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To eat or die with Jim Harrison

Post by News Tribune Staff on Jan. 25, 2007 at 7:03 am | No Comments »
January 25, 2007 7:03 am


An Ed’s Diner patron asked a You Plate Special question about food-related reading.

Another patron recommended Jim Harrison’s “The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand.”

The book, published in 2001, collects Harrison’s food essays and columns, many of which I read in their original publications in the ’90s.

Harrison comes up again today, in a New York Times story.

Sure, the guy over-indulged with Jack Nicholson and went fork-to-fork with Orson Welles, but that’s not why Harrison’s worth reading. Here’s why Harrison’s worth reading:

Mr. Harrison, a self-described “food bully,” has very particular ideas about cooking. He thinks rosemary should be banned. He has no use for huge restaurant-style ranges: “Why should I spend $7,000 for a stove when I could spend $7,000 on food?” And he doesn’t believe that game, birds especially, should be tarted up with elaborate sauces. “As the French say, game birds taste best at the point of the gun,” he said.

… Then he declared: “Food is a great literary theme. Food in eternity, food and sex, food and lust. Food is a part of the whole of life. Food is not separate."

The Times calls Harrison a passionate, two-dimensional diner — one who appreciates quality and quantity. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t preclude Harrison’s daily infusions of vodka and red wine or meals of game. His motto is “Eat or die.”

“Returning to Earth” — a novel about a man of Finnish and Chippewa descent who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease and wants to end his days and be buried in traditional Native American fashion on a hillside overlooking Lake Superior — is the 69-year-old writer’s 28th book.

Here are some excerpts from “The Raw and the Cooked”:

The idea is to eat well and not die from it — for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating. At age fifty that means I have to keep a cholesterol count down around 170. There is abundant dreariness in even the smallest health detail. Skip butter and desserts and toss all the obvious fat to your bird dogs.

Small portions are for smallish and inactive people. When it was all the rage, I was soundly criticized for saying that cuisine minceur was the moral equivalent of the fox-trot. Life is too short for me to approach a meal with the mincing steps of a Japanese prostitute. The craving is for the genuine rather than the esoteric. It is far better to avoid expense-account restaurants than to carp about them; who wants to be a John Simon of the credit-card feedbag? I’m afraid that eating in restaurants reflects one’s experiences with movies, art galleries, novels, music—that is, characterized by mild amusement but with an overall feeling of stupidity and shame. Better to cook for yourself.

We weren’t exactly saving up for the big one when the few guests begin to arrive the following evening. The cautionary note was something Jack Nicholson had said to me more than a decade ago after I had overfed a group in his home: “Only in the Midwest is overeating still considered an act of heroism.” Still, the winter weather was violent, and lacking the capacity to hibernate it was important to go on with the eating, not forgetting the great Lermontov’s dictum: “Eat or die.”

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