This Fact About Julia Child's Upbringing Might Surprise You

Even those who may not know a great deal about Julia Child know she is a renowned figure in the food world. In the new documentary about her life, "Julia," viewers learn how Child went from discovering the pleasures of well-prepared food to learning how to create fine French cuisine of her own. It's a fascinating story, made all the more remarkable when you learn that this love affair with food and flavor came about entirely during Child's adulthood. One might assume that celebrity chefs, food writers, and other devoted foodies have stories of cooking side-by-side with their grandmothers or helping out in the kitchen of a family restaurant. Child's early life had none of this. 

In the film, viewers hear from former assistant Stephanie Hersh who shares that Child (then Julia McWilliams) came from a wealthy family where the cooking was all done by a hired cook. Child's mother had influence over the type of food served in the home, which Child called "sensible New England-type food," but neither mother nor daughter ever set foot in the kitchen. It also didn't help that food was never discussed in her family. 

Julia Child didn't discover the joy of food until she left home

According to Etiquipedia, rules of social etiquette were popular at the time Julia Child was growing up. As it turns out, appearing "well bred" had a lot to do with suppressing emotion and individuality. As an article shared from 1936 says, "A truly polite person never calls attention to himself, in any way, at any time." 

This fits with an observation Child's niece Phila Cousins makes in the documentary "Julia." "In that white, Anglo-Saxon society there were proper things you talked about and there were things you did not discuss: Anything to do with sexuality, you didn't discuss politics, you definitely did not discuss money with people." Child herself explains that this attitude in her family included the subject of food. "Nobody discussed food a great deal because it just wasn't done," she says.

Child's great-nephew Alex Prud'homme shares that by the time Child was 20 she yearned for the excitement and adventure that was absent from her stuffy, society-ruled upbringing. She bravely volunteered to travel abroad during World War II, a journey destined to connect her with her soulmate Paul Child as well as with the cuisines and cultures of other countries. As author Ruth Reichl says in the film, "Try and imagine what it must have been like for her to discover food and love and everything else all at the same time. What a whoosh of joy and life it must have been for her!"