Editor’s Note (5/9/20): When we published this piece Friday, May 8, I was so excited. Then I read the interview Alison Roman gave to The New Consumer, also published yesterday, and my excitement turned to disappointment.
Alison Roman and her recipes have brought me a lot of joy, but her racism displayed toward Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen is unacceptable. I’m not friends with Alison Roman — I’m a white woman who was excited to interview my favorite cookbook writer — but I will be retiring the #Dykes4Roman hashtag and hoping Alison’s actual friends call her in.
I’m thinking a lot today about parasocial relationships and why I was so drawn to her in the first place. Community around cooking together has felt really nice in isolation, and I am planning to continue cooking with my friends and sharing food pictures online. I’m going to start with Autostraddle’s own archives, and follow Reneice Charles’ epic Femme Brûlée archive and Kamala’s Dyke Kitchen. I encourage you to do the same.
Alison Roman does not know why lesbians love her.
We’re FaceTiming on a Monday afternoon in late April, each from our respective New York apartments, when I ask her if she has any theories about why she’s so popular amongst My People, The Dykes. She laughs, charming and self deprecating.
“I don’t,wp_postsshe says. “I honestly didn’t know that I was!”
“Surprise!wp_postsI say, and now we both laugh, like gal pals.
— vanessa 🔪🔪🔪 (@vanessapamela) March 31, 2020
If you haven’t yet heard of Alison Roman, dubbed the domestic goddess of the apocalypse, we exist in two very different internet worlds. The self-taught chef and writer has been working hard at her craft for years and years, and that diligence combined with her social media savvy propelled her to fame and familiarity both across the internet and then into our homes. She’s the author of two cookbooks, Dining In and Nothing Fancy, a columnist at The New York Times, a former Bon Appetit senior editor, and the creator of The Pasta, the recipe that arguably injected her into Lesbian Life as we know it in 2020. She’s a Virgo (more on her chart in a minute), she lives in Brooklyn and creates all her masterpieces in a tiny kitchen, and she’s a big fan of anchovies, turmeric, lemon, and fresh herbs. Her appeal is tied up in many things – her recipes are highly cookable and extremely delicious, she’s fairly bossy, she’s charismatic as fuck, and listen, there’s no way to get around this fact: she looks great in a pair of high-waisted mom jeans.
Part of the reason Alison has such a devoted fanbase (which, to be clear, seems to include just about everyone who enjoys eating, and is definitely not exclusive to dykes only) comes from the fact that she’s always presented herself as very accessible online, and she seems to take genuine joy in re-posting photos of her fans cooking her food and adding comments and praise. She used to imbue a blend of earnestness and snark in her feedback – her favorite review for Nothing Fancy called her “libidinous and a little bit mean” – but since the pandemic hit in March she’s seemed, at least to me, more focused on using her platform to elevate causes she cares about (like the Restaurant Workers’ COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund) and to help bring some joy (or at the very least, some good food) into people’s lives during this very bleak time.
Her recipes go viral often, garnering nicknames and hashtags like #TheCookies, #TheStew, and #ThePasta. It seemed only natural, to me, to add a hashtag to the mix that reflected my reality – I’m a dyke, most of my friends are dykes or fellow queers, and we were getting pretty serious collectively about cooking Alison’s recipes. A few months ago when Autostraddle’s very own Kayla Kumari posed a question on Twitter asking how many dykes had made The Pasta that weekend – followed by so! many! photos! of! dykes! with! the! pasta! – I replied “reporting for Dykes 4 Roman Cult duty.”
ok how many dykes made the Alison Roman caramelized shallot pasta this week pic.twitter.com/tiFKDymJap
I started tagging every Roman recipe I made on Instagram, yes, hoping Alison would recognize and praise me, but also as a community activity because my friends were all making the recipes, too. The Stew? Tagged. Lemony turmeric tea cake? Tagged. Smashed cucumbers with sizzled turmeric and garlic, plus fresh dill and mint? Tagged, bitches. Soon enough other people started tagging their Roman recipes #Dykes4Roman too – some were my friends and some were strangers. One of my pals, a trans man and big Roman fan, started tagging his posts #FormerDykes4Roman. We were getting somewhere, I could feel it. Shelter in place orders across the country (and the world) only encouraged everyone’s new cooking habits. I posted and tagged Alison so many times that eventually she responded! #Dykes4Roman was officially A Thing.
When I ask Alison what her reaction was to seeing the hashtag, which I’d been devotedly spreading around the queer internet since February, she says at first she thought she was being trolled! “That’s always my immediate reaction,wp_postsshe says. “Like, is someone making fun of me? Did I do something wrong? My instinct isn’t to think, oh great, the lesbians love me, it’s – did I fuck up?wp_postsOnce she realized the hashtag was sincere, she was flattered, and tells me she views it as highly complimentary. “It’s definitely the most fun hashtag that’s ever been created in my honor to date, hands down.”
I have some working theories about what endears Alison to the dyke and queer population, and I’ve been casually and formally interviewing other #Dykes4Roman in my life for months trying to get to the bottom of it. Is it her recipes? Her persona? Her general vibe?
this place is too small pic.twitter.com/BK8x8Ja12P
— jes tom 🎏✨ (@jestom) April 29, 2020
I try to explain it to Alison over FaceTime, loving that she seems to genuinely want to understand her dyke appeal. Before I proceed with my questioning I do that thing I hate doing, that thing I think is pretty rude, but which I feel like Alison signed on for when she agreed to be interviewed for a gay website about the hashtag #Dykes4Roman – I ask her if she’s queer, and if she’s ever dated a woman. Tragically y’all, the answer is pretty much no. I’ll admit it, I’m surprised – in my professional opinion, Alison Roman has big dyke energy!
“I’ve never dated a woman, no,wp_postsshe says, “… but last summer, every time I went out, I would get hit on by women. Every time!wp_postsShe doesn’t say it in an annoying way; she sounds both baffled and delighted.
I nod sagely. “Mmhmm, yep. You’ve got dyke energy.”
Alison wants to know what dyke energy means. I explain my general theory: dykes are super competent. My best friend and I joke that if you look around a room, the most competent person in there is the dyke.
“But I have a feeling that you’re often the most competent person in the room,wp_postsI say to Alison. “Which is probably partially because you’re a Virgo.”
She’s flattered again, which only endears her to me more. Being flattered that lesbians love you is the only correct way to feel, obviously. I ask if she’s comfortable sharing more of her chart with me and she readily looks it up on Co-Star. She’s a Virgo sun with an Aries moon and a Libra rising, and her mercury, venus, and mars are all in Leo! I regret to inform you non-believers that astrology does, indeed, make so much sense.
Aside from her competence and general boss bitch demeanor, there are other markers that make Alison ping gay with her dedicated queer fanbase. “I think it’s the hands,wp_postsmy friend T Kira Madden, author of Long Live The Tribe of Fatherless Girls, writes to me. “The red nailed fingers swiping her plates — that’s a very gay choice.wp_postsKayla, who wrote the original tweet that sparked the hashtag, cites Alison’s recipes – “really good food made from simple ingredients and designed for cooks at all skill levels” – and Alison’s persona as the reason she is so well-loved. “I love that the shallot pasta resulted from a weird situation where she somehow accidentally just bought like way too many shallots,” Kayla texts. “That is extremely my energy in the kitchen.” Speaking of The Pasta, upon hearing that I was going to be chatting with Alison one friend insisted I ask if she was stoned when she created this magical recipe. The answer? “I was very very drunk and a little high on mushrooms.” And did she know it was perfect as soon as it was complete? She did.
Kayla also points out that her recipes are great for dinner parties. “I always hesitate to say grand statements like ‘X is dyke culture’ unless I’m somewhat kidding/exaggerating for comedic effect,” Kayla texts me, “but I do actually very strongly think that dinner parties are a very queer space.” We also discuss the copycat effect – queer people love to hop on a fun bandwagon, I’m sorry, we do!
— Archie Bongiovanni (@grease_bat) April 10, 2020
Autostraddle’s executive editor Laneia Jones turns out to have the most robust and all-inclusive take on the matter of why #Dykes4Roman is proving to be such a successful bandwagon. While we were discussing our favorite Alison recipes one day, and again going over why Alison’s vibes are so gay even if she herself is not, Laneia just spelled it the fuck out:
“Her stuff is NEVER about impressing people, at least not in the way where she elevates herself above the people she’s feeding. She’s not precious about it, doesn’t gatekeep, and never ties anything back to domesticity as it’s typically understood, which is either extremely female and a little subservient (like feeding your family and meal prepping and running the kitchen) or male and therefore super smug and/or mean (the right way to do X, the authentic X, arguing over the history of X, waxing poetic until we all die). She’s just cooking so she can eat it with people she loves, usually chosen family, improvising and encouraging other people to do the same. IT IS ALL LITERALLY QUEER CULTURE.”
What can I possibly add to that assessment, friends? We rest our case.
I must admit, for the sake of transparency, that there is one other potential reason behind #Dykes4Roman, a tale as old as time that may be the thing drawing me and everyone I know to this cult… and that is, of course, the allure of The Straight Girl. I’ve never fallen for a straight girl – I like to date people who are really, really, really overtly gay – but while I was explaining my devotion to Alison and her recipes to a fellow femme, she gently interupted me and said, “Babe… welcome to your first straight girl crush.wp_postsWhich… maybe! But I’m just saying, after reading Alison’s hilariously honest and unexpectedly tender self-quarantine dating diary (should I send her my phone sex 101 guide?) which no fewer than 400 people sent me, Laneia and I decided that if anyone deserves to come out of quarantine with a hot butch girlfriend who knows how to sharpen knives properly and doesn’t have any dietary restrictions, it’s Alison Roman. I’M JUST SAYING.
If you’re already a member of #Dykes4Roman, cheers! If you’re not already a member, #Dykes4Roman welcomes you. You don’t have to identify as a dyke, nor do you have to profess your allegiance on social media – if you feel it in your heart, then it is true. And with that, I will leave you with this quote from Alison, taken out of context, leaving lesbians across the universe with some false hope to carry into our weekends: “I just love making out with people! I think kissing is so fun!”
— vanessa 🔪🔪🔪 (@vanessapamela) April 24, 2020