Michigan Books Project–January

Michigan Books Project–January

 

Photo by Aram Mrjoian
Photo by Aram Mrjoian

Featured Literature: The Raw And The Cooked: Adventures Of A Roving Gourmand, Jim Harrison

My good friend, Trey Baughman, first recommended to me this phenomenal book by Michigan legend, Jim Harrison. Trey and I were both Michigan boys transplanted in Seattle, bringing a bit of midwestern vibrancy and grit to the west coast. Trey is without doubt one of my biggest culinary influences, exhibiting patience in the kitchen that I’ve never had a knack for. I’m grateful to him for teaching me that cooking is not something to be rushed, and for pointing me towards this incredible read. What I think I learned in Seattle is that food is more than just act of sustaining, but instead a pivotal and ubiquitous part of how we choose to live. I have found over the past couple years that food should be approached with as much patience and conviction as writing, or any other activity that requires persistence, practice, and creativity. The act of eating is much more than refueling, it is an integral part of our existence, and thereby cooking and eating should be treated as sacrosanct.

Harrison’s collection of culinary essays, The Raw And The Cooked: Adventures Of A Roving Gourmand, makes us immediately reanalyze our relationship with food. Although foodie culture has become increasingly en vogue lately, Harrison is not some modern day chichi gastronome discussing froufrou recipes that hipsters would brag about to their friends. Harrison is indeed a classic epicure, cogently howling his philosophical take on eating that is much more natural than what we are generally exposed to today. Harrison’s life motto could very well be “eat or die”, an axiom reflected in many of his essays, but while the brevity of this statement may seem simplistic, Harrison examines this necessity with such profound expounding that it becomes impossible to not wonder how something that is so transparently omnipresent in our existence goes widely unquestioned.

The Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula are frequently the setting for Harrison’s cogitations, reflecting Michigan elegantly and palatably, giving a sense of intrinsic pride to those of us that are native. Even when Harrison is traveling to distant, foreign eateries, hobnobbing with the Los Angeles elite, or hiding out in rural Montana, his thoughts on food and existence always relocate to the most uninhabited and sacred parts of Michigan.

But let me backtrack quickly.

I had said that Harrison’s thoughts on food were more natural than what we experience in contemporary society. This is not to be overlooked. Where so many shows about food and culture dive into easy, fast meals or immensely portioned food challenges, Harrison’s take is much less manufactured. I don’t mean that he merely encourages the use of natural ingredients. His meditations dig deeper, confronting the communal importance of eating, the blaring fact that few of us know where most of our food comes from, the basic understanding of sustenance as an act of survival, and the inexorable, unyielding pleasures of a solid meal. Imagine walking with bird dogs through unkempt forests, shooting grouse and woodcock (an item I’ve discovered is not easily procured unless you are willing to go out and hunt it), delving into the ancient gospels of cooking, genuinely thinking about each course and side dish, and through all of it knowing that it will lead to something greater. That one truly great meal is a memory that strikes all five senses. That at times food can be a savory and unequivocal delicacy, and at other times be devoured with toothy, wolf-like insatiability. That (in the most hackneyed way) eating allows us to live.

Furthermore, Harrison manages to portray his lifelong relationship to food as neither ostentatious nor convoluted. The language is as rich as his descriptions of various meals, but not once does it come off as bourgeois or grandiose. It’s as if food were as much a part of language as words. Cooking and eating are quotidian aspects of our being, and without a respect and general insouciance regarding these activities, we become downtrodden nutritionally and spiritually. Jim Harrison captures the philosophy or a gourmand with brilliance and indefatigable passion, reminding us all of the tremendous bounty of food and drink Michigan has to offer.

Aram Mrjoian, Feature Writer