From Julia to Jamie and beyond: The frontlines of the food revolution

Along the quiet, narrow streets on the left bank of the Seine, cheesemongers, green grocers, butchers and boulangeries perform the same morning routine day after day, year after year, generation after generation. Shopkeepers, preparing for the day with a typical French mix of both pride and ennui, arrange their wares before the locals arrive to do their daily food shopping.

The scene today looks much like it did in 1948, when Julia Child first arrived in Paris. It was a world away from the California she grew up in. Back then, the US west coast wasn’t the foodie paradise it is today. And little did she know that the love affair she’d start with French cuisine, while husband Paul completed his spell with the US Foreign Service, would spark more than one food revolution. Not only did she introduce American housewives to French cooking; she was the first in a long line of culinary pioneers advocating local, seasonal food prepared with care and without undue waste.

Today we take farmers markets, artisanal bakers and organic veg boxes for granted, but it wasn’t long ago they were considered more than a little eccentric. Even in 1970s counter-culture Berkeley, California, Alice Waters, now hailed as ‘the mother of American cooking’, had trouble sourcing fresh, high-quality ingredients for her restaurant Chez Panisse. Also inspired by time spent in France, Alice set about building a supply network of farmers within one hour from the restaurant. The fact that they were also organic was pure coincidence.

“I was never looking for organic farmers,” she told a group of them in 2009. “When I opened up Chez Panisse, I was only thinking about taste. And in doing that, I ended up at the doorstep of many of you.”

In the 1980s, Carlo Petrini made big strides with his Slow Food movement. What started as a demonstration against a proposed McDonald’s at the Spanish Steps in Rome has since become a global movement advocating the appreciation of food, its traditions, provenance and impact. More recently, Jamie Oliver has taken on school meals in America and Britain, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has championed fish and chickens, and even the White House has gotten in on the act with Michelle Obama’s organic kitchen garden.

In the decade since Julia Child passed away, a new generation of entrepreneurs has been shaping a culinary landscape to rival the most revered Parisian gourmet tableau. From Smorgasburg in Brooklyn to Maltby Street in Bermondsey, food markets are giving supermarkets a run for their money. Home produce delivery services like Abel & Cole have paved the way for healthy office snack subscriptions like Saviour. And nose-to-tail devotees like St. John have inspired the likes of Snact and Rubbies in the Rubble to find delicious uses for perfectly good food that would otherwise go to waste.

“This is an idea that has been around since the beginning of time,” says Alice Waters. “We gather together and eat together and teach our children how to cook. We buy food from farms nearby. We store the food for the winter months…We have gotten so far away from that now that it sounds revolutionary.”

Julia Child was known to remark “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Lucky for those of us who like to eat well, we live in a time when more and more people are finding a passion for eating thoughtfully. In other words, the revolution will be delicious.