I write features and essays focusing on housing issues, the postindustrial midwest, food and community, feminism, social justice, urbanism, and odd tales of nature in the city — and I have a soft spot for lost causes and idealists of many stripes. There’s a representative sampling below.

Recent reporting

What Do We Know About the Northwest Incinerator, a Large, Mostly Empty Industrial Site on the West Side? (City Bureau: May 2, 2017)
Midpoint report from a ten-week fellowship with Chicago’s City Bureau.

What Does It Mean to Provide Sanctuary for Immigrants — Or For Anyone? (Buzzfeed Reader: February 25, 2017)
Sanctuary is everywhere — in cities and churches, on campuses, at restaurants. But what does it all mean?

How a Terminal Became a Flashpoint in America’s Culture War (Latterly: January 30, 2017)
A report from O’Hare’s international terminal, on the day Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries was implemented.

In Southwest Michigan, Many Aren’t Shrugging Off the March (Belt Magazine: January 24, 2017)
The New York Times went to Niles and all they found were a bunch of bumpkins. I tried to set the record straight.

Fear and Loathing on Euclid Avenue (Belt Magazine: July 20, 2016)
On waiting in line for Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, outside the RNC in Cleveland.

Clowns to Trump: You’re Giving Us a Bad Name (Belt Magazine: July 29, 2016)
A group of professional clowns explain to folks at the Republican National Convention why it’s not right to call Donald Trump a clown, or the RNC a “circus.”

Tiny Homes: A Big Idea for Housing Homeless Youth (SJNN blog: April 28, 2016)
Could tiny homes be successful alternative housing for homeless teens and young adults? This two-day conference aimed to find out.

This Program Could Lower Health Care Costs in Chicago (Crain’s Chicago Business: April 2, 2016)
On UIC Hospital’s innovative pilot project to fund supportive housing for the chronically homeless.


Be Afraid (The Baffler: December 23, 2016)
On the power of fear, and why — in the wake of the election — it’s more important now than ever to learn to master it.

Tiny Bubbles (The Rumpus: July 31, 2016)
After a week at the Republican National Convention, some thoughts on the function of bubbles — when you should burst them, and when they can keep you safe.

Words Fail (The Rumpus: March 22, 2015)
On running away with the circus and the power of effort.

Seed or Weed: The Evolution of Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail (Belt Magazine: September 22, 2014)
On seeds, weeds, gentrification, place, and memory. Originally written and performed for Theater Oobleck‘s June 2014 residency at the Hideout.

Knocked Over (The Rumpus: September 2, 2012)
On accidental pregnancy and miscarriage, This piece is also included in the anthology Get Out of My Crotch (Cherry Bomb Books), published January 22, 2013, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.


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.

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.

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.


An interview with Matthew Desmond (Belt Magazine: March 25, 2016)
A talk with author and sociologist Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Your Band Sucks: An interview with Jon Fine (Belt Magazine: June 4, 2015)
A talk with musician and writer Jon Fine, author of Your Band Sucks.

The Sunday Rumpus Interview: Leslie Jamison (November 18: 2014)
In which essayist Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, and I discuss Frozen, Taylor Swift, and the limits of empathy. 

Talking Trash and Climate Crisis: A conversation with Chicago’s garbage guru (Occupy.com: December 24, 2013)
Elise Zelechowski, (then) executive director of Chicago’s ReBuilding Exchange. and I talk about garbage.

Book reviews

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Chicago Tribune: October 18, 2014)
On Katha Pollitt’s new book and the fight for reproductive justice.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Writing about food

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.

Soup Night at the Bar (Christian Century: September 25, 2012)
Soup & Bread as ad hoc community building, socially conscious business, and radical practice.

Are Food Trucks a Form of Art? (Time Out Chicago: February 1, 2011)
Some arts organizations think so and are giving the grants to prove it.

An Artisanal Empire (Chicago Reader: December 13, 2007)
Tracking the evolution of Wisconsin’s Death Door Spirits.

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.)