Leah Kirts, a 2016 MA in Food Studies alum, is a queer vegan food writer living in Queens. As the pandemic took hold in March, it became clear to Leah that the people in their community most in need of resources had the least access to relief.
Prioritizing vegan ingredients allows us to affordably feed a lot of people while simultaneously reducing food safety risks and keeping in line with the values of mutual aid. Giving away factory-farmed chicken and eggs from miserable caged hens wouldn’t reflect our concern for slaughterhouse workers, nonhuman animals, and communities on the frontlines of climate collapse. But if we can use food to reduce harm while showing solidarity with workers and animals and supporting local food producers, why wouldn’t we?
A lot of people are unhoused or can’t cook for themselves, so from the outset we’ve also made hot meals to distribute. It started with just me and my housemate, Cayetana, cooking large batches of vegetable soup and curried chickpeas in our kitchen, but now it’s grown to a team of 6–8 people who plan out recipes to cook in a church kitchen on Saturday mornings before the pantries. We make about 100–150 all-vegan and mostly gluten-free meals every week to rave reviews!
It’s really simple: anyone who shows up can get food.
Do you have any advice or recommendations for readers looking to get involved?
Check out SWMA to see what we’re doing and visit Mutual Aid NYC to get involved in your own neighborhood if you live in NYC. If you want to learn more about the politics of mutual aid, Dean Spade is a great resource.
What we’re doing is one small effort among many other groups who’ve been doing mutual aid long before it became a buzzword. We build upon a legacy of historic groups like the Free African Society in the 1790s, Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s who built their own hospitals in the midst of an epidemic, sociedades mutualistas of the Southwest, the Puerto Rican Young Lords of Chicago in the 1960s, and the list goes on and on.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount these past months from fellow organizers about openness, communication, and interdependence. It’s messy work that’s far from perfect because we bring ourselves with all of our privilege and trauma, but it’s part of a bigger goal to prefigure the kind of society that we want to live in where people’s lives matter more than property and where the resources we need to survive are abundant because we cooperate with nature instead of trying to dominate it.