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“I suspect that cooking with love is an inversion of a different principle: cooking to be loved,” Bill Buford says in Heat. Perhaps that’s why eating a restricted diet feels so lonely: cooks — whether they are homespun or professional chefs — are deeply annoyed by being confined or regulated. If you are on the receiving end of this annoyance, it feels personal, especially if your finicky-ness is a result of necessity rather than preference. But for the person preparing the food, even a simple request can create a major upheaval, undermining both flavor and technique. Food designed for specialized diets tends to expel puffs of uncertainty and sometimes disdain. (If you don’t believe me, just go to your favorite pizza joint and order a gluten-free crust. If they have one, it will almost certainly be served either nearly raw or burnt, and although it may have the same sauce topping and cheese as your usual order, it will exude none of the decadent coziness of your typical slice.) More… “Comfort”

Laura M. Martin resides in South Carolina and teaches writing at Lander University. Her essays appear at Luna Luna, The Establishment, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood among other venues.

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In late January of 2015, a tree stood wavering on the edge of Detroit’s burnt-out Grixdale neighborhood. A loud, old engine revved. A 100-foot rope tightened. A car strained forward. The tree followed, snapping and dropping into the overgrown yard of an abandoned house. A group of bearded men looked on from the front yard of a fire-ravaged structure across the street. Satisfaction and relief filled them as the final rays of sunlight scattered into the gray horizon. They had lost two ropes and a chainsaw in bringing down the tree, but they comforted themselves with the thought that the abandoned house and the surrounding telephone lines stood unharmed.

They were pretty far from Detroit’s refurbished downtown. Years ago, this neighborhood had succumbed to the rot brought on by the crack wars. Inhabitants fled, homes were torched, and the long blocks, once designed for cars, were left sparsely populated. In 2015, it remained largely abandoned. Sometimes, there were residual flare-ups of violence and theft. Some ways down the road, there remained a crack house. In this quiet, largely forgotten place, however, adjacent to the vistas of empty lots, under the canopy of old-growth trees, there was a new community growing. They lived amongst the neglected red brick houses and chose to call themselves Fireweed, after the pioneer plant species that takes over the landscape after a forest fire. More… “Why Does a Tree Fall in Detroit?”

Andrew Fedorov is sometimes found walking across countries, but can mostly be found in New York. His writing has appeared on Outside Online, Book Forum.com, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Awl, and in the Harper’s Weekly Review. Take a look at his twitter @andrewfed

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Both Jews and Muslims consider the pink, snout-nosed animals we know as pigs to be unclean. The question of why this is so has not been conclusively resolved. Did the Koran follow a Jewish rule? Or does the ban stem from the fact that eating raw or undercooked pork meat can contain roundworm larvae, which cause trichinosis? People may have made a connection between pigs and disease, resulting in a fear-based taboo. For the anthropologist Marvin Harris, the main reasons for prohibiting the eating of pork were ecological and economical. Pigs require lots of water and shady woods with seeds, conditions that are scarce in the Middle East.

But the full story may be even more complicated. Whether pigs are considered “clean” or “unclean” has differed from culture to culture, and no clear dividing line based on climate conditions is evident. As a result, it’s difficult to determine what exactly people in the distant past thought about meat. Could it be that this taboo was chosen more or less randomly to create a sense of community among believers of the same religion? To the Egyptian pharaohs, pork was unclean, to the ancient Greeks it was not. The hoggish Romans had a great deal of sympathy for the genus sus, and one pig in ancient Rome even had its own tomb. The inscription reads “Porcella hic dormit” — here rests a piglet. This particular pig lived for three years, ten months and 13 days. Its modern descendants “enjoy” much shorter lives, as they are usually slaughtered when they are between six and ten months old. Christianity’s Saint Anthony, a monk who was born in Egypt, serves as the patron saint of farmers, swineherds, and butchers. Legend has it that at some point he worked as a swineherd, and Hieronymus Bosch painted him with a pet pig at his side. In the Middle Ages, pigs, like many other animals, were held culpable for criminal acts and could be taken to court and executed. All in all, the pigs do not exactly have the best reputation in the Christian tradition — but people still eat them. More… “Between Porcophilia and Porcophobia”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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When Western eaters think of Japanese food, most think of sushi and ramen, but the Japanese have transformed India’s comforting curry into a national dish. Introduced by the British navy around 1868, the Japanese kept the standard British-style brown gravy — warm and aromatic, spiced but not spicy, thickened with a roux — and created something wholly their own. More… “An Ode to Japanese Curry”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath

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My Atta Joann bought her house in Skokie, Illinois the same year that I was born. My parents had been living in Michigan for quite some time after moving from Chicago, but even with a toddler and a full-time job, my mother would still come with the same frequency as if she were still a bachelorette on Devon Avenue to see her sister for baklava and a cup of black tea.

I grow up at my aunt’s breakfast nook, always the weary traveler. I come as a tired kid from Ann Arbor who drinks tea only if it is steeped in milk and drowned in sugar. I see family and friends — lines blurred between who was who — nearly always cramped in the small kitchen, shouting over one another in neo-Aramaic as my aunt elegantly sweeps through with a tray of teacups for the table, already full of cheese, eggs, and bread for those who end up there. More… “Home Sweet Hummus”

Nohra Murad was born in an Assyrian community in Michigan before being moved to an even larger Assyrian community in Phoenix. She then moved to Philadelphia to study biomedical engineering at Drexel University. She still brews strong black tea from Ashtar’s Market in Chicago in her tiny Powelton Village kitchen.

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Wandering around Tokyo’s Shinjuku district alone one winter, on a research trip, I found a taco joint. No one who knows me was surprised by this. “Of course you found a taco joint,” my wife Rebekah said. “You always do.” I was raised in the Arizona desert, eating tacos, burritos, and enchiladas every week. Even though I’d moved to Portland, Oregon far from the Mexican border, I still ate Mexican food at a rapid, rabid pace. So when I found a hand-painted sign on the Tokyo street listing “Mexico tacos” and nothing more, I got excited. In Japanese tako means “octopus.” I loved grilled tako’s flavor, and I was curious to taste Japan’s version of my native desert cuisine. More… “Tacos / Takos”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath

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Sushi is old hat in America. Since getting popular during the 1980s and ’90s, sushi has integrated itself into our everyday lives, appearing everywhere from mainstream grocery store cold cases to TV shows and corner restaurants. You see it in malls and on college campuses. Yet some people still find the idea of eating raw fish repellent. For those who hesitate, sitcom writer Phil Rosenthal offers some wisdom to help break the ice on his food show I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. “Here’s how you get into it. You ever have smoked salmon?” he says. “You ever have lox? Lox is the gateway sushi.” I have no motivational equivalent for canned fish. Most Americans are grossed out by the smell, let alone the idea, of canned fish. The fear is as irrational as arachnophobia. It resists logic, but I still can’t resist trying to make sense of it.

One reason I’m so fascinated by people’s aversion is my own devotion to the stuff. I eat canned fish almost weekly. For breakfast, I’ll heat Japanese glazed saury in a skillet to serve over warm white rice. For lunch, I’ll lay oil-cured Spanish anchovies on toasted white bread. On a solo trip to Tokyo, I ate a one-Yen can of sardines for breakfast outside my hotel window and sent a photo of the precarious set up to my other half Rebekah back in Oregon. Pretty much every white person I know thinks I’m disgusting. I think they’re missing out. More… “Ode to Canned Fish”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath

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We’ll go to Del Taco,
And order something macho.
And when your lips go down to take a bite,
Your face is covered in food but it’s alright,
You know it’s gonna be good, you and me tonight.
─ Hunx and His Punx “Good Kisser”

The day my friend Rich bought a Del Taco T-shirt from an employee was the day I realized that my fixation with the fast food Mexican chain was about more than beans. Back then, in 1993, I was an 18-year-old Arizonan obsessed with California beach culture. I owned a boogie board that I used one week a year. I wore vintage Hang Ten and Hobie surf tees that I found at Phoenix thrift stores. I favored Van’s and cutoffs, and I rode a late ’60s red and white Schwinn beach cruiser whose sleek beauty and tall white walls had strangers yelling “Hey, Pee Wee Herman!” at me on the street. If the southern California coast was the center of my landlocked universe, then Del Taco was a bright star in my sky. What did I know? Fresh out of high school and uncertain about the future, I was searching for an identity. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to live on the beach. More… “Cheddar Suns over Lettuce Mountains”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath

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The past centuries, if not millennia, have been characterized by the unprecedented spread of certain plants to other continents. Crops such as bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and rice are classic examples. Many others did not require human help; their seeds were spread by wind and birds and encountered favorable conditions, as has happened since time immemorial. Some plant types are particularly aggressive, spreading and replacing other plants. They are usually called “invasive” types, and they sometimes succeed with the involuntary help of humans. Now, due to climate change, vegetation zones are changing: Conifer forests, for example, are spreading to tundras, and in the tropics, the rain forest is becoming denser. More… “A Fruit of Many Names”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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At 10:30 on Monday night, six young office workers sat at a table outside of FamilyMart, eating snacks and drinking chūhai. As a sticker someone slapped on a nearby wall said: “Be Alive in Kyoto.” They certainly were. My wife Rebekah and I had come to Japan on our honeymoon. She’s passed out early in the hotel this night, so I went out alone. I wanted to live, and FamilyMart was just a block away.

The thing about Japanese convenience stores is that they’re awesome. Called conbini, sometimes spelled konbini, Americans won’t believe this, but conbini are respectable social centers that serve high quality packaged and delicious fresh food that you actually want to eat, rather than avoid. Open 24 hours, three main chains dominate 90% of the Japanese marketplace: 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart, with Ministop, Daily Yamazaki, Seico, Poplar, and Circle K Sunkus making up the rest. Around 55,000 conbini operate in Japan. Mostly a get-it-and-go operation, you buy your crisp, cheese-stuffed croquettes, spongy green tea cream roll and egg salad sandwich to take to work or the park or home. Some stores provide a few stools by a counter so customers can eat inside, maybe a few small tables, but space is tight and expensive in urban Japan. Where many rural and suburban convenience stores have enough property to dedicate to outside seating or parking, fewer stores in the centers of large dense cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto do. Somehow this FamilyMart in central Kyoto had enough room to provide five round, white plastic tables out front for customers. It was the space that would be a parking lot in America.

More… “Conbini Life: Kyoto, Japan”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath

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