The Raw and the Cooked author and prolific writer Jim Harrison hails from Northern Michigan, and in this collection of essays, describes his philosophies about food and life, which he believes are one and the same. He describes the culinary adventures of his life, from his cabin in the woods to the tables of exclusive restaurants across the country and in Europe. He portrays how his boyhood in the Upper Peninsula shaped his taste for the wild foods of his youth, and laments the modern loss of reverence for food (which he considers one of life’s greatest, if not sacred, pleasures) along with the industrialization of the food industry which is replacing the tradition of hunting with inhumane factory farming of animals that taste like styrofoam on the plate.
This observation reminded me of my immigrant grandmother telling me how she didn’t like the taste of chicken in Egypt, her home country. Here, she didn’t mind it—not because the flavor was better, but because American chickens had no flavor at all.
When I traveled to China as an undergraduate student, this was confirmed for me through my own experience. I was treated to a fresh meal by a generous host family in the Jiangsu countryside. It featured a a cow’s head, a fish complete with eyeballs and bones, and a freshly slaughtered chicken. I discovered I preferred the whole fish to the filet in terms of taste and texture, if not convenience, but I was surprised to discover the unfamiliar, gamey taste of the chicken and beef. Remembering my grandmother’s objection to the flavor of poultry, I realized that though I had been eating meat my whole life, I had never really tasted it. The plastic-wrapped Perdues in the refrigerated aisles are actually quite flavorless, for better or worse, depending on your acquired preferences.
I enjoyed reading this book, and I recommend it if you are interested in expanding the limits of your imagination when it comes to culinary ingenuity and quality. It’s an added bonus if you enjoy the frequent interspersions of philosophical musings and have a tolerance and a sense of humor for uncensored, lustful disclosures. Jim Harrison is a character who believes that love, good food, and good books are the key to life, and I don’t disagree with him. Harrison’s voice is similar to that of my beloved, late grandfather, who would repeatedly say the same.
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