Buying groceries for someone else seems like such a simple gesture, but during the coronavirus pandemic, the idea has taken on an undeniable emotional weight. Its a confirmation of community solidarity, of a commitment to making sure everyone in your sphere is doing OK. On July 31, San Franciscans Brianna Johnson and Chantel Heard launched Black Queer Groceries, an initiative that delivers goods to Black and LGBTQIA+ residents of the Bay Area: things like fresh produce, pantry items and even basic medical supplies like vitamins and sanitary products.
The duo raised funds via their Instagram accounts, and within a week raised $3,691 through GoFundMe and CashApp. They immediately delivered goods to a dozen people. During the pandemic, when Black people in the Bay Area are facing a disproportionate risk of dying from COVID-19 and going to the grocery store is a hellish task in itself, Black Queer Groceries is scratching a very specific, and persistent, itch. A bag of groceries wont solve all of a persons problems, they admit, but the emotional exchange that occurs along with that interaction is a huge part of what this is about.
I think that mutual aid is something of the future, said Johnson. She said that the spark of the idea came from seeing how community fridges impromptu food pantries sprang up in San Francisco and Oakland as a reaction to food scarcity during the pandemic. But she realized those projects came with their own hurdles: What if people couldnt get to the fridges before they ran out of goods? What if theres nothing in there that someone could or would eat? Actually delivering groceries straight to someones door would circumvent that logistical problem and allow recipients to dictate what they would receive.
To enroll, you just need to fill out a simple Google Form, where you can customize the grocery list and specify dietary restrictions. The organizers will then order what you need from Instacart and work with you to schedule a contactless delivery time. Theres no income requirement or any other sort of means testing to qualify. A lot of people think its an application, said Heard. But as long as you are both Black and queer thats pretty much it.
Thats in part because mutual aid is less about top-down charity than about building a network of people who they expect to remain a part of their community for the long haul a spirit of hospitality and mutual respect. Queer movements sometimes exclude Black people, while lots of LGBT movements exclude trans people, they say, and being at the intersection was purposeful.
It feels very nice to have something specific for folks who are both Black and queer, especially considering the marginal number of Black people who actually live in this city, says Heard.
Johnson and Heard are a Black queer couple themselves, and have benefited from mutual aid efforts in keeping themselves fed, and the project allows them to keep in touch with the Bay Areas Black LGBTQIA+ community in a time when staying connected is its own challenge. Its work that they, along with collaborator Natalya Bomani, do out of passion: Heard works with youth in the Bayview and Johnson is a full-time student at USF and president of the Black Student Union there, and coordinating orders and lending ears to people in need has become a part-time job for them.
I just love how mutual aid gives agency to the community, said Bomani. Its about having the collective power to take care of ourselves. This isnt a charity case but its solidarity for each other. Its love for each other. Its operating out of care and I think thats super important for having sustainable communities that can thrive together.
On this weeks Extra Spicy podcast, Justin Phillips and I chat with Korsha Wilson, a food writer and podcaster whose focus on Caribbean cuisine and Black foodways at large has been an inspiration to us. She tells us how shes kept a fierce ownership over her byline and I compare our careers to Nicholas Cages. By the way, do you have any questions that youd like for Justin and I to answer on the show? Respond to this email to let me know!
I managed to get my hands on a Basuku cheesecake this week, and my friend Omar came by to trade a slice for a pack of tacos de canasta, tacos served steamin hot out of an insulted cooler (or in Mexico, often a basket or canasta). Street vendor Felipe Reyes sells them with five filling variations on 24th and Mission in San Francisco for $1.50 each, smothered in wilted onions that infuse the tortillas with their sweet scent. The potato tacos are soft and comforting, like a heated eye mask.
On another day, I headed down to the Mission District myself and grabbed some burritos and other snacks for takeout from Lolo on Valencia Street. The heirloom tomato salad ($12) includes one juicy, stripey tomato cut into wedges and served with a cotija cheese mousse and sliced kalamata olives. The salads dressing is simple: a balsamic reduction and chive oil, but thats all a perfect tomato really merits. The cotija and olive bits chime in occasionally with some good, punchy saltiness as well.
Jahnavi Uppuleti, writing for Vice in India, details the beauty and deliciousness of winged termites, a popular monsoon season treat for her Dalit family. She skillfully weaves remembrances of feasts past into a reflection of how people of Indias upper castes have used such food to dehumanize the people who eat it. While other writers may be stymied by the task of making edible insects sound delicious, Uppuleti, speaking from a place of sincere love, makes them sound like the finest food in the world.
This story at the Counter, about how men incarcerated at a Michigan prison chose to honor George Floyd, grabbed at my heart and refused to let go. Its a beautiful account of a meal that Michael Thompson and his community put together to honor Floyds life: fried rice and bagels, crafted with flimsy plastic knives and microwaves. Like many people around the world, Floyds death meant something deep to them, and they did their best to do right by him with whatever means they had.
In case you missed it: I wrote about Shawarmaji, the Oakland shawarma spot whose powerful garlic sauce has got me hooked. Mohammad Abutahas crisp, cumin-scented shawarma answers the prayers of many Arabs whove gone searching for The One in the Bay Area. A scoop: Shawarmaji is leaving its location at the end of the month in search of a more permanent home, so get in on it while you can.
Bite Curious is a weekly newsletter from The Chronicles restaurant critic, Soleil Ho, delivered to inboxes on Monday mornings. Follow along on Twitter: @Hooleil
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