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The Joys of Agnostic Eating

The Joys of Agnostic Eating

Ethan has joked elsewhere about our recent Food & Drink Issue: we had selected a topic that was intentionally “lighter fare” to chase Mental Health and then watched as the stuff that came in delved into the heaviest possible corners of gastronomic experience (pun sort of intended). Addiction, mortality, moralism, Marduk… sheesh. Good thing we had plenty of Capon on the menu to balance the palate and steer us clear of potential (food) comas. From what we’ve heard back thus far, the fun still comes across, thank God.

The point here is not to issue some vague humblebrag about #depth. No,…

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From the Archives: Sneezing at the Cult of Productivity (over Sushi)

From the Archives: Sneezing at the Cult of Productivity (over Sushi)

The New Yorker made me laugh out loud the other day with their poking fun at the ever-escalating ‘cult of productivity’ in this country. In their Daily Shouts column, “3 under 3”, Marc Philippe Eskenazi introduced us to “the innovators and disruptors of 2014, all under the age of three years old, all impatient to change the world.” It’s really funny. For example, their top “pick” is two and a half year old Cheryl Kloberman, who is apparently making major strides as an Energy Conservationist:

What does it take to power an entire household with a flick of a switch? This…

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Special Food & Drink Mockingcast (Plus, What Would You Eat If You Weren’t Afraid?)

Excited to announce a brand new special episode of The Mockingcast, dedicated entirely to the Food and Drink issue of The Mockingbird! Scott really went to town on this one, compiling multiple interviews with contributors and excerpts from the mag itself (and a host of other goodies as well). Click here to listen. Fair warning: not to be consumed on an empty stomach!

Also, as another preview of the print edition, just before Thanksgiving Break we asked our readership what they would eat if they weren’t afraid—afraid of indigestion, afraid of death, afraid of angry spouses, social scrutiny, moral reproach? More as a thought experiment, we wondered what we’d really reach for if all the rules were wiped clean from the counter: What would you allow yourself to indulge in were it not for the consequences—bodily and ethical and otherwise?

Maybe you read about it and thought, “I have no deep-seated issues with food. I eat what I want and, believe it or not, what I want is healthy, natural food.” Fair enough (what’s your secret?!). For everyone else, loosen the belt a notch and grab a stack of napkins, cause here’s what you came up with:

  • Cheetos in a can
  • Krystals
  • KFC Double Down Sandwich
  • Hot McDonald’s fries!
  • Wendy’s chocolate Frosty
  • My mother’s oatmeal cookies
  • Cinnamon Life cereal with whole milk
  • BBQ sauce with anything
  • Onion rings
  • Cookies & Cream ice cream
  • A sack of Five Guys fries
  • Talenti’s pumpkin pie gelato
  • A try of cannolis with extra marscapone
  • New Jersey bagels with cream cheese and lox
  • Triple chocolate fudge cake
  • Cracklin’ Oat Bran
  • Pork soup dumplings
  • Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese Family box (all for me)
  • Those enormous Great Harvest salted butterscotch cookies
  • Deep-fried Oreos
  • A vat of queso with warm tortillas
  • Bagel dogs with sauerkraut
  • Fluffernutter milkshakes
  • All you can eat Brazilian steakhouse
  • Dominos Ultimate Pepperoni Feast
  • Shake Shack anything
  • Several tubes of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls
  • Fruit by the Foot, Swedish Fish and Gushers
  • French fries everyday, at every meal
  • Hot Krispy Kremes
  • A dozen Krispy Kremes in five minutes
  • A half-dozen Krispy Kremes, squeezed together into a ball, eaten like an apple
  • My wife’s mojo-marinated roast pork
  • Bacon bacon and more bacon
  • Chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery
  • Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts toasted with butter
  • Momma’s Pancake Breakfast at Cracker Barrel
  • McDonald’s Big Mac Extra Value Meal with an apple pie

Click here to order the Food & Drink Issue today! And those who’ve already wolfed their copies down, feel free to share your favorite bits in the comments. Or what (else) you’d eat if you weren’t afraid.

Announcing! The Food and Drink Issue!

Ladies and gentlemen, diners and tipplers, gather ’round! The ninth issue of The Mockingbird is officially available for order! Note, too, we have a deal for bulk orders. If you/your church/your favorite hole-in-the-wall needs a bundle of copies, email us: And, as always, we place before you the menu and the first course: Mr. Richardson’s Opener and the Table of Contents to (apologies) whet the appetite. A votre santé! Zum wohl! Dig in!


A Free Lunch: the Spiritual Economics of the Church’s Most Cliché Ministry by CJ GREEN

Issue9COVERThe Confessional

Orthorexia: The New Etiquette by CARRIE WILLARD


The Cheap Grace of Cheap Food by BENJAMIN SELF

For the Record: What Would You Eat If You Weren’t Afraid?

The Compleat Leftoeuvriére by ROBERT FARRAR CAPON

Modern Food, Moral Food: Our Interview with HELEN ZOE VEIT

For the Record: Ode to the Church Cookbook, On Our Bookshelf

In Praise of Excess by ETHAN RICHARDSON

Freedom Isn’t Free by CONNOR GWIN


The Hospitality Sting by SARAH CONDON

I Eat Therefore I Am? by SCOTT JONES

For The Record: Capon’s Sauce Primer

The Curse of Eglon: Weight Loss Under the Weight of the Cross by BRYAN J.


Champion of the Vernacular: Food Criticism in a Nation of Experts by DAVID PETERSON

Hungry for Religion: A Sermon by DAVID ZAHL


Diet Pills and Dinner Parties

In his bestseller The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon opens one chapter with a parable: A wise man decides to throw a dinner party. Among his guests are an eligible bachelor and a beautiful widow. His hope, through the merriment of wining and dining, is to play a little matchmaking, too. The other guests are skeptical.

The widow, throughout the entire evening, complains about the monotony of cooking. She only wishes that someone would come around and invent new kinds of meat to enjoy, because the old ones—chicken, veal, beef, pork—are so played out. The bachelor, on the other hand, argues that there is too much variety and not enough consistency. With a scientist’s eye, he only wishes there were one substantive, sensible plant to meet all our dietary needs.

As the wise host had predicted, love blossoms: the two become one in their deep and abiding joylessness. They are soon married, develop a nutrition pill, and live “efficiently ever after.” Capon signs off with a reassuring word for his readers: “Anyone with an ounce of playfulness is sure to be spared the anguish of their company.”

We are not past the day of the diet pill. Just this year, Aeon’s Nicola Twilley wrote about a real food substitute called (sadly) Soylent, the brainchild of a Silicon Valley engineer. This product, stemming from research that says we spend 90 minutes a day on our food, is meant to give us our time back. Soylent, right in tune with Capon’s couple, is a “thick, odorless, beige liquid” with “every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial.” Twilley hoped to try the goo for a week, but cracked after five days. As for all the extra time she had? “I spent [it] joylessly clicking around on the Internet, my brain resisting every effort to corral it into more productive activities.”

Spot illustrations by Lilli Carré (

Spot illustrations by Lilli Carré (

Despite Soylent’s allure, it would not be fair to say we’re in an age of dietary minimalism. In contrast to Capon’s couple, we also inhabit a food and drink age of high-art decadence. Chefs are celebrities—their restaurants have years-long waiting lists. In even the remotest towns, brewers and distillers are a dime a dozen. The makers of Pappy Van Winkle, the famed Kentucky bourbon, have boasted that their product is so sought after that it hasn’t been on shelves in the past three years. Even billionaires can’t get their hands on the stuff. “They’d have an easier time buying our company,” the owner said.

Beneath the fads, there is a pseudo-religious quality to the way we talk about food. Food ethics have become some of the heated global conversations, whether they concern small farms or carbon emissions or childhood obesity. But there’s also a new spirituality implicit in the foodie craze. As Bill Deresiewicz once disputed in his Times op-ed entitled “A Matter of Taste?” food is today’s high ideal:

Just as aestheticism, the religion of art, inherited the position of Christianity among the progressive classes around the turn of the 20th century, so has foodism taken over from aestheticism around the turn of the 21st … “Eat, Pray, Love,” the title goes, but a lot of people never make it past the first.

It is no simple religious path, either. Regardless of where you shop, the produce aisles are littered with all of your foodie liabilities, all demanding your obeisance: Food waste. Childhood obesity. Eating disorders. Organic produce. Your sister-in-law’s food blog. For a part of life that should mean sustenance and pleasure, food is often a collective human experience we can only describe as, sorry, constipated. If moral scrutiny ever soured a delightful human enterprise, it began with your cereal bowl—or granola bowl—or smoothie bowl—or whatever you do or don’t eat for breakfast. The Law of Food is everywhere. You cannot escape it, and yet you always find yourself behind it. Food choices make up some of the chief ways we tell others who we are and what we care about. (Needless to say, I was wrong when I thought Food & Drink might be a “lighter” issue than its predecessor, Mental Health.)


To some extent, food has always carried this moral weight. Before juice cleanses, even before frozen dinners, Leviticus was lined with rules about food—all the way down to which joint-legged insects you could eat. Food and drink—the way it was prepared, consumed, and sacrificed—has always been a marker of a deeper creedal code.

The same is true for those who call themselves Christian. Some of the most elemental pictures from the tradition come from the sacraments of food and drink. The bread and the wine, the fatted calf and the wedding feast—Christianity’s hope is literally laid out upon the table. So maybe Alice Waters and Michael Pollan are on to something! Thomas Cranmer, the English reformer behind the Book of Common Prayer, once wrote:

For as the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears; so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do, after a sacramental manner, put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.

Food and drink, in other words, help us taste God’s provision in Christ. Like a good sermon, the meal is a physical reminder of whose table we’re ultimately at. Wendell Berry said that “Eating is an agricultural act.” It is also a heavenly one. Which is why this issue is for everyone. You may not see yourself as a high-brow epicurean or a coffee snob. Maybe you, like Capon’s pill-maker, wish there were fewer options. But you do hunger in the ways we all hunger. Because you are human, you too come to the table to have your fill. And from the first course to the last bite, you’ll find this elemental hunger (and thirst) to be our running theme.

Which leads me to one last editor’s note to pass on to you before you take your seats: all credit, besides that which is due to the Almighty Host, goes to this issue’s spiritual sous chef, the Rev. Robert Farrar Capon. His words are everywhere in these pages, both directly and indirectly. Even when he is not being directly quoted, he is making his presence known. Capon, the food writer and priest, is not keen on table manners: God is to be liberally consumed and enjoyed. Capon insists that you, the guest, have no responsibility but to taste, and to laugh at your own party fouls. This one’s for him.

And so, enough talking, let’s dig in. There’s lots to try, but we have all the time in the world, so take your jacket off. We have decadent feasts and church cookbooks; we have mid-century etiquette and down home hospitality; we’ve got the heavy fare, too—from addiction to agribusiness. There are plenty of cocktails and simmering sauces, and we’ll finish the night with some forbidden fruits (and, yes, fast food). It’s all there for the taking, really—and the blessing’s already been given! So …

Prost! Pass the salt! Amen and amen!

Ethan Richardson, Editor


P.S. Don’t forget: everyone who signs up for any amount of monthly giving to Mbird gets a complimentary subscription.

Autoimmunity and the Heart Curved Inward

Autoimmunity and the Heart Curved Inward

I am sick. That’s pretty much all I can tell you about it with any real confidence. For two years, a harvest of strange and debilitating medical maladies have continued to hurl wrenches into the functioning of my poor and puzzled body (I’ve detailed some of that elegant saga here and here). In my time not writing about being sick on Mockingbird, I slug from one doctor to the next, submit myself to pokes, prods, needles, and indelicate personal questions. Everyone agrees things aren’t right. Yet I am still without a clear diagnosis. There have been rabbit-hole-suspicions by many-a-medical professional,…

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Humility in the Face of Lettuce

Humility in the Face of Lettuce

Rural Midwesterners like myself tend to have vegetable gardens. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like vegetables–you grow them because that’s what you do. I’ll refrain from going full Garrison Keillor on you, extolling the virtues of the first tomato of the year, but it’s a thing, really.

Starting with Thanksgiving, through Christmas and New Years, my holiday season is marked by the steady arrival of seed catalogs. The garden might be covered with snow, but for me, the growing season starts before the year ends. Dark days pouring over colorful catalogs filled with promises of huge, blemish-free fruit in overflowing…

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“Invasion of the Cream Snatchers” by Robert Farrar Capon

“Invasion of the Cream Snatchers” by Robert Farrar Capon

Here is an excerpt from the second essay in Mockingbird’s latest publication, More Theology & Less Heavy Cream, by Robert Farrar Capon–available now in our online store and on Amazon! 

More Theology & Less Heavy Cream is a never-before-published collection of Robert’s essays featuring his and his wife’s alter-egos, Pietro and Madeleine. Join them in this charming episode as they ruminate on cooking, shame, and a law by the name of Irving.

“What went wrong last night?” Madeleine asked in disbelief. “You’ve made that heavy cream sauce a thousand times. How come, at the one dinner party I rave about it in advance, you make it…

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What Would You Eat If You Weren’t Afraid?

It’s Thanksgiving again, that one day of the year where we used to loosen our belts to enjoy a glut of buttery foods. But things have gotten more complicated. In the current gastronomic climate we inhabit, even if we do loosen our physical belts, we tighten the moral ones. Whether it’s nutritionally clean or ethically sourced, Thanksgiving now provides us with a chance to be worthy of our own gratitude. Gluten-free stuffing? Vegan creamed corn? Quinoa sweet potatoes? One by one, our peerlessly tasteful G.M.O.s leave our tables, leaving us thankful for, well, other things. What gives?!


In an article in the Times Magazine, Alex Halberstadt tells the story of his own moral search for the right turkey–a search which landed him with a heritage bird from a small farm in Pennsylvania:

For weeks we watched the turkey — our turkey — on the farmer’s webcam, a cluster of pixels frolicking inside a chicken-wire enclosure. It was butchered and shipped overnight (the FedEx shipping cost nearly as much as the bird) and when it emerged from the oven, mari­nated and basted decadently in butter, the turkey tasted so unspeakably bland that much of it was left on our friends’ plates, camouflaged awkwardly under brussels sprouts. The feel-good narrative of our lovingly raised, hormone-antibiotic-and-G.M.O.-free certified-organic turkey became supplanted with a more ambiguous one. We felt both duped and morally abject: Not only were we out nearly $200, but our ethical gambit put an end to the bird’s bucolic life.

I’m sure you’ve had no such experience. The rest of Halberstadt’s article is a love letter about the joys and complexities of, you guessed it, Frito-Lay’s Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles.

Which made me think, just in time for The Food & Drink Issue (out in January), ENOUGH! Let’s do something about this! Mary Karr once asked us a similar question, but this Thanksgiving, we put it to your gut: What would you eat if you weren’t afraid? Seriously, this is not rhetorical: what would you? What would you allow yourself to indulge were it not for the consequences–bodily and ethical and otherwise? Were it not for your self-consciousness?

We want to know! Leave a comment below or email us here, and tell us what heavenly nosh you so diligently (or not so diligently) avoid. And we’ll publish the answers (anonymously) in our upcoming issue! 

Happy Thanksgiving, whatever grub you’re pining for!

Generosity Devoid of Expectations

Generosity Devoid of Expectations

As we approach Thanksgiving, we enter the season when a lot of us start to think about volunteer opportunities for our family. Perhaps we’re trying to inoculate our children from the entitlement that can creep in with all those holiday gifts. Or perhaps we’re trying to give back in a spirit of gratitude for all we’ve been given. Or perhaps we’re trying to put some muscle where our money is, as we dole out charitable gifts before the end of the tax year. Whatever our reasons, this time of year seems to be when a lot of us look to…

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Five Things You Probably Didn’t Expect Your Waiter to Blog About

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Expect Your Waiter to Blog About

1. The futility of control and the experience of freedom: Anyone who has eaten out at a sit-down restaurant knows that when you arrive you will be escorted to your seat by a host/hostess (although you would be shocked by how many people seem to forget this day to day). Let’s say the hostess is a nice twenty-something named Claire. Claire will take the elderly, well-dressed Mr. Anderson to the best seat in the house–I promise that 99.9% of the time she knows better than he does where the best seat is, because it’s her job to know. She’ll take him there, pull out…

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This Blog Was Bound for Failure

This Blog Was Bound for Failure

In the summer of 2009, my family participated in a Community Supported Agriculture farm share for the first time. We “subscribed” to a crop share with a local farm, and each week, we planned our meals based on whatever variety of organic vegetables came in that week’s farm box. I (kind of) gave up my tight-clenched first of control over our weekly menu, breezily mentioning to friends that we “ate with the seasons,” lah-dee-dah, so whatever showed up in the box each week is what we ate. I read Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, watched “Food, Inc.” while my husband cringed…

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The Great British Baking Show: It’s Just a Cake

The Great British Baking Show: It’s Just a Cake

The following contains a spoiler in Episode 301 (Cakes) of the Great British Baking Show.

In the early 2000s and in the early years of our marriage, my husband and I gathered around a television set with friends on Sunday nights to watch Sex and the City, or Six Feet Under, or whatever HBO series was headlining that year. But at home, when we got tired of the news or didn’t have anything better to entertain us while we folded the laundry, we’d settle in to cooking shows on the Food Network or PBS, and numb our brains to the strains…

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