by C. Jeanette Tyson
My book tour will, of course, launch from the second floor of BookPeople.
The place will be packed to the rafters with folks Iím not related to, and
there will be silence of the deafening type, as immediately after a dew-eyed
young thing whispers "I love you" to her boyfriend. Iíll read
the last word and after waiting for the collective gasp/chuckle/sigh to
subside, Iíll take a few questions.
Inevitably, someone will ask: Who do I read? Pens
will rise, poised to take note.
I donít have the answer to many things, and I donít
have the first word of that novel, but I can answer that: Jim Harrison.
Harrison is both brutal and poetic, solidly of the
earth and hovering somewhere just above it, both anguished and possessed of
a sure confidence that this life is worth tearing into. In Legends of the
Fall, one brother cuts out the heart of the fallen, younger brother and
takes it back to the father. Thatís Jim Harrison for you, shoving your
cool intellectualism, with no apologies, right over the side.
Grab a copy of Woman Lit by Fireflies or The
Road Home and run to the corner, teeth bared and growling, daring anyone
to take it away. Get primal. Youíll love it, I swear.
If I salivate this much over his fiction, imagine
what I think of Harrisonís food writing. Always one to tell you what his
characters are eating, heís also been known to tell you what he eats. The
Raw and the Cooked is a collection of food essays written for Esquire
and other magazines in the late 1980ís and Ď90ís; it was published in
In it, he reviews restaurants from Paris to LA,
hunts in Northern Michigan, fishing trips in Key West, power meetings in
Hollywood (Orson Welles, Harrison Ford) and the meals he makes for himself
and family in his own kitchen. Always monitoring the state of himself and of
us all, Harrisonís book whets the appetite not only for duck thighs,
porterhouse and fine wines, even when you donít normally eat those things,
but for life itself.
Harrison lives close to the ground, when it comes
to food, often bringing home his own birds, even though he professes a
certain ambivalence toward hunting. Frankly, I donít think itís a bad
thing. The only hunt most of us have these days is for some kind of protein
while waiting for a connecting flight.
Iíve been traveling too much lately. If you
wonder what all the fuss is over this nationís obesity, if it hasnít
quite touched you here in Lance Armstrong country, go to an airport.
You will be disgusted.
People are huge. They overflow into your seat and
complain about the size of the plane.
Beyond the political, socio-economic and medical
implications and complications, what really disturbs me about the whole
thing is that the collective poundage hasnít totaled up because of innate
gluttony. In other words, what you see so often is not the bulk of a man whoís
walked ten miles to earn his indulgence. Itís the soft spread of empty
calories, sugar rushes, chemical fixes, tasteless pre-packaged,
pre-portioned, might as well be pre-chewed crap.
People are existing on food that is a pallid
imitation of real food. And theyíve become the bigger, and emptier, for
it. If you donít believe me, look at the eyes; dazed, deadened, zoned out.
The scariest of these creatures, the ones walking toward you at the speed of
drugged elephants, are the children, of course.
How have we let each other down on something as
basic as lunch?
When did we begin to settle for it?
I, for one, am getting very real, right now. Every meal,
every day, every year, I will rage against the dying light. Iím going to
sing louder, walk instead of run, quit trying to please those who canít be
pleased and not be so reluctant if someone has the notion they want to
Iím letting go of old notions, relationships,
patterns, habits, anything that creates drag on my little rowboat.
Summer is here. The sun can burn things away. It
can burn things right down to the edge. And it can provide a tomato that
still tastes like a tomato, and I can slice it and pour olive oil over it,
and top it with a hunk of mozzarella and a perfect basil leaf. I can eat
sweet corn with butter and green beans raw. I can sit on the back porch and
churn ice cream, like we used to do when I was a kid.
My theory is that when we have what is real, we
have just enough. We donít need more, we donít have holes that never
seem to get filled.
"In geologic time everyone present on earth
will be dead in a few milliseconds. What a toll! Only through the diligent
use of sex and, you guessed it, food can we further ourselves, hurling our
puny I ams into the face of twelve billion years of mute, cosmic
history. With every fanny glance or savory bite you are telling a stone to
take a hike, a mountain that you are alive, a star that you exist."
Says Jim Harrison.
Eat well, people. The other way, surely, lies
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mother of Jackson and
Maddy. Got a tip, suggestion, idea or feedback for A Little More on Your Plate?
Send it to Jeanette at: firstname.lastname@example.org