By Brian Scott Lipton
When one hears the word “Queer Food Foundation,” one’s mind may go to many strange places, but, rest assured, this three-year-old, grass-roots organization is not about celebrating vegetables in same-sex relationships. Instead, it’s mission is to serve the LGBTQ+ food-oriented community in a variety of important ways, all of which are aimed at building an intersectional, equitable food system where queer folks are represented and thriving.
Connecticut Voice recently spoke to one of the organization’s co-founders, Vanessa Parish, and one member of its board of directors, Sunny Levine, to discuss the organization’s beginnings and its goals, accomplishments, and challenges.
CV: Let’s talk about how it started?
VP: During Covid, there was a collapse of the economy and a lot of people in our community were facing food insecurity and having trouble paying bills. So, we really started QFF as a mutual aid society. But we quickly realized there were deeper problems than just food insecurity. It’s a systemic issue that marginalized communities are not on the front lines of corporate ladder. So, ultimately, we had to find ways to help each other. We used social media and the internet to reach people, which was easy because it was Covid and everyone was at home. We also reached out to all our personal networks. Thankfully, we got some donations from members of our community, and we got some funding from grants. Ultimately, we were also able to make some partnerships with like-minded companies and collaborations with non-profits.
CV: Now, let’s talk about how it’s going.
VP: We have quite a few buckets. We are still sending funds to those who are food insecure. But we are also creating community building activities, like a food festival, and trying in a variety of ways to bring people together who might not otherwise know each other. For example, we create virtual panels with the James Beard Foundation, cookbook authors, and agricultural people.
Most recently, we launched our Queer Food Directory, which is a virtual space where our members can find each other. If you are opening a restaurant, you can find a queer-owned winery. Or if you want a queer person to be a back-of-house worker or help to create a menu or help cater an event, this is how you find and connect with them. We have signed up 100 people in the last five months and hope to grow it even internationally.
CV: What do you consider your biggest triumph so far?
VP: Our biggest triumph was our first Queer FoodFest. It was held in Socrates Park in Queens in 2022, and we co-hosted with Dave’s Lesbian Bar. We had 10,00 people come! More recently, we hosted an event in the James Beard space in New York during Pride Month. And, of course, we are hoping to do another food festival.
SL: We are also planning to do community pop-ups, with queer chefs preparing their favorite food. Every city has different opportunities to make this happen.
CV: Finally, what do you consider to be your greatest challenges right now?
SL: Making sure we have the infrastructure to support the community right now. Unfortunately, the food industry has a long way to go, but I think in 15-20 years we hope the inequalities we are trying to combat will no longer be part of our food system.
VP: Finding the right people to work with. We always say that there is a comfort level in some companies where they act progressive, but they are not really being progressive. We use this as a guideline in deciding who we partner with. We want to make sure your company supports what we really believe in. We’re not here to make your company comfortable.