he concept of comfort food seems universal. It’s supposed to be that one food or that one meal that you can always return to when you start to find yourself lost. However, it was a concept that seemed far from my reach growing up. It was something I couldn’t grasp regardless of how hard I tried. In the moments when figuring out my identity left me full of anxieties, I desperately wanted a meal or even a snack that I could turn to to ease my mind. I wanted that comfort food to bring me back to a place I remembered, but I simply didn’t have it. I didn’t grow up with meals that felt like home or memories of meals being moments where I grew closer to the people I was with.

The oldest child in a single-mother home of five, I wasn’t able to explore my Blackness through food. I missed dinner table moments when “dinner” meant meals that were quick to make and quick to eat. I’m over a decade older than my siblings, and while I never went without love or attention, mealtimes were never moments that had any importance placed on them. The idea of sitting at a table as a family and discussing the day with all its ups and downs felt like a Brady Bunch fantasy. It wasn’t my life and I never expected it to be. Food wasn’t a factor beyond keeping me sustained. It took a long time for me to find that relationship with myself and with food.

As a teen I was lucky to find other queer people of color to grow with. Together we explored our identities, worked through years of internalized beliefs, and learned what a chosen family truly could be. And we did this all while sharing countless meals.

The process of setting a table, making plates and filling the cups of my people was so rewarding. All the actions that previously felt like mundane necessities had become a way to physically prepare the space that would give us peace and the ability to learn what being a queer poc meant for each of us. We created our own small rituals out of simple chores that never felt forced. These simple acts of care became the foundation for all of my relationships. I was learning how to extend myself in small, meaningful ways and I was learning what love means outside of a traditional familial structure.

Not only was I growing with people who loved me, I was being introduced to food as a means of comfort. Sitting on a deck eating pho and drinking coffee in the summer; crowding around a table surrounded by smoke, cooking samgyeopsal; making meatballs in my small kitchen with the two people who know me the most. That’s where I worked out my feelings about the disconnect I felt with my Blackness in a neighborhood surrounded by whiteness. That’s where I was able to put my queerness into words. The comfort meals they grew up with became my comfort meals, too.

The people I consider family, who helped me create a healthy relationship with food and helped me build this table weren’t Black but they listened and gave me the space to discuss my issues with both white and non-black people. They weren’t lesbians but listened when I discussed the anxieties I had coming out as a lesbian in a society that is so heavily centered on attraction to men. These were hard conversations that I had to have with myself. Being able to share these complicated feelings over a meal fills me with so much warmth when I look back on these moments.

The queer space of the table became a source of comfort regardless of what foods we ate. I found my confidence as a Black lesbian in that space as each meal allowed me to shed years of doubt. I can think back and remember the meal I was eating when I fully came out or the way my coffee had grown cold as I broke down the ways I felt like an imposter. Time, distance and life get in the way of me being able to still have these moments at the table, but I never feel far from them. I carry each and every meal, person, and moment with me.

Dani Maddox is a Black, lesbian freelance writer from Virginia. With a background in Cultural Studios, her work frequently discusses the ways in which media contributes to discussions on race, sexuality, mental health and personal growth. Besides that, you can find her on @lastadventurecast yelling about the representation (or lack thereof) in video games, movies and television or simply elevating queer voices. Follow her on Instagram @chironidess and Twitter @chironidess.