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A recipe for laughter

Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man: The World's Unhealthiest Cookbook
Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man: The World's Unhealthiest Cookbook
By Steve Graham

Citadel Press: 2008

Buy it now at Amazon.com


This review first appeared in the September 28, 2008 issue of the North County Times.

Labeled a cookbook in the subtitle, yet classified on the spine as "Humor," Steve Graham's follow-up to "Keep Chewing Till It Stops Kicking: Finding Your Inner Caveman" is a bust-a-gut laugh-out-loud funny take on getting back to the basics of cooking real American food. Preferably with lard.

While each chapter does contain an actual recipe you can prepare should you choose, in reality these recipes are little more than launching pads for Graham's crazed take on life. Let's just say that this book is far closer to Dave Barry's collections than anything Julia Child ever wrote.

Combining caustic wit, indignant outrage and a keen ability to skewer hypocrisy and presumption, Graham has written not only one of the funniest books in recent memory, but also makes a cogent argument that the traditional methods of cooking may have been better for us. While few will advocate a return to the use of lard or bacon grease, we all do know now (hopefully) that shortening is just as bad as, if not worse than the animal-based products it replaced.

But yelling at us to use more lard is about as serious as Graham ever gets. Mostly, he's simply funny – and often (OK, always) in a highly inappropriate way.

His writing style borrows liberally from the late Hunter S. Thompson (one whole chapter is written in Thompson's voice and purports to be from his ghost), Barry, Carl Hiaasen, P.J. O'Rourke and the late Lewis Grizzard. The pace is always quick, the one-liners frequent (and on target). His chapters have titles like "Twice-Fried Fries Cooked in Beef Fat," "How to Smoke Your Butt" or "Breakfast as a Mind-Altering Drug" strewn among the more boring (but equally descriptive) ones like "Corn Bread and Navy Beans."

But it's his crazed prose, like what you'd get if John Cleese hung out with O'Rourke in a kitchen somewhere in the deep South, that makes this book so hard to put down:

To make a decent breakfast, you need ham. I mean real ham, which means country ham. Oh, I know you think you've had country ham because once when you were at your local diner in Bensonhurst, you had a piece of something called Virginia ham, and it was real salty, and it made you cry, and you made Mommy promise never to make you eat it again. Let me explain something to you. If you bought a piece of mass-market ham made in Virginia, odds are you bought a piece of crap not fit to be force-fed to Mullah Omar in the rec room at Club Gitmo.

So, yeah, he's a bit politically incorrect, too. But he mocks American Christians as much as Islamic and Jewish prohibitions against eating pork, so give him props for an equal-opportunity lack of sensitivity.

Whether you'd want to make any of his recipes is up to you; this reviewer never worked up the nerve to whip up one of Graham's specialties, but I spent so much time laughing at his outrageous and hilarious writing that I never felt like I missed being in the kitchen.