In his new book, “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living,” Nick Offerman — the former Chicago theater actor, comedian and native of Minooka, now best known for his hilarious performances as the red-meat-eating, Scotch-drinking libertarian Ron Swanson on NBC's “Parks and Recreation” — is alternately facetious and stone-cold dead serious about food. The facetious part comes in the guise of Offerman's obsession with red meat — which he professes to prefer over poultry and fish, not to mention vegetables — and the paramount role it plays (along with mustaches and woodworking, to which he is also partial) in establishing the virile masculinity of the men who eat it.
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The serious part comes in the form of Offerman's real-life devotion to organic food unadulterated by the preservatives, antibiotics, hormones and other additives it can acquire at the hands of the multinational food corporations who process it for our consumption.
Printers Row Journal caught up with Offerman, 43, for a semiserious interview about food, growing up in Minooka, his marriage to Megan Mullally (best known as the wisecracking Karen on "Will & Grace") and other topics. Here's an edited transcript of our chat.
Q: Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with a big meal, the centerpiece of which is typically a certain species of poultry. I gather from your book that you are not a big fan of poultry; you are a red-meat guy. So I'm going to put you on the spot: What do you usually have for Thanksgiving dinner?
A: When I go to my dad's house, he is quite amazing at cooking a turkey, both in the oven and on the grill. Sometimes he'll throw one in the deep fryer as well. So if I do eat poultry, I prefer to do it from my father's hands. And maybe there'll be some pork chops on the side.
Q: So you are not poultry-abstinent in all cases.
A: I eat plenty of poultry and fish, actually. The book may color things a bit more stringently than I actually adhere to.
Q: But if you had the choice between red meat and those other things, you would always pick the red meat, yes?
A: That's correct. I would always eat the red meat, but my doctor and my circulatory system have put in a request that I work in a little chicken and fish now and again.
Q: In "Paddle Your Own Canoe," you make the point that there's something manly about eating a big steak.
A: Well, sure. Whether you're male or female, I think putting away a large portion of red meat is a good thing. It's delicious, life-giving protein that builds your muscles and gives you the strength you need to take down the next mastodon that you're hoping to serve your family.
Q: You also have a special place in your heart — and stomach — for sausages, bratwurst in particular.
A: I'm not sure what it is that makes a sausage so charismatic, but I always light up when any kind of sausage is on the menu. And of all the noble sausages, for me the king is the bratwurst. I'm an absolute sucker for that particular tube of pork.
Q: Since we're getting really granular here, do you have a favorite mustard to go with your bratwurst? I'm a Gulden's Brown Mustard guy myself.
A: In the normal grocery store selection, I'm with you. That's the one I reach for.
Q: We are comrades.
A: Great tongues think alike.
Q: Another thing we have in common is that we grew up on farms on which pigs, among other things, were raised. Do you miss that?
A: I don't particularly miss the uglier parts of raising hogs. Fortunately we never slaughtered our own; we took the pigs to market every year. A couple of them we would save out for the butcher, and come home with a cooler full of meat. But it's true that the more urban and cosmopolitan my life gets, the more I long for the quietude and bucolic smells of northern central Illinois — the soybean field, the corn crib, the pig barn. When I'm sitting in traffic on the Los Angeles Freeway, it's easy to idealize my days in my grandfather's barnyard.