THE APHRODISIAC KITCHEN
“We have a responsibility to speak up for the farmers that are abused in the fields, to the deforestation providing cattle with land to graze – pushing out indigenous people, and to fight the 1% who are rubbing elbows with this administration.” Andreas Caver of The Aphrodisiac Kitchen weighs in on the politics of food and identity, “Fast Food” and “Fast Fashion” and if his boyfriend was a dish, what would he be…
THE APHRODISIAC KITCHEN
Tell us how TAK came to be and what do you hope to achieve through TAK?
One Sunday morning at a burger joint in Crown Heights I gotta veggie burger – I was extremely hungover. I had been in New York for about a year and I was frothing at the mouth for something more than my $11/hr retail job. I was broke. I was drained. I was over it. “I need something fulfilling,” I said to my best friend, as the grime of well whiskey still lingered in the corners of my mouth. Our afternoon meal was filled with plenty of, “what the fuck am I doing with my life?” jargon. By the time the check came, I had concluded that my love for food was what I really needed to focus on. My commitment to a plant based diet, the years I studied vegan and vegetarian literature, and my natural nurturing self solved the agony of my greasy burger blues. It took many uninspired mornings and failed writing attempts to birth The Aphrodisiac Kitchen over a year later.
I have so many plans for TAK. It’s two years old now and I’ve been pretty lazy. I understand that it’s all a part of the creative process, but now I am ready for it to truly blossom. I see The Aphrodisiac Kitchen as a cookbook. I see it becoming an urban farm. I see it as a podcast. I see it as a community center. Most importantly, I hope it inspires people to define their relationship with food and to understand that nurturing yourself, your neighbors, and your partners through a meal is the most sincere way to say, “I love you.”
What role do you think TAK can play in the conversation of body positivity within the queer community?
The Aphrodisiac Kitchen is open arms that welcomes any conversation. Body positivity is a topic I have been thinking about for an upcoming volume of TAK. Although Volume IV: Heavy in my Seat will not be coming to an end any time soon, I am aware that food and body positivity go hand in hand. TAK talks about the luscious side of cooking. It’s like the fatty bits that awaken our soft spots and leave us wanting more. But what about when food isn’t lush? What conversations do we need to have when food is the enemy?
I have been forever told that I am too thin – even before being vegan. Now people just use my plant based identity as almost a pass that they feel they can comment on my skinniness. The general population relates skinny as ideal or THE goal because we live in a thin equals better culture, but as a 5’7, 125 pound queer male, being skinny is not as desired in our community. I use to obsess over my weight because I wanted to be bigger. I hired a personal trainer, ate every chance I could, and drank 1500 calorie smoothies before bed to try and buff up. None of it worked. I had to to accept myself for the body I had. We, as a country – really as an international community, fixate on one body type. I’m here to to cultivate a conversation around anyone who wants to chime in, of any size… so stay tuned.
How do you select a subject for TAK’s “Conversations” and what has been one of the most memorable experiences?
The Conversations section of the website is one that I come up with based on the focus of the volume. Volume II: The Late Night Lovers focused on food and intimacy. It was really fun because people talked about their most memorable food moments with a partner. But my favorite experience is a new conversation that has yet to be put up on the website. It is with my friend Paula who is from Columbia and moved to America as a child. She is poignant and well spoken about how America’s representation of “good food” is bullshit.
TAK’s mood is dark, intimate and assertive. What is the inspiration for TAK’s aesthetics and photography?
I don’t really fish for inspiration from other places much (but I feel I need to do so more). The feel of The Aphrodisiac Kitchen is authentic to who I am. It is me as an intellect and as an emotional being. When I was a kid, I loved The Addams Family and Ahh Real Monsters. I use to fall asleep with my arms crossed over my chest because I wanted to be just like Wednesday Addams. The aesthetic is like my inner child, which has translated into my adult life through internal dialogues and questions like, “why am I here on this earth?” I don’t like things to be surface. I’d much prefer to talk about some real ass shit rather than the temperature outside. The darkness is sexy and lush. It invites you in. It lures you with a heavy terry cloth robe and says, “get comfortable.” While also raising questions about our relationship with food, our communities, our partners, and most importantly, ourselves.
TAK’s Go-To track for when you’re in the kitchen?
Anything Erykah Badu. Bag Lady, Otherside of the Game, or 20 Feet Tall make every playlist though.
“Whitewashing has been going on for too long. A homogeneous international food community would not be cute. It would be boring. I want to see more cultures running businesses and defining how they bring their identities to ours. It should be on their terms and not vice versa.”
CULTURE and FOOD
How do the politics of food impact our identity and health and how can someone take ownership of their wellbeing despite their socio economic situation?
Food is a part of us. It has forever been a centerpiece of culture. My father is black and German. My mom is white. My stepdad is Italian. My stepmom is Japanese. All of which are from different classes. I have been blessed to see food’s role in their cultures and identities. Fortunately, I too have been blessed with the privilege of always having dinner to eat and a place to call home. The politics of food comes down to the politics middle and lower class people face everyday. For the last four years, I have lived in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. Another neighborhood being affected by the slow burn of gentrification. When I first moved, the produce sections were peppered with soggy greens and pruned tomatoes. The smell of old meat floated above my head and I was ashamed that even in the late 2010s, in Brooklyn, New York, in the United States of America, food deserts are still alive and kickin’. Not shocking, but why wasn’t it talked about in the last presidential election? Why aren’t we having conversations about the garbage that the average Americans are being fed. There is a parallel to the rates of diabetes, cancer, and the enormous amount of wealth in big pharma. Food IS medicine, but how can one heal when poison is all that is being offered? When you are poor and don’t have access to good food, you don’t even think about healthier choices because there is no other option. If a single mother has to feed three kids and has the choice between kale at $3.49 a bunch or a box of mac and cheese for $1.99, she is probably going to choose the cheaper option. It only makes sense, especially when most people haven’t been taught how to cook healthily. The WIC program in America offers low income women and children milk, juice, cheese, cereal, peanut butter, and other things. We are conditioning our people through our systems to have tunnel vision to unhealthy food. Which is one of the many reasons veganism is seen as a rich man’s diet. But I am here to tell you it is not.
When I moved to New York, I had no money. I was making $11/hr with a rent of $850/month, an $120/month metrocard, and other numerous bills. A bitch was not ballin. But I was lucky enough to know that a bag of dried beans were cheap as hell and a sack of brown rice could last me some time. We spend an enormous amount of time on our phones. We can take ownership of our health by doing the research. The information is at our fingertips and if anyone needs help, they can reach out to me or any of the other internet sources on how to eat healthy on a tight budget. Also, I encourage people to add up other things that are costly and affected by the way we eat. How are your energy levels? How does your skin look? How much money do you spend on medications? What is your healthcare bill like? Are you feeling mentally drained? Being vegan is not expensive – it simply a reallocation of your hard earned money and focused attention. I know from experience that being healthy is possible for any class.
Lastly, I am amazed when I see my fellow queers eating fast food like Popeyes or Burger King. Haven’t we fought hard for our rights and still continue to fight for our trans and POC brothers and sisters? These companies do not link up with our beliefs of revolution. They are huge contributors to food deserts around the US. Why give healthy options when you can have something that is fast and easy? If we want to continue this conversation around socio economic status and the availability of healthy food, we need to stop supporting these companies. They will continue to keep us down if we allow them. Eat more veggies. Eat more beans. Reach out to me. I am here to help.
What advice or resources would you give someone who is eager to improve their wellbeing and how important is the knowledge of what you’re eating for self care?
Watch documentaries. Read books. Go to conferences. We are always students and forever learning. We should take advantage to the infinite knowledge that is accessible to every citizen. Some of my favorite food literature is: “Eating Animals,” “The Kind Diet,” “The Unhealthy Truth,” and “The High Cost of Cheap Fashion.” Also, I encourage anyone that is trying to improve their wellbeing to open their eyes to the systemic issues that are coming to light. Read about Assat Shakur and Angela Davis. Learn about the Israeli Palestinian conflict and trans issues. I know it may seem counterproductive, but to take care of yourself is to also take care of your community.
I will say it again – food is medicine. If you’re battling acne, mental health issues, low self esteem, diabetes, or one of the many obstacles we face as humans, cooking healthy food is key. It slows you down. It is meditative. It cures you from the inside. I am here to be a beacon of knowledge for people. Although I don’t have a PhD (don’t get me started on student loans), I have been fascinated with nutrition for 13 years. I am here to help anyone that needs some suggestions.
What’s the key to a perfect dinner date and what would you cook your date?
The key to a perfect dinner date is actually not just the food, it is the environment. If I walk into a home and it’s dirty but the food is delicious, I am not going to fully trust the meal. Ambiance is key – make sure your house just feels good. Also, intellectually stimulating conversation is a must.
I change it up for each person. You want something that isn’t going to keep you in the kitchen for too long, but also something that displays your culinary skills so they think, “damn.” Trust me. When you cook for someone, it is like casting a spell on them. They will not forget it.
What do you think Western cultures can learn or take on board from other cultural practices relating to food?
I think Western cultures need to learn to chill the fuck out and allow for other cultures to flourish. It upsets me when I travel and I see a Starbucks on every corner or when McDonalds is readily available. Whitewashing has been going on for too long. A homogeneous international food community would not be cute. It would be boring. I want to see more cultures running businesses and defining how they bring their identities to ours. It should be on their terms and not vice versa.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve been vegan for over 13 years. What triggered this lifestyle shift and what ideologies of being vegan transcend into your everyday life?
I tried going vegetarian multiple times. I came across an ad advocating for veganism. It read, “don’t go breaking my heart, go vegan.” Below the bold bubble font was a photo of a pig making the sweetest face. At the time, I was the pickiest eater. I only ate chicken and rice, no lie. I was the kid that sat at the table long after everyone had snuggled up on the couch. The TV trailing from the living room, I’d be staring at a plate of greens thinkin, “hell no.” When I was fourteen, I came home from ballet where a steak was waiting for me. As I shaved thick slices of the meat and stuffed my throat, I choked. My dad performed the heimlich and I couldn’t breathe for what felt like a lifetime. I took that as a sign from the creator to change my diet. Everyone laughed at me. They mocked my hippie aspirations because the only vegetable I liked was green beans from a can.
Now, being vegan has truly opened my eyes to political issues beyond animal rights. I see the classist divide in our culinary landscapes. I know that people are being lied to about what is good for them. I question why we have a breast cancer awareness month that isn’t focused on cancer prevention. Veganism has exposed the socio economic issues that are happening around me. Everyday, I try to immerse myself more into a political mindset. Whether that be through conversation, protest, or conscious consumerism, this lifestyle has woke me the fuck up.
“We, as a country – really as an international community, fixate on one body type. I’m here to to cultivate a conversation around anyone who wants to chime in, of any size… so stay tuned.”
FUTURE and FOOD
“Fast Food” like “Fast Fashion” is critically impacting the environment. How can we be more responsible and create a more sustainable relationship with food?
I love this question. Our growing global population has every industry pumping goods out faster than ever before. And with the rise of capitalism and Western cultures leaching into every corner of the world, we must recognize the purchasing decisions we make everyday. In the previous question you asked me how vegan ideologies transcend into my everyday life, and overall – sustainable thinking is how. You ask me about food, but I’d like to emphasize that they are all connected: food and fashion, food and big pharma, food and classism. We separate each industry, but this classic reductionist view is what keeps real change from happening. Fashion is a massive contributor to climate change, but so is the cattle industry. Livestock produce 18% of our greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than all cars, planes, and trains in the world. A consumer can too look at a pair of denim jeans, which may be purchased at H&M or Topshop – companies that churn out clothing at an unacceptable rate – and make similar comparisons. The average American now shops 13 times a year. Why shop for longevity when you can replace your jeans for $10.99 at Forever 21? Why make healthier choices when a box of Cheez-its is cheaper than a bunch of organic kale?
How would consumers feel if they knew what went into their clothing or food? If the depiction of a beautiful farm on cheese packaging was accurate with a photo of a factory farm? Or if it was a photo of 30,000 pigs crammed into one space? What if every package said these foods are related to causing cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, ect? Would we continue to make those decision? And the same for fast fashion. If there was a label on the outside of a pair of jeans that warned the consumer about the toxic dyes that seep into our rivers, the cheap labor that went into producing this article of clothing, and the corporate greed behind the company, would they still feel good buying that product?
When Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, citizens were outraged. How can he do this? Doesn’t he know that our earth has been depleted? But I beg to ask those people about their choices as a consumer. We have a responsibility to speak up for the farmers that are abused in the fields, to the deforestation providing cattle with land to graze – pushing out indigenous people, and to fight the 1% who are rubbing elbows with this administration. Trump’s victory should have everyone questioning their sips of a coca-cola. Who owns that company? Where do they put their money? Are they supporting this current administration? Awareness is key. Get to know the brands you support, whether that be produce or shoes. Support companies that have the same ethos as you. Pretend that that precautionary label is there. I am constantly asking myself, “what can I do better? Where can I improve in my everyday life? Is it my use of plastic? Do I support Whole Foods? Do I know who sewed my clothes?” Creating a more sustainable relationship with food is really just about doing the research. It takes time. Don’t be hard on yourself for not knowing everything, but when you get to that place, you will be so happy you put in the work.
What role do you think food will have in the future and are there any experimental food trends that you have on your radar?
I think, and hope, that people are finally waking up. Healthy food is the future. Plant based diets are on the rise. And I hope that it is not just a trend. Food will forever be seen in its classic form, but I hope that it is coming from a smaller source and a trusted farmer in the future.
I think agrihoods are really cool. I love that more communities are being built around community farms, but I too worry about these types of trends. I worry about the local movement, CSAs, and agrihoods because I don’t want them to only be offered to one type of person. The future is about reciprocity and I hope that city garden initiatives give back to the existing communities.
Are there any young creatives in culinary arts that excite you for the future?
Yes. I am inspired by my peers! We are still young and redefining the idea of what young means. My generation has not had the privileges the previous one had. We didn’t come out of college and have jobs right away. We are paving our own paths and I think that is really cool. We are role models for the future queers but also for each other.
I am inspired by Francesca Chaney who opened Sol Sips in Bushwick. I too am inspired by Queer Soup Night which gives proceeds to different organizations. Also, although not culinary, I am inspired by everyone who is just trying to do their own damn thing. We are the up and coming power. We soon will be the majority vote and the ones running our future economies. So props to Joli Johnston, Geremy Campos, Dana Scruggs, Jon Jacobsen, Paula Andrea, Robert Soares, and all the other people in my community that are working towards making this world a better place through their narratives.
If your boyfriend was a dish, describe how he would be?
He would be something that is both an ignition to the brain and a comfort to the gut. It would never be a grab and go, for he would ask me to reflect, to take time, and to invest in something that is good for me. He’d entice me to stay in the kitchen and expand my mind creatively. And even through the arousal of something new, he’d become a classic. Because I’d love the dish so much I could never get enough.