It may be hard to believe, but the first time I met a self-identifying lesbian was my first week at Johnson & Wales University. I clocked the rainbow flag she proudly hung on her door and immediately felt a flood of both excitement and dread.
Throughout my time there, I met dozens of queer chefs and chefs-in-training that allowed me to discover a community within the food space—my community. It was the first time in my life I was around people like me. I can't say that's everybody's experience, but for me, food and queerness go hand-in-hand. The exposure to like-minded people helped me unveil the parts of myself I had neatly tucked away for so many years.
In the same vien, I remember the first queer potluck I attended, though I've attended and hosted what feels like 100s since. It was my first queer outing, and it was everything I needed it to be—warm, inviting, and lively. A small group of 13 women crowded around a 6-seat dining table, each of us sharing a little piece of ourselves on the plate.
Some might say potlucks are the "OG'' concept of food-based collectives. They are an essential part of the LGBTQ+ community, so much so that potlucks have become a queer stereotype. Tracing the roots back to before the Stonewall Riots of 1969, community allies organized private dinner as some of the only places people could be themselves. It was a haven of joyful, loud, out, and proud dinners that celebrated individuality and sexuality.
Whether the collective is sharing ideas, recipes, or promoting queer-friendly spaces and chefs, the tradition lives on and continues to evolve as an encompassing connector of food and queerness. After all, if you spend time in a professional kitchen or you are part of a food coop, you're likely surrounded by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
We rounded up six collectives and organizations in the food space that are cultivating queer-food culture and creating safe and thriving environments for all (plus, supporting some stellar causes along the way).
Queer Soup Night
Queer Soup Night is part dinner and part evening of queer individuals hanging out for a good cause. Liz Alpern, a Brooklyn-based chef, launched Queer Soup Kitchen right after the 2016 US Presidential Election. She put her culinary magic to work by organizing a New York-based monthly food pop-up event, ladling out SOUP! The menu usually consists of three to four seasonal soups cooked by Liz as well as guest chefs.
Soup might seem like a very specific food for a fun-queer party, but Liz’s idea behind the event is that soup is forgiving. It's big-batch friendly, thick and hearty, or light and refreshing. There’s a soup that fits almost any occasion or mood.
Each event supports a rotating list of charities impacting the queer community. They create an inclusive vibe where all people are welcome at an affordable price point. The suggested donation is $10. Since launching five years ago in New York, Queer Soup Night has grown to include 15+ active chapters across the United States.
In-person events are on hold, but we’re looking forward to slurping up some soup one evening soon. Check out Queer Soup Night for up-to-date info, how to get involved, and local pick-up-only pop-ups.
Co-founder Amy Quichiz launched Veggie Mijas in 2017 as a place to connect the POC-vegan community across the United States through food blogs and recipes. But shortly after launching, the collective morphed into a much-needed safe, community-building space for women of color, trans folks, and color or gender non-conforming individuals interested in plant-based living. They pay special attention to communities that are marginalized and face food insecurity.
The Veggie Mijas website hosts everything from articles and recipes to resource links and events, like potlucks and urban farm-to-table workshops.
Four years after launching the Bronx-based collective, they now run 11 active chapters throughout the United States including locations in New York, Philadelphia, Oakland, Chicago, Miami, and more. Check out Veggie Mijas for more information on chapter locations and past and upcoming events.
Queers Makin' Beers
Queers Makin' Beers, founded by Rebecca Sandidge and Kate Summerill in 2015, is a home-brewing collective on a mission to diversify the modern beer industry. They want to challenge the stereotype of home brewers as straight, white, bearded dudes to create a beer culture as diverse as the beverage itself.
The collective cultivates beer-making experiences and educational workshops, plus they host two open brewing sessions per month. But the best part is that all are welcome. As their mission statement says, they aim to curate a space that is free from “racism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, and judgment."
Members of the collective span the full spectrum of gender and sexual identities; all come together to make great beer (with free-to-use brewing equipment), make new friends, foster community, and of course, gain expertise in beer making.
They currently have clubs in Oakland, California, Bend, Oregon, and Stuart Florida. Visit the Queers Makin' Beers website for information on upcoming events, brewing sessions, and how to join.
The Okra Project
Founded in 2018 by Ianne Fields Stewart, The Okra Project is a New York City-based grassroots collective and organization that provides aid and support to black trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming individuals by way security, resources, free meals, and meal delivery services for homebound and food insecure folks. The organization's mission is about taking luxury and making it something that's accessible to the most marginalized people to disrupt the idea that luxury is exclusive.
The Okra Project serves the New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York-areas.
For more information on The Okra Project, how to get involved or donated visit their website.
Babetown Supper Club
Founded by chef Alex Koones, Babetown is an ongoing pop-up dinner series based in Brooklyn, New York. Alex launched Babetown shortly after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 when a need for more safe spaces became more urgent. The mission is to unite queer women, trans, and non-binary individuals in a welcoming environment with a delicious spread that is free from harassment and discrimination.
Each event is hosted in private homes across Brooklyn (occasionally in other boroughs) with tickets starting at around $35 per person (not bad for a chef-made dinner in the city!).
Follow Babeland on Instagram for updates on the 2021 in-person and virtual upcoming events.
Queer Food Foundation
While technically not a collective, this foundation is too important to the queer food community not to include on this list. According to their website, the Queer Food Foundation’s mission is “to promote, protect, fund, and create queer food spaces; to celebrate, honor, and be a resource for queer food workers and chefs.” And, that’s a pretty awesome initiative.
The idea behind the foundation is to help develop, promote, and maintain queer and LGBTQAI+ communities and safe spaces via the food industry. Their website hosts a wealth of information from a queer food database to public and private events and workshops, including a 2021 Pride month virtual event series in collaboration with New York City’s Museum of Food and Drink. Upcoming events showcase a variety of topics from “Tales From Our Table: A Virtual Cocktail Party” to “Writing While Queer: A Queer Food Writing Workshop.”
Check out the Queer Food Foundation for a list of upcoming virtual events.