Queer As Food

A series exploring the role of food in LGBTQ+ communities.
By Food & Wine Editors
June 23, 2020

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pride celebrations commemorating the protest efforts at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. Among others, Marsha P. Johnson, a Black gender non-conforming person, refused to be harassed by the police. The patrons of the bar fought back, and the ensuing days of riots were a turning point for the gay rights movement. 

Police brutality is the tip of the iceberg in reckoning with the inequalities in this country. As a food-focused person, I feel hyper-aware of the hunger issues that plague the U.S. due to prejudicial food distribution and the misplaced priorities of agricultural policy. There is enough food. We just haven’t done a very good job at getting it to those who need it. 

As a cook and a member of the queer community, I’ve been interested in the intersectionality of food and drink with gender and sexuality. This Pride month—in the time of Covid and protests and long-overdue change—I’ve spent time considering the role of food in the queer community. How does it nourish, please, connect, and inspire queer people? What is “Queer Food”? What is “Gay Food”? Is it a cuisine? A feeling? A movement? Where is Queer Food eaten, and by whom?

The idea of Queer Food, I thought, must be as big and varied as the community itself. I was curious about the perspectives of other people, and how their opinions were informed. So, Food & Wine editors reached out to a wide array of queer people in the food and entertainment industries to ask these questions. Here’s what they had to say. —Mary-Frances Heck

Credit: Photo of James Beard by Bob Sibilia / Photo of John Birdsall by Bart Nagel

In researching The Man Who Ate Too Much, biographer John Birdsall uncovered James Beard’s letters and diaries, and got more than a glimpse into the semi-secret queer life of America’s most celebrated cook. "I kept coming back to James Beard as this anchor figure in American food and how the restrictions of the time meant that all of his queerness ended up in his food and in his books, but in a way that was completely masked,” Birdsall says. “All this pent-up energy and power and longing for pleasure was in a lot of the recipes that he developed and in many of the books that he wrote. So it kind of started me on this path of wanting to research Beard, and specifically his private life, his queer life that he couldn't be explicit about with the general public.⁠" Read More.

Credit: Mary-Frances Heck

The country’s leading queer chefs (and a bartender!) discuss gender in the kitchen, why gay bars aren’t for everyone, and how to be more inclusive on both sides of the house. Read More.

Credit: Yeji Kim

For generations, Black people have cherished okra, not only for its culinary application as a thickening agent or its nutrient density, but as a memento of what they have overcome. From the trenches of slavery, Jim Crow, the fight for civil rights, and against police brutality, Black people have been routinely and systemically marginalized. They will never forget okra’s origin of creating a shared identity in an unaccepting world, and that is what The Okra Project is doing with the Black trans community.⁠ Read More.

Credit: Eric Jeon

In her new poem "At the Parkway Deli," poet and transgender activist Stephanie Burt reflects on a moment in her childhood that revealed a truth she had yet to discover. Read More.

Credit: Bravo / Getty Images

"As a chef, my goal in life is always to make people feel included. That's why I love hosting dinner parties. I love working in a restaurant because it is an environment that nurtures, it is a safe space. And food is really that one thing that brings everyone together. Food is that connector, it's always been. Whether you speak the same language or you don't, you can understand it. And you can eat it and taste it and understand what that person is feeling. When I cook, I always cook with the intentions of serving you a piece of me, and giving you my love on a plate." Read More.

Credit: Ramona Rosales

"Because of everything that queer people have gone through, we want our food to be as tasty and beautiful as possible. We treat every ingredient with respect so that every element shines though. We want to make it better than anything—just so you don’t call it “queer food.” I mean, if you're serious about cooking and want to be awesome, it doesn't matter if you're queer." Read More.

Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Crawford

“Queer Food is like cold butter sliding across a hot pan: just when I think it’s somewhere, it melts away.” Like that butter, 38-year-old Jennifer E. Crawford is perpetually on the move—and moving others. They explain that they only appear to be constantly in motion: “I have what feels to me like a languid pace, but probably looks fast, because my limbs just know how to be efficient in the kitchen, the way a computer always has background programs running.” Read More.

Credit: Ariel Pomerantz

The food scenes in Pose are just as nuanced and multifaceted as the array of characters Canals writes into the show. His decision to center the Black and brown queer community in his work, with a particular interest in highlighting and uplifting trans people of color on a mainstream TV network, is not only revolutionary but a form of activism. "I am fortunate to be privileged enough to be in the position to do it. And I recognize that there are so many people out in the world, whether they are Black or Latin or women or LGBTQ+, that don't have those same privileges," he says. Read More.

Credit: Courtesy of Showtime

"I love the idea of queer coffee shops and other queer spaces that revolve around food. I think there are a lot of lesbian chefs out here that sort of make their restaurants not exclusive by any means, but there's something queer about them. And I think the person deciding what's what makes a huge difference. You can feel it when you walk into a space, you know you're in a queer space. I do anyway. I know when I walk into a queer chef’s space." Read More.

Credit: Sharan Alagna

"If people are wondering, How can food be queer? There is absolutely queer food. It’s brunch, and it’s mimosas. It’s goldfish that you have at your favorite gay bar while you’re having a beer. It’s pizza that shows up late, right before the bar closes, or right after, for the staff who’s been working so hard, so they can join in and have something. There might not be a proper gay cuisine, because human tastes overlap, I think, with sexuality, but what makes it queer is the sauce—and the tea." Read More.

Credit: Amazon

During Pride month, there are endless ways to support the queer community. You can donate or volunteer with LGBTQ+ nonprofits, spread awareness by marching in a parade (virtually, this year), or simply support queer-owned businesses. But, you can also buy books penned by queer authors. In addition to food magazines and TV shows, the publishing industry as a whole underrepresents LGBTQ+ authors, but, even more so, it vastly underrepresents queer people of color. Read More.

Credit: Carter Short Photography

Justin Burke is renowned for his "modern gramma" style of baking but is perhaps just as appreciated for the inclusive spaces and community he creates wherever he goes. In the weeks before the pandemic shut down the world, Burke—who makes his home in North Carolina—sat down at Food & Wine HQ to talk about finding his home in restaurants, teaching his grandmother's recipes to his young son, and why it's so important to represent all kinds of families on the pages and covers of cookbooks. Read More and Listen to Podcast.