In the dreary January of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Queer Soup Night was created to provide solace, connection, and direct action to the queer community. Six years down the line, Trump’s been ousted (for good, we hope), while QSN, which started out in New York, now has chapters across North America, from Toronto to Miami, St Louis to Oakland. Every month, thousands of queers gather around the dinner table to dine on delicious bowls of home-grown comfort food, prepared by talented local chefs.
It’s a cool, cosy place for the community to connect, eat nutritious and delicious food, while also being a whole vibe. “It’s a real party with DJs and music, people look cute, they take dates, exchange numbers… have a drink or two,” says Liz Alpern, a Brooklyn-based chef and founder of Queer Soup Night. All the things one might do at a queer club, “just in a slightly friendlier environment,” says Alpern, which creates “deeper queer community connection.”
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“Our overall mission is investing in our local community,” says Alpern, who dotes over her beaming one year old, Livne, throughout our interview. On top of creating the space itself, Queer Soup Night creates essential networks of queer chefs in neighbourhoods and across the country and raises money for local, grassroots organisations. “We don’t require an organisation to be a 501(c)(3) [registered charity]… they may have just started a year ago, they’re getting off the ground, doing direct action work.”
Late last year in New York they raised money for Team TLC NYC, who meet the basic needs of asylum seekers and refugees when they arrive in the city. “They go to the bus station three times a day and meet people… bringing coats, food, toys for the kids,” Alpern tells GO.
In Philadelphia, the last QSN raised funds for the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes, a powerful tenant’s rights organisation, working to halt the sale and demolition of their homes. A team member of the organisation they are rallying alongside will often speak at the event – an important focal point of the evening. In her six years running QSN, it’s become clear to Alpern that “lots of people want to make a difference, want to be involved in activist causes… our goal is to create an environment where it feels supportive and loving to learn more, to get involved more, to donate – at whatever level you can.”
Now, let’s talk soup. This isn’t any old bowl of soup – this is Insta-worthy, deep beet purples and velvety pumpkin yellows – artistically garnished, smooth, silky, creamy creations by a network of queer chefs. “It’s a really nice invitation for chefs,” says Alpern, “as they aren’t often invited to make the quotidian – the daily soup – they’re usually invited to make the specialty food from their culture. So now we get a chance to make the simplest dish… the one you eat when you just need that bowl of comfort.”
The accessibility of soup is also a big draw for Alpern, “you can make a really good soup without spending a million dollars,” she says. Costs are kept low for the volunteer chefs, while diners can pay what they feel, or ten dollars and get a meal full of taste and goodness. This allows QSN to be an enormously successful fundraising model, with Alpern estimating that they’ve raised a couple of hundred thousands dollars for organisations across the country since their inception.
“Part of us thought this project may be over by the end of the Trump presidency,” she says, as Livne gurgles on her lap, “maybe there was a part deep down inside that thought the raw need for this space, might diminish at the end of the administration, but it’s like please, if anything, it’s stronger than ever.”
Community spaces that centre on connection, fun, and fundraising give an important new dimension to the queer scene. While splashing the pink pound (the merging of LGBTQ+ communities and capitalism) is commonplace in many corners of the West, using queer dollars to bolster our local communities is a powerful and conscious way to spend our cash. In these tumultuous times of division and disparity, in America and across the globe, localised initiatives like Queer Soup Night feel like the delicious antidote to some of the inertia and isolation all around. Plus you get to look cute and eat soup.
Next Queer Soup Night is 2-6pm, Sunday 29th January at C’mon Everybody, Bed-Stuy, BK. More here, follow @queersoupnight.
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