Tuesday, September 18, 2007

queer(ing) food

Tonight I’m thinking about food, ancestry, homelands and food knowledge. How do we come to know what we know about food and how do we pass it on?

I got home from working today un-hungry (for once) and with a pile of FPFM veggies in the fridge and some open tofu and leftover brown rice. So I walked to the store to get myself some supplies to make a giant pot of Indian-style curry. I hadn’t made the dish in…I want to say, since I lived in New York but that might not be correct. Although I don’t recall making it in the Somerville house, or since coming west. I started sautéing a potato with the pot lid on to get it moist, and after ten minutes or so I added broccoli, then a lil later some peppers and zucchini, and somewhere along the way a liberal dose of curry powder. At some point when everything is fairly cooked, put a few dollops of yogurt in, check the seasonings and let it come together for a while on the stove. I added more+ curry powder, some chili substance, hot pepper flakes, apple cider vinegar and salt and ended up with a tangy, spicy-but-not-overly-hot yogurty pile. I had to change skillets because it outgrew the 9" cast iron pan. There’s currently a big baggie in the freezer and 1-2 servings in the fridge.

The smell took me back to college. Our school cafeteria had this area called The Vegan Station, where you could create your own stir fry with an array of vegetables, noodles/rice, spices, although for sauce you were pretty much limited to soy and a couple of oils. The more hardcore indie-rock-vegan kids got fairly adept at creating little vials of orange-teriyaki or peanut sauce while they waited in line. When I moved into senior housing, we were cooking a lot of Indian and I think I started making this dish then, with some jar of curry paste I’d gotten at Pearl River or something {back in its Canal Street days, before it got all Soho-chic}. I used to make it all the time with an assortment of veggies, plus chickpeas, almonds and raisins. Tonight I missed the chickpeas.

My roommate asked what I was doing and if I was going by any sort of recipe. Not Really, I told her. But I Used To. And the winging-it factor, though informed by my career of course, was more a matter of having made the dish so many times, and in so many places. I have a vivid memory of my friend cooking it for us and her then-boyfriend-now-husband in their Manhattan apartment. Nothing Needs To Be Made With Heavy Cream, she told me as she dolloped in nonfat yogurt. I pouted in protest.

It’s all the Claudia Roden article that’s got me thinking, really. In the excellent New Yorker profile, they discuss her work, her personal history, and how she filters time though recipes, through food. Try to find Claudia Roden’s Istanbul, Jerusaelm, Damascus. It’s historical, emotional, art as much as artifact. Her treatment of cultures is part meditation, part documentation. The article made me want to go out and request all of her books from the library. But that’s be a lot to bike ride home with.

In the spirit of food as passageway, food as memoir, food as sign and signifier, is there such a thing as queer food? Can food be queered and if so what would that look like? To think of queering food as a transgression or a coupling of inappropriate items, well, so much of cuisine is exactly that anyway. If that were the case it seems like fusion food would be queer food. The heterosexuals can have classical cuisine and the homos can have the rest.

We have ways of dressing. Ways of acting. We read each other in all kinds of settings. We negotiate various codes of silence or appropriateness. Sometimes we pass for straight. Sometimes we’re mistakenly addressed as Sir or Ma’am or assumed to be dating someone who’s really just a friend or offered to be fixed up with a nice boy and sometimes we make these same assumptions about our own. Sometimes we say one thing and then at other times we can’t speak those same words. We love, we fight, we fuck, we surrender, we work, we worry about if we will get beaten up, we worry if we can get health care/marriage/babies/tax breaks, we go to pride events or not, we read the rights books, we someone and slowly learn all of these codes. I Can Just Tell I’ve told my mother how many times about men or women that are queer. We read; we’re read. How strange and wonderful it would be if we had a cuisine for all of that too, but who would be its cookbook author and what would we serve? Our community, such as it is, is far flung and divisive. International. Multilingual. Representative of every gender variation. If we can’t queer food, and surely some theoretician more dedicated than me will prove we can do this, then can we prepare queer food?

1 comment:

James said...

cake is my homie, he will beat your ass! literaly