By Stephanie Onderchanin
Back in the fall, I was lucky to have a conversation with Phiwa Langeni, founder of the Salus Center. It was a winding conversation, as all good ones are, and during it we discussed the “queering” of spaces, particularly in regard to Christian spaces. They made a point that has stuck with me big time, that the queering of spaces will never be done—there will always be another space that needs to be queered, even the explicitly queer spaces. (We can already see the hints of that need demonstrated by the co-opting of LGBTQ liberation rhetoric by capitalists attempting to sell us back our own culture!)
What is it to queer a space? I recently read a great book, “Body Horror,” where the author, Anne Elizabeth Moore, states that “queer is shorthand for, stop telling me what I want and how to acquire it.” I couldn’t agree more! My understanding is that to queer a space is to move away from prescriptive cultures or systems to something that fits better—something that we’ve built for ourselves.
Most of the contemporary queering that is readily apparent is of romantic love, which is an awesome thing, and now I’m hoping to spread this evolution to other forms of love. We already see signs of this happening—the “chosen family” of many of my LGBTQIA loved ones is a very real experience, and it’s pretty dang queer. I want us all to queer how we share platonic love and familial bonds and what we expect family bonds to look like. I want us all to find that our needs can be met best through the love and support of our communities and not the products of capitalism or the individualism and isolation they encourage.
I’ve been lucky to be in the company of good role models for this type of love and care, particularly in how food is used as a tool for this care. Working with Kyle, of FARE: eat differently, has given me pretty clear examples of how to queer the food in our lives—not just in preparation and consumption, but in how it’s shared, how it’s so connected, how it’s a tool of support and love. I got to know Kyle this summer through our exchanges of ingredients and leftovers—me dropping edible flowers or herbs off on their porch, them sending me home with homemade ricotta or pickled veggies. They also modeled some exceptional (and pretty queer) philosophies around food, making space, and celebrating individual preferences, which is antithetical to the prescriptivist attitudes of many chefs. I got to witness their eagerness to share meals with vegetarians while pork belly cures in their fridge or how food allergies or specific diets are prioritized in the creation of a dish, rather than the modifications being secondary to the meal’s vision.
Food is a powerful tool, a universal connector. I care for my friends with intentionality in hard times, offering comfort and support when they need it most. I’ve realized, though, that I can also use food as a preventative measure. It can support my loved ones in times beyond acute crises. But is my community ever without crisis?
Loving many people with marginalized identities means that pain is a kind of constant in my chosen family. What if I could actively fight the pain of the world inflicted on my friends? What if winning the little battles helps us build the power we need to cope with the big ones? That’s why I’m going to use food as the medium for mutual care, my weapon against the cruelty of the world.
What does mutual care with food look like? It might mean inviting people over for meals, sending home leftovers or a surplus of the ingredients you bought in bulk, dropping off food on porches, buying other people’s meals when you go out to eat, or ordering a pizza delivery to their house. But mutual food care can occur in less obvious ways, too, such as sharing knowledge and valuing the contributions of your loved ones, teaching them an unfamiliar cooking skill, or asking about their family’s food traditions.
We are devalued in many ways, and using food as the context for reminding your loved ones of their value and brilliance is a pleasure (I have eaten some DELICIOUS meals through these endeavors) and a radical act of care.