Holding a warm cup of vegan minestrone instead of the usual cold drink, I snake my way through the crowded patio at Oakland’s Temescal Brewing taproom. After a decade of attending queer-identified parties and events, I realize none have felt like this: I’m able to hear my friends speak over the music, everyone is wearing a name tag, and we’re all here to build community through an unexpected medium: soup.
I’m at Queer Soup Night (QSN), a roving pop-up event held since early 2017 by chapter groups all over the continent. Brooklyn-based queer chef Liz Alpern started QSN in response to the 2016 presidential election, as it became bracingly clear that marginalized communities were now facing an even more precarious future. Alpern saw an urgent need for comfort as well as financial support for groups serving underrepresented communities.
At each QSN event, proceeds are donated to local organizations. Oakland QSN organizers Amy Jin, Jessie Nguyen, and Georgina Oram have raised over $10,000 and donated to groups including People’s Kitchen Collective—whose work bridges art, food, and activism—and ABO Comix, an art collective working with LGBTQ+ people who are incarcerated. On this particular Sunday evening, the suggested donation of $10 supports La Cocina, the San Francisco–based food business incubator for low-income people of color and immigrants, mostly women.
Queerness is reflected in the food because of the hands that made it. Whether it’s tomato shorba made by cookbook author and restaurateur Preeti Mistry or red bean tong sui made by Bridge Ho of Little Spoon Creamery, the food is a channel for queer chefs and home cooks to unaplogetically show up as who they are, directing the spotlight onto the intersection of cultural, ethnic, and sexual identities. And while alcohol is available at QSN, it does not lie at its core. The typical queer public space is, more often than not, a bar, but decentering alcohol creates a relaxed atmosphere where, as Nguyen says, “You’re welcomed in with a big hug.”
Oram views QSN as a “low-barrier entryway” for queer-identified people to experience physical and emotional nourishment through the exchange of culture. It has neither the usual hierarchy of a typical restaurant nor the prohibitive costs that allow certain people to dine while others miss out. For the guests, simply being able to gather and take pleasure in the food and each other’s company is a political act when, even in the Bay Area, queer public spaces are few and far between.
Look out for future QSN events at queersoupnight. Suggested donation is $10–$20, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.