Don’t miss the newest Chicago Reader “Best of” book, a collection of pieces from more than two decades of work by senior writer Mike Sula: An Invasion of Gastronomic Proportions: My Adventures With Chicago Animals, Human and Otherwise.

You can also buy together with Reader Recipes and save 10%!

I’ve written for the Chicago Reader for 25 years, mostly about animals and food.

My favorite stories were about the people on the edges of the city’s food system; the oddballs, the uncelebrated, the immigrants cooking for their own—and especially the people willing to break the law to put food on the table. There was Shirley the Muffin Lady, making the rounds of the bars with baskets full of weed-spiked treats. There were the househusbands running an outlaw charcuterie operation out of a Skokie home kitchen. And then there was Chef Albert D’Angelo, the insufferable, arrogant prick, who’d opened a secret restaurant out in the lake, two miles off Oak Street Beach.

But in going over the quarter century of pieces I’ve written for the paper I noticed another pattern: there have been lots of tales of human animals doing strange things with other species—not just eating them either. There was the dastardly catnapping orchestrated by a stay-at-home mom; the colony of cemetery-dwelling, hot dog-gorging racoons and their human enablers; the farmer who cloned his prizewinning dairy cow; and the obsessive fossil collectors scouring slag piles filled with 300-million-year-old invertebrates. I don’t know what it means that I gravitate to that sort of story, but it’s that sort of story that inspired the title for this collection. It’s about an invasion of Louisiana crawfish in the surging Chicago River, and the neighbors that waded in after them for dinner.

You’ll find all of those stories and more within, each starring one or more extraordinary animals, edible or otherwise.

Mike Sula