I am reliably inspired by food and the seemingly infinite scope of its reach. I also write about books, urban history, odd tales of nature in the city, and art-spaz ephemera — and I have a soft spot for lost causes and idealists of many stripes. There’s a representative sampling below.
The one thing I don’t usually write are personal essays–except when I do. The Rumpus published my essay Knocked Over, on an accidental pregnancy and miscarriage, on September 2, 2012; I’ve posted it here, on this website, for safekeeping, but it’s still available at the Rumpus, if you’re curious. The piece is also included in the anthology “Get Out of My Crotch,” published January 22, 2013, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Features and essays
Talking Trash and Climate Crisis: A conversation with Chicago’s garbage guru (Occupy.com, December 24, 2013)
A Q&A with Elise Zelechowski, executive director of Chicago’s ReBuilding Exchange.
Turning an elaborate piece of conceptual art into a business (Chicago Sun-Times, December 16, 2013)
A feature for the Sun-Times’s business supplement, The Grid, on artist-entrepreneur Gene Pellegrene and the unusual business model he has developed for his house-painting business, Artist Painters.
Empty Words: Why is the food world so scared to talk about hunger? (Time Out Chicago: November 22, 2012)
The cultural conversation around food has never been louder-so why is talk of hunger relegated to the grim corners of health and public policy? I don’t know the answer, but I gave it a whack in this Thanksgiving essay for Time Out Chicago.
Bread and Circuses (Chicago Reader: October 7, 2010)
Why does one innovative, LEED-certified business find itself a perpetual square peg stuck in the rigidly round holes of city regulations? This feature on the shared-use Logan Square Kitchen looks into how Chicago’s city code hasn’t kept pace with new business models.
Enriched (Chicago Reader: August 5, 2010)
To explore the gap between wheat as a commodity and wheat as food, Seattle artist Sarah Kavage boned up on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to buy — and later take possession of — 1,000 bushels. I went along for the ride.
Expelled From the Garden (Chicago Reader: March 4, 2010)
The University of Chicago needed land to stage bulldozers for a construction project — and found it in a beloved community garden. Gardeners were, surprise, not happy.
A Tale of Two Villages (Chicago Reader: May 8, 2008)
This feature tracing the oddly divergent paths of Chicago’s Ukrainian Village and East Village neighborhoods anchored the Reader’s 2008 special issue on the area’s past, present, and possible future.
Insight Guide to Chicago (Discovery Channel/APA Publications, 2008)
I wrote the chapter on “Chicago Eats” as well as neighborhood-specific restaurant listings for a revised edition of this comprehensive guide to Chicago. I also wrote the chapters on Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood and “Literary Chicago,” and many smaller sidebars.
Bad Apples (Chicago Reader, November 22, 2007)
This weirdo piece on the mystery of the abandoned apple orchard at Cook County Jail originated as part of an evening of monologues and solo performance on nature in the city curated by the Magpies at the Athenaeum Theater.
Slow Food in the Slow Lane (Chicago Reader: April 30, 2004)
Big ideas on a very small island–the first of several pieces on efforts to jump-start a sustainable agriculture movement on Wisconsin’s Washington Island.
My Dinner With Charlie (Chicago Reader: February 2, 2001)
Unpacking Charlie Trotter’s obsession with excellence. (A Peter Lisagor award finalist, and the piece I blame for getting me into food writing. A revised version of this appeared in the Baffler in 2002.)
Other, shorter writing about food
Here’s Your Art. Now Eat It, (Time Out Chicago, February 2, 2011)
Food trucks for fun, profit, and art-world cred.
Dark Roast, With a Whiff of Anarchy (Chicago Reader, August 20, 2009)
With Resistance Coffee, renegade roaster David Meyers may be starting a DIY roasting revolution.
An Artisanal Empire (Chicago Reader, December 13, 2007)
Another Washington Island story, this one about the Chicago launch of Death’s Door Spirits.
Little Kitchen, Big Food (Chicago Reader, February 10, 2006)
One of the first pieces published in Chicago on Michael Carlson and the much-lauded Schwa.
Book reviews and related miscellany
The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock (Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2014)
Has feminism suckered a generation of women into delaying motherhood until it’s too late? Um, no. But it’s more complicated than the title would imply.
Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food (Chicago Tribune, November 3, 2013)
Review of an anthology edited by Peggy Wolff, on the pains and pleasures of Midwestern food.
The Telling Room (Chicago Tribune, August 9, 2013)
On storytelling, the perils of immersion journalism, and Michael Paterniti’s tall tale of the world’s greatest cheese.
Hard-Boiled (Bookforum, Sept/Oct/Nov 2010)
On James Ellroy’s problem with women.
“The Year of Eating Locally” (Chicago Reader, May 18, 2007)
Reviews of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith’s Plenty.
“Alternative to What?” (Chicago Reader, January 19, 2007)
Review of Neal Pollack’s Alternadad.
“On the Inside Looking In” (Chicago Reader, August 18, 2006)
Reviews of Bill Buford’s Heat and Michael Ruhlman’s The Reach of a Chef.
“Making a Scene” (Chicago Reader, November 15, 2002)
Would more cocktail parties make Chicago the literary hotbed it should be? Probably not.
“Irony In the Crosshairs” (Chicago Reader, October 5, 2001)
A talk with Alex Shakar about his debut novel The Savage Girl and the much-hyped (and erroneous) death of irony after 9/11.