Review: The Raw and the Cooked



The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand

It was a bad week for meat.

The World Health Organization, as NPR relates, “deemed that processed meats — such as bacon, sausages and hot dogs — can cause cancer.”

The story continues:

In addition, the WHO says red meats including beef, pork, veal and lamb are “probably carcinogenic” to people.

A group of 22 scientists reviewed the evidence linking red meat and processed meat consumption to cancer, and concluded that eating processed meats regularly increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Their evidence review is explained in an article published in The Lancet.

The conclusion puts processed meats in the same category of cancer risk as tobacco smoking and asbestos. This does not mean that they are equally dangerous, says theInternational Agency for Research on Cancer — the agency within the WHO that sets the classifications. And it’s important to note that even things such as aloe vera are on the list of possible carcinogens.

Jim Harrison would likely shrug the WHO’s research off, probably by snarkily calling them nutritional ninnies. At least I believe he would from his essay collection The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand, which I re-read this past week, mostly taking a break from fiction, and because I was craving nonfiction to fuel my journalist’s brain.  Plus, it never hurts to get a shot of Harrison in your veins.

As with his fiction, Harrison is a robust stylist in his essays, worth studying for his original metaphors alone, as he demonstrates here: “Of course, an older fool should be able to counter the emotional claymores brought about by the change of seasons and the pummeling of fortune’s spiky wheel.” A lesser writer might have opted for the cliched “emotional landmines,” but Harrison gets specific and chooses the concrete image. Claymore mines are particularly destructive, flinging steel balls into an unwitting enemy to shred them to bits.

But, Harrison is more than just a writer to study, he’s a fun, witty read, an abundant mind to explore. These essays, many of which were columns written for Esquire in the ’90s, are true essays — attempts at writing down what’s in the mind and tying it to a idea or theme. These essays rove from food and friendships to politics and poetry, all neatly of one piece.

They are also essays rich with a mind that sees abundance. Some are tongue-in-cheek about Harrison’s quest for great meals. Almost all are fun to read. And make you hungry for life in the same way Henry Miller makes you hungry for life. And hungry for good food and drink. They have made me hungry for hot dogs, which I want to cook up in the next hour or so and gobble down with a glass or two of wine. The WHO be damned.

— Todd

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Cookbooks and chefs mentioned in the book (click thumbnail to purchase):

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