Batten down the hatches, it’s that time of year again. The season where you are required, literally by divine right, to throw that diet to the wind and stuff yourself with a selection of rich, stodgy dishes soaked in brandy. However Christmas food is marmite food. Some adore it so much they get stuck in as soon as the mince pies are released in October. Others (the gastro-Scrooges of this world) avoid all confrontation until Christmas day, when they undergo the annual ceremony of subtly pushing the pudding around their plate, and nodding with forced smiles when asked what you thought of your estranged great-aunt’s attempts at baking. Well, love it or hate it, there’s no escaping food at Christmas. Not only do we all inevitably end up with belts a few holes wider, but all you have to do is turn on the TV to find yourself bombarded by Lidl, M&S and the like, reminding you to get that turkey ready. So for those of you gastro-Scrooges tired of watching that Jim Broadbent advert with the carrot for the umpteenth time, allow me to give you a few alternative things to stick on this Christmas, that may warm you to the joys of food:
First up, Julie & Julia. Not only another Meryl Streep masterpiece, but also Nora Ephron’s last film – the story of two fearless women who take the challenge of cooking head on, and win. Streep plays a young Julia Child, who will one day become a popular American TV cook, but now is just beginning her career in the crucible of gastro-snobbishness that is Le Cordon Bleu, 1951. Amy Adams plays modern-day Julie Powell, attempting to cook all of Julia’s 500+ recipes in 365 days. A film that shows no matter how difficult cooking may be, the rewards are well worth it. So just remember that next time the turkey doesn’t fit in the oven.
If you want something for the family post-Christmas dinner, try Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The film puts the fun back into food, making you yearn for the time you played with yours as a kid. Ah go on, why not? ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’ is unashamedly silly,
with a superbly funny script and a hysterical selection of wacky, zany small-town characters being catapulted into a situation where food becomes meateorology (sorry).
Food may be fun, but not all of it is good, as any school will tell you (and hopefully did). If you weren’t convinced by them, then have a watch of Supersize Me. Plucky film-maker Morgan Spurlock decides to take on the mega-conglomerate giant McDonalds, using his own body as a guinea-pig. Spurlock investigates what happens if you eat nothing but McDonalds products for a month. They’ve changed their ways a bit since 2003, but scenes of Spurlock vomiting in a car park just 2 days in will make you think twice before tucking into a Big Mac. Like all good Christmas films, this one has a nice smug moral to it – eat healthy.
But just because it’s good food doesn’t mean it’s easy. Ratatouille is another film where food = struggle. Still battling to fit that turkey in the oven? Try chanting ‘Anyone can Cook’ as you do so. Through food and the extraordinary rat who cooks it, a gaggle of Parisians
discover their true selves. Or in the case of hard-hearted critic Anton Ego, rediscover it. A particularly poignant moment involves Ego having an epiphany through food – a bite of ratatouille transports him to a memory of his mother’s comfort food after falling off his bike, melting his frozen soul. The scene is a nod to Proust experiencing memories of childhood with his aunt, just by eating a madeleine dipped in tea. The message is simple: food gives us the ability to look back and remember. It brushes away the cobwebs and ornaments of adult life, reminding us of our true selves – deep down, we’re all just children in need of a hug.
Babette’s Feast is probably the best film for showing the influence food can have on our emotions. Parisian chef Babette is an exile from the French Revolution, and finds herself washed up
on the coast of Denmark, where the staunchly religious locals eat nothing but old fish. After winning the lottery, Babette decides to cook a feast for the town elders, consisting of dishes she once prepared in Paris. Forced to go along with the dinner (because enjoying food is sinful), the locals end up being the happiest they have felt in years, and old scores and broken relationships are healed over the magnificence of cailles en sarcophages. And if you want to know what that is, watch it. An Academy Award winning Danish film that shows how good food can make us magnanimous, sociable, and most importantly, love. What better film to watch with your loved ones after good food and conversation this Christmas?
So to all you gastro-Scrooges out there, I say this – instead of pushing that estranged great-aunt’s Christmas pudding around the plate this year, actually eat it. You have no idea how much it may mean to her. She may have been preparing it in her lonely little house for weeks in anticipation of that rare chance of talking to you. This is her annual gift. And for once, you accepted it. After a bit of conversation, who knows, perhaps you may contemplate seeing her outside of the festive period, more than just once a year. The two of you will have connected over this little dish, and brought a spark of your own life into an empty one. Your gift to her.
Love it or hate it, there’d be a lot less joy in Christmas without the food.