaborate meals take shape. The food is off-limits – we can’t taste, smell or touch the food on the screen. Still, I’m obviously not the only one who went to see it: between August 7 and August 31, the film pulled in over $70 million.

Last week, speaking with Monkton farmer and writer Eugenie Doyle, our conversation inevitably turned to food.

“Sometimes I think, ‘wow, my whole life is about food. That’s so weird,’” she said. “But then I think, everybody’s life is about food. What do you have to do every day? You have to eat. You don’t really have to write books or watch TV, but everybody has to eat.”

So if our lives are all about food, why watch it onscreen? Are we overindulgent in thinking about food? Is it even healthy to think about food that much?

When I remember food, I can’t help but think about the people I’ve eaten the food with and the conversations we’ve had. And I know a lot of other people whose food memories are far more vivid than their memory of, say, where they’ve left their keys.

To me, the influx of food movies, food books and food blogs (like this one!) isn’t a sign of overindulgence, as the Comte in Chocolat might have one believe. Watching movies about food does make us want to eat, but these movies also make us appreciate. After I’ve seen a good food movie, I want to make the food I’ve seen, sit down and take some time to share it with others, just as it was shared with me in the movie.

Food movies are all about celebration. They're about slowing down to really enjoy your food and the people you’re eating with, and about not tossing back your drive-thru fast food in three seconds.

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