Founded by a small women’s collective in 1977, Bloodroot is a restaurant on a feminist mission. Its cozy, self-service dining room, decorated with political posters and lined with books offered at steep discounts, may hearken back to an earlier era, but its seasonal vegetarian menu—and the vitality of owners Selma Miriam and Noel Furie—keeps things fresh.
Today, the eateries of the feminist restaurant movement have all but disappeared, but from the 1970s to the early 1990s, anywhere from 250 to 400 of them opened their doors. These restaurants, often run by lesbian collectives, were where women of the second-wave feminist movement went to meet, relax, and organize. At some restaurants—such as Chicago’s Susan B’s, a soup restaurant whose owner didn’t originally know how to make soup—food was a means to an end, a way to establish a feminist community and enable women, historically barred from eating out without male escorts, access to public space.
At others, such as Bloodroot, food was the star of the show, and pivotal to politics. Like many feminist restaurants, Bloodroot has always been vegetarian. There’s a rotating menu of seasonal vegetarian, and often vegan, specials, drawing on cuisines and talented cooks from all over the world. On any given day, diners can sample Thai vegetarian “chicken,” spicy lentil soup, or a slice of the restaurant’s popular “devastation” cake, an intensely chocolatey vegan sweet with a sourdough base. Bloodroot’s political commitments go beyond the menu. To challenge the sexism of the food service industry, the founders opted to go without waitresses, and to this day diners retrieve their own orders and bus tables themselves. The very walls bear Miriam and Furie’s politics, decorated with stickers and political posters sporting slogans such as “I’ll be post-feminist in a post-patriarchy.”
Decades after the idealistic ’70s, some may say it’s anachronistic for Bloodroot’s proprietors to remain so deeply committed to living out their ideal, and indeed, to sustain their commitment to fair labor practices and inexpensive prices, the owners have had to put their own money into the business. Still, for Miriam and Furie, it’s never been about doing what’s most economical, but what they feel is right. As the founders wrote in one of their early cookbooks, “Feminism is not a part-time attitude for us; it is how we live all day, everyday.” Luckily for visitors to Bloodroot, it’s also delicious.