Category Archives: Essays

Pieces I researched, wrote over time, and/or edited. Some were originally published elsewhere.


Life and death (and soup) in the city

Originally published by New American Homesteader in 2015. Under a bright December sky we gathered to kill the St. Elizabeth House chickens. My friends who built the coop and tended the chickens had moved to Georgia for a new job, … Continue reading

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Travel in the magic city

Since I moved, it has slowly dawned on me that I can get practically everywhere faster by taking the freeway. But it has at the same time dawned on me that I might be eroding other, existing neighborhoods by using that freeway—not directly, not by physical or economic means, but simply by changing my perception of them. Continue reading

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Rituals of embodiment

It isn’t that I want effortless obedience from physical objects but because I believe there is value in the physical interaction itself: we are embodied beings, and we think not only with our minds or brains but with our hands and our whole bodies. Continue reading

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Fat(e), free will, and forgiveness

A hundred-odd years ago, gluttony was a sin, but fat men could be seen merely as successful. We seem to have reversed the calculus. Some of the new research on possible causes of obesity is fascinating. New theories emerge continually, … Continue reading

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A brief history of the sugar cookie

Traditions have a way of growing sadly stale over the years, don’t they? The spirit that once animated them slowly dies, leaving only the dry outer husk of empty actions. Ah, but sometimes we can revive them by looking to the past, by finding the old spirit and sloughing off the dead forms. Sometimes we find that the original form of a tradition not only meant more at the time, but can mean more to us today. Sometimes the past is like a little hope chest, a little… er… hopeful thing. Or other.

This is not one of those times.

No, friends, today we’re going to talk about sugar cookies. Continue reading

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Redistricting and electoral fairness: the view from Eno precinct

As if the election wasn’t annoying enough, I got redistricted this year here in North Carolina. I haven’t moved, but I’m in a completely different congressional district — or, rather, I will be when the 113th Congress convenes in six … Continue reading

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Limits and conscientious consumption

At some level it remains inconceivable to me that slavery still exists in the world. And so it was that, a decade ago, when I read news reports about “human trafficking” in the global chocolate industry, I assumed that this problem had been “taken care of.” But of course it hasn’t, because our boundless need to consume—even something as ultimately trivial as chocolate—trumps everything. Continue reading

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Boycotts, action, and penance

What I would suggest, therefore, is this: Whenever you sign a boycott or a petition, any time you email a corporation or a Congressperson to ask that they change their own behavior or force a change in someone else’s, first think of five things that you could have done, relative to the same issue or a closely related one, in the past month, but did not do. Then think of one thing that you could do, and do it. The five things ensure that you don’t get to feel self-righteous about your action; the one ensures that you take personal responsibility for the issue. Continue reading

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Hospitality at a fractured table

I want not to argue that hosts are obligated to accommodate every dietary preference as if it had been handed down by Moses or Krishna but to ask, instead, what are the mutual obligations of a host and guest, even—or especially—when a matter of principle is at stake. Continue reading

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A diversity of gardeners

An article in last month’s National Geographic examines the loss of genetic diversity in the world’s crops, and this infographic, in particular, has been making the rounds of the Internet, at least in the corners where foodies and activists lurk. … Continue reading

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