Ciarán Howley wanders through the seldom-seen world of queer culinarians and their overlooked contributions to food history.
In the opening moments of Jordan Peele’s sci-fi thriller, the director illustrates a truth as old as history. Emerald, played by Keke Palmer, points out a prime example of how the contributions of a person of colour to a historic moment are culturally erased.
“Did you know that the very first assembly of photographs in sequential order to create a motion picture was a two-second clip of a Black man on a horse? Yes it was. Yes it was. Look it up.”
This sequence is played in the opening moments of the film and it’s a difficult truth that the figure atop the horse in Eadweard Muybridge’s cinematic experiment Animal Locomotion remains an astonishing enigma.
In film history courses I’ve taken at both University College Dublin and the University of Amsterdam, this man, let alone his contribution or his race, were not even acknowledged. In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter in 2020, there have been calls to institutions and organisations to begin decolonising the curriculum. That is, to interrogate the white, straight and Eurocentric narratives espoused in schools and universities and reframe the stories of minority groups that have been written out almost entirely.
Food history, as it turns out, is an unlikely example of this reality. The history of cuisine is as long, rich and multi-layered as it is gayer than the hills - a reality that’s been long-hidden and seldom-discussed until recently. Today, Queer food culture is booming. Drag brunch is the first that springs to mind - a midday liquid lunch with appetisers of sorts where gays gather and gaggle to see queens perform. In Dublin, venues like Wigwam, the Bernard Shaw and more host these shows every week and they’ve become a staple of the social scene.
Char Magazine’s Shamin de Brún writes extensively on just why brunch became so popular among Queer people. “For a long time, queerness was stuck in the dark even if you were out of the closet. Gay spaces mainly were pubs and clubs that, while providing essential community space, were also relegated to the after sunset of life. At Brunch, gays can gather and be themselves together in the sunshine. That was a bold and rebellious move to a society that would barely tolerate them in the dark.” De Brún points out that while brunch has become a common pastime for many, its origin is intrinsically Queer.
Lou Rand Hogan's frivolous and funny recipe book ridiculed the idea of homosexuality as dangerous altogether. While gay life has often been centred around bars, Hogan depicted gays as a community who love to cook for and entertain one another.
Historically, like most of Queer history, gay foodies had to be far more covert due to social stigma and restrictive laws. Lou Rand Hogan is a key figure in this history. In 1965, the American chef published The Gay Cookbook, the first of its kind and very culturally significant bearing in mind that the Stonewall Riots would not take place for another four years. This book brought gay cooking fully out of the closet and it would never really go back in.
The book is filled with slang, references and tidbits of LGBTQ+ culture we can still recognise today in everyday language and in pop culture. On the front page of the book it reads, “All Rights Reserved, Mary.” Mary is a term used in reference to another gay person, often contemptuously and always sassily. Grin-worthy chapter titles in the Gay Cookbook include, but are not limited to, ‘Oysters, Lobsters, and Shrimp - And What to do About Crabs’, ‘In Your Oven’, ‘Swish Steak’ and (a personal favourite) ‘What To Do with a Tough Piece of Meat.’
Hogan’s recipes make for entertaining reading while also being quite radical in camping the domestic realm. Historian Stephen Vider notes that at a time when being queer had never been more demonised, Lou Rand Hogan's frivolous and funny recipe book ridiculed the idea of homosexuality as dangerous altogether. While gay life has often been centred around bars, Hogan depicted gays as a community who love to cook for and entertain one another.
Bananas, eggplants, strawberries and melons hold more obvious connotations (hehe) while apples and oranges are decidedly neutral. For anyone who saw that peach scene in Call Me By Your Name…well, enough said.
Like everything in life, some foods are gayer than others. Iced coffee is an unseasonable yet all-year-round favourite for gays on the go needing some shuga, while Americano is thought to be the drink of a more staunch and probably heterosexual sort. Bananas, eggplants, strawberries and melons hold more obvious connotations (hehe) while apples and oranges are decidedly neutral. For anyone who saw that peach scene in Call Me By Your Name…well, enough said.
Host of podcast A Queer History of American Food P.C. Verrone even argues that buttercream became queer-coded during the 1970’s, when baking became a competitive sport among the trans community. Buttercream was an essential ingredient, used to render fantastic and colourful works of confectionary art. A new kind of camp cuisine was born.
Today, the landscape of food culture and dining is gayer than ever. Queer Eye host and chef Antoni Porowski has become one of its faces, lauded and oft-satirised for his serious and no-nonsense approach to ultra-healthy cooking. One of Ireland’s most popular food blogs is GastroGays, founded by couple Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford. On their blog and podcast Chew the Fat, the pair write recipes and reviews - but are up-front about the fact that Eurovision is a key pillar in their content strategy.
You can take Queer cooking classes, find restaurants that are gay-friendly/owned through sites like TripAdvisor and, of course, find yourself performing midday slutdrops at any of Dublin’s many, many drag brunches. It’s never been a better time to be a foodie, but better yet, it’s never been a better time to be a fruity foodie (I’m sorry). Some hidden histories have to be unearthed and exhumed long after their time, but it’s clear that queer cuisine has never really gone away - as long as keep indulging ourselves.