Remembering Our Roots…
I acknowledge the importance of blogging locally, but sometimes something is just too sweet not to write about. Especially when one of your best friends is on the inside track and answering phone calls from Dorothy Allison. So, without further ado…
a feminist (read: lesbian), vegetarian restaurant and bookstore, formerly a feminist (read: lesbian) collective.
If you are EVER in Bridgeport, CT (who knows…life takes us unexpected places), you MUST go to Bloodroot. It’s like stepping into a time warp. Well, not exactly, but close. ’70s lesbian feminism is alive and well at Bloodroot: it lives in the ancestral photos on the walls, on the shelves of the bookstore, and in the persons of Selma and Noel, the two original collective members who serve as the matriarchs of the Bloodroot of today. While it might not have the edge or humor of contemporary queer culture, Bloodroot’s brand of collectivist feminism clearly has staying power: the restaurant is now in its 32nd year, and is still thriving. These women have stuck it out, and are living the ideals they set forth in their first feminist cookbook, The Political Palate: “Feminism is not a part-time attitude for us; it is how we live all day, everyday. Our choices in furniture, pictures, the music we play, the books we sell, and the food we cook all reflect and express our feminism.”
And they have a lot to show for their 32 years: 6 published cookbooks, a zagat award, and the friendship of Adrienne Rich, Gloria Anzaldua, Dorothy Allison, and many others.
So just remember (as if you needed reminding): community matters. Writing poetry and groundbreaking essays is all good and well, but sometimes it all starts with friends in the kitchen.
If you’re not going to make it out to the East Coast anytime soon, you can experience Bloodroot in the comfort of your own kitchen! Either check out some free recipes on their website, or splurge on one of their amazing cookbooks:
The first is vegetarian, and the second is vegan!
A brief history of Bloodroot (written by aforementioned friend)
“Selma Miriam sought a women’s center and a feminist community. Disinterested by federal loans or grant money, the Collective desired to support activities at the imagined center as a feminist business. Although no woman had experience in a professional kitchen—indeed, few cooked regularly—a restaurant and bookstore was conceived to fund the Collectives feminist salon. A windowless, waterfront machine shop at 85 Ferris Street was selected during the autumn of 1976. With money saved from landscape design and a loan from her mother, suffragist Fay Davidson, Selma was able to purchase and mortgage the $80,000 property.
The Collective, at the suggestion of animal rights activist friends, decided to serve only vegetarian fare. Committed to separatist feminist practice, the group hired a female electrician, carpenter, and later an accountant and a lawyer. The machine shop interior was rebuilt and furnished with at sale purchases. Advertisements for the opening of a feminist Restaurant and Bookstore circulated in the winter of 1976 and the new business greeted customers in March, 1977. Selma named the restaurant Bloodroot after a native northeastern wildflower that grows in a manner reflecting the collective’s organization. The plant has a slow spreading, rhizomatic root system that supports several vertically furrowed blooms, each stamen independent yet fundamentally connected.
Samm Stockwell, Betsey Beaven, and Selma Miriam (formerly Bunks) lived together at 29 Hiawatha Lane and worked full-time at Bloodroot. The women committed to the practical and political dimensions of a feminist work collective, shared equally cooking, cleaning, and a mission to explode Patriarchy. Members of the collective formed intense partnerships: as lovers, friends, coworkers, and political interlocutors. Departures, ideologically and geographically, were profoundly difficult to manage. Pat Shea’s decision to leave the feminist enterprise in 1984 was particularly difficult.
In 1980 the Bloodroot Collective organized a feminist press (Sanguinaria) at the restaurant to publish The Political Palate cookbook. The cookbook offered both seasonal vegetarian recipes and a feminist manifesto, including essays on pornography, sadomasochism and dieting, and quotes from women’s fiction and poetry. The Second Seasonal Political Palate and the Perennial Political Palate followed in 1984 and 1993. The latter cookbooks offer reflections on collectivity and work, vegetarianism and nature. Popular vegetarian, feminist and eastern publications reviewed each. In 2007, with the assistance of vegan chef Lagusta Yearwood, the Bloodroot Collective The Best of Bloodroot: vegetarian Recipes and The Best of Bloodroot: Vegan Recipes; this time with Anomaly Press.
Many of the feminist concerns raised in the cookbook series have been explored further by Selma and Noel in popular lesbian publications such as Heresies, Lesbian Ethics, and Sinister Wisdom, and in vegetarian magazines.”
Noel, Selma, and Betsey at Bloodroot. Photo credit Robert Giard.
And for a little local history…Check out Women’s Studies in Feminist Bookstores– All the Women’s Studies women would come in for an interesting article about the emergence of feminist bookstores and Women’s Studies programs in America in the 1970s.
“A Woman’s Place,” Portland’s first feminist bookstore, was founded in 1973, two years before the Women’s Studies was established as a field of study at PSU. Always ahead of the curve.