November 15, 2013

Great writing sometimes springs from dirty subjects, as  John Colapinto proves in the New Yorker’s Nov. 18 issue. In a deeply reported story, Colapinto tracks the explosion of used cooking oil from restaurants as a biofuel. “The process isn’t tidy,” writes Colapinto. “The wastewater has to be cooked off, and the scraps of hash browns and wontons and buffalo wings filtered out — to say nothing of the old shoes, dirty diapers, and used hypodermic needles that can end up in a bin in a back alley.”

Yet it’s highly profitable, as Colapinto details in “Hot Grease: The Wild West of used-cooking-oil theft.” A big chunk of the narrative centers on a man named Everett Henley, a Houston native and cop with a small paycheck. He met a JoAnn Villegas, who wanted to marry Henley “right away” but was worried about the guy’s income. But she had an idea as to how he could supplement his earnings.

Then Colapinto writes this: “JoAnn was second-generation grease.” The story goes on for pages, never again to reach such grimy heights.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.