My New Role Model

April 16th, 2009

It occurs to me that so many of my favorite reading experiences–Calvin Trillin’s food trilogy, David Sedaris and Joan Didion’s essays–are the product of slightly-frayed paperback editions of previously-published magazine work. And now I have a new one: Jim Harrison’s “The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand.” A typical Harrison essay might start as this 1993 one from Esquire does–

“Just this morning, at dawn in fact, I stood outside in my underpants in the dense, bitter cold, a blustery wind laden with snow out of the northwest, thinking about the new administration and the wild-duck soup looming as an obvious breakfast choice.”

Yes, here is a gentleman who is convinced that,

“many of our failures in politics, art, and domestic life come from our failure to eat vividly”

and who is thus taken to proffering wise counsel such as,

“Garlic is a vegetable and should be used in quantity.”

(It should be noted that duck soup is not the only breakfast option within the Harrison weltanschauung. No, you might also, as he does, shave white truffles over oatmeal.)

Having, earlier in his life, gotten into the habit of walking into restaurants with a notepad and dictaphone so that restauranteurs would mistake him for a food critic and give him better meals, the novelist/poet/screenwriter (born 1937, Grayling, MI) now suffers the consequences of his raging appetites: he has gout. He advocates a daily regimen of walking lest

“your dreamlife become the tormented march of dead meat.”

And he cops to the fact that the food obsessive’s passions are sometimes unmatched by those in his acquaintance:

“Several years ago, when my oldest daughter visited from New York City, I overplanned and finally drove her to tears and illness by Christmas morning (grilled woodcock and truffled eggs.)”

But, in the end, by virtue of his crackling prose and gonzo zest for life (he keeps a Deshimaru quotation over his desk that runs, “You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair”), Harrison is a lodestar for those who want to grab life, or something like it, by the balls. And if the vivid consumption of vivid food is not your vivid proverbial thing, there’s another way to celebrate food, too:

“Tempers flared around the home, so early next morning we took a dozen eggs out the back door and hurled them against an immense rock formation. How wonderful the crisp crack and splatter against the morning song of the canyon wren.”