Four weeks ago, I opened up my inbox to find this email. “Hello! My Name is Marco Antonio Guzman. I am a Mexican queer male and the Executive Director and co-founder of Meals On Us PDX. We are a QTBIPOC-founded and led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon. The mission of Meals On Us PDX is to create ready-to-eat meals for anyone suffering from food insecurities in the Portland, Oregon, area at no cost to them. In November of 2022, we introduced our Trans Meal Train Program, or TMT for short, in which our team of passionate chefs cooks and delivers meals to folx recovering from gender-affirming surgery and for their caretakers. We feel that with so much hatred going on in this world against Queer, BIPOC, and trans folx, we should do more for our communities so that they can feel loved, seen, and appreciated…We absolutely love Hop Culture and your continued advocacy for folx of any gender, race, creed, sex, and color to be able to live freely without any harassment or hatred.”

You could say Mark had me at hello.

In the thick of planning our 2023 Queer Beer Box, a variety pack showcasing top Queer-owned and Queer-led breweries across the country, I still needed to find a Queer-owned business that wanted to partner with us to receive the $5/per box sold donation.

As someone who identifies as Queer, I felt passionate about collabing with a smaller, more local Queer organization. One where I could get to know the founder, hear their stories and goals, and align with Queer Beer’s mission.

Meals On Us PDX, a BIPOC-owned non-profit providing free, nutritious meals to those experiencing food insecurity and hunger in Portland, OR, jumped off the page. And so did Mark when I met him in virtual life (i.e., over Zoom).

Spend even just fifteen minutes talking with the guy who sometimes goes by “Goose,” and you’ll meet a humble, driven, energetic individual who speaks his mind passionately, with love, compassion, and the fundamental belief that every person, no matter their race, background, sexuality, gender, means, or ability should be able to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

It’s through food that Mark became who he is today. It’s through food that he found his identity and saved himself. And now it’s through food that he is saving others.


Meals On Us PDX Founder Finds Freedom Through Food

meals on us pdx founder and executive director mark "goose" guzman
Meals on Us PDX Founder and Executive Director Marco Antonio Guzman grew up with a love of food | Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

Meals on Us PDX Founder and Executive Director Marco Antonio Guzman grew up with a love of food | Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

At a young age, Mark Guzman, a second-generation Mexican from Chicago, found his grade-school teachers had trouble pronouncing his name. “Gooseman, Goozman, my teachers could never say, Guzman,” he told me. “So I went by Goose. Some people call me Mark Antonio, Mark, or Goose. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.”

What does matter to Guzman is making sure that those around him in his now-hometown of Portland, OR, don’t suffer from food insecurity, as he did.

“Growing up in extreme poverty, I realized that if I get a job in the culinary world, I really never have to worry about food again,” says Guzman, who recounts his dad cutting up beautiful farm-fresh fruit to sell at his stand every morning along with Mexican classics such as elote with seasonings and tamales. “That was my first glimpse into how we do things here in this world and how people put together delicacies or foods from their culture and sell it to others.”

At thirteen years old, Guzman remembers his sister coming home from working in restaurants and sharing food with the family. “I would ask her who made it,” recounts Guzman. “She would tell me Latino chefs with white coats and white chef hats.”

By sixteen, Guzman took up his own knives, cooking for the Chicago White Sox baseball team. Entranced by what he called “the fast-paced kitchen, the tickets coming in, the smell of steak on the grill or fresh basil being picked,” Guzman loved working with food.

After stints at an Italian restaurant, a Michelin-starred Bib Gourmand Indian restaurant, and even the Culinary Institute of America, Guzman decided to join the circus, literally.

Cooking Global Meals in a Traveling Circus

meals on us pdx executive director mark guzman ringling bros and barnum & bailey circus
Photography courtesy of Mark Guzman

Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, Guzman’s eyes grew even bigger under the big top. Working as a chef at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus for four years, he traveled the country with people from around the globe.

To make everyone feel more at home, the culinary team would approach a group leader, asking for recipes from their country to cook and serve. “That made them feel at home,” says Guzman. The circus opened my eyes to the potential power food has to change someone’s life, make them feel better, and feel loved, warm, and appreciated.”

Living on a train, often from paycheck to paycheck, members of the troupe didn’t always have enough money to buy food, especially towards the end of the month.

So Guzman says all the chefs started an honor system where you could either pay if you had money or pay it forward, covering someone else’s meal. “That way, we didn’t put any faces to names,” says Guzman, who also sometimes offered meal credit to those who didn’t have cash.

“It taught me the value of how food isn’t only a source of nourishment, but it’s also something you have to work for in the United States and this world,” says Guzman. “I hate that we have to spend money on eating.”

Making connections with people from at least thirty different countries through his time at the circus, Guzman came to understand that, yes, food is a business and a commodity, but a hot, home-cooked meal in the right hands with the right people can also be a salvation, an act of love (or sometimes defiance), and something that can make a world of difference.


Meals On Us PDX Founder Sets Down Roots in Portland

meals on us pdx
Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

Eventually leaving the circus and putting down roots in Portland, Guzman continued to work in food, ultimately helping a friend of his start up a Mexican-inspired food cart called Azul Tequila Taqueria.

For the first time, the chef, who had always cooked meals for others from different countries to make them feel more at home, started cooking and connecting with his roots.

“I’d never cooked Mexican,” shares Guzman. “It was the perfect time to get in touch … with the food my people hold near and dear to our hearts.”

And while Guzman didn’t make much money, he didn’t care. “Honestly, I purposely took that pay cut because I got to touch ingredients that my ancestors touched, create recipes that my mom, my great grandma, and my grandfather ate; it was like sharing a meal with them,” says Guzman. “ To me, that is one of the best ways to honor your ancestors and people from older generations by sharing that meal.”

As much as he could, Guzman cooked like his family, using a mortar and pestle to grind up all the spices and harvested native peppers.

And yet, during this journey of self-discovery with food, Guzman still thought of other people.

For those who couldn’t afford a meal, Guzman would tell them, “Hey, don’t worry. Just get me next time.”

Like those spices he ground with the mortar and pestle, gears started turning in Guzman’s head. “I started to notice that for-profit wasn’t really for me,” he says.

The shift slowly started to eat away at Guzman.

And then the global pandemic hit.

Because they operated a food cart, Guzman says he and his friend could continue making food. But in a time of crisis, he explains that two types of people would patronize the truck: those super appreciative and those “who were so self-centered and thought that this pandemic isn’t doing anything to anyone or that it’s not real, they would treat you like crap and condescend and belittle you,” says Guzman.

He had had enough.

The Wheels Start Turning for Meals On Us PDX

meals on us pdx logo
Illustration courtesy of Gila @protestpapi

After saving a bunch of money from the taco truck and asking his family for loans, Guzman launched Meals On Us PDX in March 2020, cooking out of his house before going to work on the food cart.

The goal?

To combat food insecurity and create meals for anyone in need, no questions asked, and at no cost to them.

Something Guzman’s mom instilled in him at a very young age. Guzman says she taught him, “It doesn’t matter what someone looks like if someone asks for food; give them food if you can.”

On a trip home to Chicago during the pandemic, she reminded him, “You can make a difference by creating food. Not just for People of Color and our culture, but for anyone that needs a meal,” he says.

Burned out from what he called the “racist and bigot community that sometimes frequented our establishment,” Guzman quit the food truck and focused on Meals On Us PDX full time.

“I was not in the right mindset to continue taking abuse from conservative white people,” he openly shares. “It gave me closure and peace of mind knowing that I no longer was a cog in the machine of corporate America.”

meals on us pdx
Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

Initially creating meals for frontline workers at hospitals, Meals On Us PDX pivoted once that market became over-saturated.

Guzman recalls when his best friend took him home one night. While getting off the highway and waiting to make a turn, an elderly male-presenting gentleman held a sign that said, “Homeless veteran fought for your country; now I can’t get one meal. Help me with anything, please.”

Guzman pulled over and gave the man a couple of sandwiches, starting a conversation about where he could access more food. “He said, ‘That’s too far; I need something closer,’” says Guzman. “My best friend at the time looked at me, and we’re like, all right, we know what’s next.”


Meals On Us PDX Starts Cooking for the Homeless Community

meals on us pdx pasta
Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

Guzman started pounding the pavement with a new purpose, but it took some time to navigate.

“One of the hardest things to do with creating meals for people who are in encampments that aren’t run by government entities is striking up that initial conversation, “says Guzman. “Hey, I’d like to create some meals for you three days a week. Can you let me know what your dietary restrictions are if you’re allergic to anything?”

He says most people wouldn’t trust him. “I understand that because of the pain and the trauma they’ve gone through,” says Guzman. “They don’t trust anyone asking them for personal information.”

Instead, Guzman contacted local shelters, collaborating to get the information they needed to create vegan, vegetarian, low-sodium, etc., meals. “We would label them individually so that everyone had a custom-tailored meal to enjoy without getting sick,” he says.

These meals are creative, bespoke, and flavorful.

According to Guzman, Meals On Us PDX partners with many vegan agencies who donate non-meat proteins so they can create vegan meals; the chefs also make their own vegan alfredo sauce, sausage patties, and even eggs for scrambles.

Perhaps ironically, Meals On Us PDX leverages chicken that the publicly homophobic Chick-fil-A donates to a local food bank to create meals like chicken and waffles for the Queer community.

meals on us pdx meat sauce
Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

In the hands of Meals On Us PDX chefs, cases of unused McRib meat donated by McDonald’s turn into meat sauce. And 400 pounds of donated fish from some Pacific Northwest seafood companies become dishes like salmon and rice.

Melding backgrounds of the entire team, meals can include chicken tinga, pupusas, and more.

“It feels good because not only do we know we are creating meals for people suffering from food insecurities and we’re helping combat food scarcity, but we’re also paying our teammates a living wage, making sure they get benefits, and paying ourselves a living wage,” says Guzman, who didn’t pay himself for over a year when he first started the nonprofit.

Eventually signing a contract to be the meal partner for a shelter opening up in Hillsboro, OR, right outside of Portland, Meals On Us PDX now has twenty people on the team, pumping out 600-700 meals a day (1,000 when it’s bustling) and distributing them to PDX Free Fridge locations and organizations such as Operation Nightwatch and Rahab’s Sisters.

Over a year and a half after serving its first meal, Meals On Us PDX took things further.

All Aboard the Trans Meal Train

meals on us pdx trans meal train
Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

In November 2021, Meals On Us PDX Community Outreach Organizer Morgan Green proposed an idea. Why don’t we create a meal train for trans folx recovering from gender-affirming surgery?

Those who have undergone gender-affirming surgery need time to recuperate and are often unable to do simple things such as cook a meal.

“Depending on the kind of surgery you’re getting, you won’t be able to walk around easily or lift your arms above your head, or even out level,” Green said in an article for Eater. “[That’s] discouraged for the first few weeks of healing. So we were wondering, ‘What can we do that’s in our power with our resources to make this easier for people?’”

Trans Meal Train provides meals so these folx can “heal their body, rest, and recover fully to get back to … the amazing human being they are,” says Guzman.

The initiative started very humbly at the beginning of 2022. Green created a Google Form, contacting community hospitals they knew performed gender-affirming surgery to offer an anonymous signup.

Recipients fill out their name and pronouns, date of surgery, delivery address, and any food allergies or preferences.

“The ball just started to roll,” says Guzman, noting that the program has provided meals for over fifty people after their gender-affirming surgery and their caretakers each day while they recover. “That’s hundreds if not thousands of meals we’ve made.”

Now more than ever, Trans Meal Train supports a community constantly under attack.

Last month, Bud Light inexplicably fired two members of its marketing staff and pulled ads featuring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney after people boycotted the campaign.

Most recently, Target removed part of its line of LGBTQIA+ products after threats and damage to some of its stores.

Across America, at least 17 states have introduced over 500 anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-trans bills.

meals on us pdx trans meal train
Illustration courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

And when a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub called Club Q in Colorado Springs on November 20, 2022, during Trans Day of Remembrance, Meals On Us PDX realized they didn’t want what they started to be silent anymore; they publicly announced the program.

“We don’t have the power to go out and be on the picket lines, but we can feed you; we can create meals for you, so you don’t have to worry about getting the energy to continue fighting this good fight that we all should never have to fight because human rights are human rights,” says Guzman. “What we choose to do with our own bodies and who we choose to love is our business and absolutely no one else’s. The fact that we continue having these conversations shows a long fight ahead of us, and we will continue to create meals for whoever, whenever, as much as we can.”

meals on us pdx gender re-meal flyer
Image courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

On Saturday, June 24th, to raise money for Trans Meal Train, Meal On Us PDX will host its Gender Re-Meal.

If you live in Portland, OR, you can join Meals On Us PDX at Cafe Olli from 5PM to 10PM for small bites, music from DJ @Lapaushi, drinks available for purchase, testimonials from people who have received meals, and an online silent auction throughout the weekend with many different packages offering food, drinks, bodywork, hair cuts, tattoos, nail art, event tickets, art, clothing, and more!

Entry is free, but please consider donating to help Meals On Us PDX reach its fundraising goal of $50,000. (Feel free to contribute to their Venmo @mealsonuspdx. Make sure you leave the note “Trans Meal Train” or TMT).

What Is the Future of Meals On Us PDX?

meals on us pdx
Photography courtesy of Meals On Us PDX

Guzman wants Meals On Us PDX to grow. He added PDX to the name because the nonprofit can start in other cities—for instance, Meals On Us Chicago or Meals On Us LA.

For now, he says the focus will be on generating money to run the non-profit and Trans Meal Train programs through grants, donations, and events.

For instance, teaming up with Hop Culture as the partner for its first Queer Beer Box of the year. Hop Culture and Half Time Beverage committed to donating $5 from every Queer Beer Box sold back to Meals On Us PDX to help them continue to combat food insecurity and provide meals for Trans folx recovering from gender-affirming surgery not only in Portland but eventually around the world.

As Guzman says, “Ultimately, the goal is just to continue to spread love via a warm meal to as many people as we can!”