Stories, Science, and More Stories

Stories and food, that’s all we really want. Maybe a drink. As we sat on the tarmac, delayed for a transatlantic flight, everyone around me poked at the screen on the seat-back in front of her, hoping to get them going with the promised movies or television series. When the plane took off, and those little monitors were finally in service for something besides eardrum-busting announcements, we all tuned in.

Cuisine of Ancient Persia

Persian cuisine elevates rice to high art, but it wasn’t always so. When the ten-year-old Cyrus II sat down for his first meal in the palace of his father, Cambyses I, around 568 B.C. he probably didn’t eat rice.

As I researched the foods available in ancient Anshan (probably Tel el-Malyan in the modern Iranian province of Fars) to compose that scene, I was surprised to learn (mostly from a chapter by M. Nesbitt, et al. in Rice: Origin, Antiquity and History) that there is virtually no archaeobotanical evidence of rice in the ancient Near East before the first century of the common era. That, 373 grains, was discovered beneath a collapsed floor at Susa’s Ville Royale II. I say “virtually no” because a preliminary report noted a single grain of rice discovered in NW Iran in what may date to the Hasanlu period (750-590 BC); but the final published excavation report did not mention it.

Crop Mob and God

I participated in my first “crop mob” yesterday at Bellair Farms (CSA). If you’re already lost — what’s a “crop mob” and what is “CSA”? — you’re not alone. Both are pretty new ideas out of the old world of agri-culture, sustainable and sweet. First, CSA: It stands for “community supported agriculture” and is a way to connect farmers directly with consumers who buy a share in future produce. These “members” pay a sum up-front, before the growing season commences to the farmer, who agrees to do her best to grow good stuff that members enjoy throughout the season. It’s a wonderful way to share in both the risks and rewards of good farming. It’s also a cool, organic (dare I say) community-builder. A “crop mob” is a group of people who occasionally descend upon a farm to offer a helping hand, gratis. They may or may not be CSA members — just people who enjoy the labor of sun and field and are happy to help farmers doing good work.

Sexy Spring Comes ’round Again, Just Like Back in Biblical Times

A version of this post first appeared in Christian Century‘s “Theolog.”

Genesis, Vegetarians, Blood, and Life

“In the beginning,” the Bible says, food meant plants. Everybody — human beings, birds, beasts, everything that moves and breathes — vegan. Yup. “It was so… and very good.” Or so the authors/editors of the first chapter of the Bible tell it. Not till after the great Flood and Noah’s (meat) sacrifice do the biblical narrators tell that God explicitly allowed meat eating. It appears as a kind of concession and seems tied to human incorrigibleness. For, as the story goes, even after destroying all the people at least partly because their mean-spiritedness and violence proved to be such a disappointment to God, God accepted that people would still be bad. In that context (which also thought-provokingly includes disruption of relationships b/w humankind and animals and a warning against murder), God edited God’s earlier remarks about diet to include everything, not just plants. But take care, God warned, that you not eat meat with its life. Back in the day, it was thought that blood = life, so: get rid of the blood before consumption. We think otherwise about what vitalizes — about where is the life source. It makes me think, omnivore that I am, about what it might mean to us today to avoid eating life.


Hospitality in fierce climes is crucial. The hospitality of the desert is legendary, and several biblical stories hinge on it. Who knows, some suggest, but you might at any time be entertaining angels. Abraham and Sarah made a comfortable place for visitors, undercover messengers of God, who declared that the elderly Sarah will finally have a son. The criminality of Sodom’s population is immediately evident to readers simply by their intent to harm the visitors (also angels in human guise) in their midst.

I live in the South, where people pride themselves on gracious hospitality, and it is indeed a lovely tradition, but right now I’m back in northern Minnesota where I great up, right on the tip of Lake Superior.