Portland’s sex workers get a little love in return from Meals 4 Heels
With approximately 54 establishments—or one club per every 12,000 or so residents—Portland, OR, is known for having the most strip clubs per capita in the U.S. That’s one reason why veteran chef Nikeisah Newton, 40, is on a mission to make healthy food more easily available to Portland’s sex-work community, one vegetarian grain bowl at a time. Founded in 2019, Meals 4 Heels started as a late-night meal delivery service catering to sex workers. Newton says she got the idea after watching a former partner who worked as an exotic dancer struggle to obtain nutritious meals during overnight work hours. “[Portland] is known for its late-night food, and some of the bars and restaurants stay open late and serve food that’s pretty amazing, but is also often very unhealthy,” explains Newton.
The food served up at M4H, however, is 100 percent vegetarian, can be made vegan, and is created with locally sourced ingredients. When she was just starting out, Newton says she experimented with organic chicken in her dishes but has since decided to go fully veggie. “Vegan [and vegetarian] food is just easier to digest at night,” she says. “You’re not gonna feel gassy, bloated, or disgusting—there’s no hangover from our food.”
Menu items include grain bowls and salads with tongue-in-cheek names like, “The GTP—Gettin’ That Paper,” a Thai-inspired bowl with Tom Kah cauliflower, sweet potato noodles, pickled veggies, mint, thai basil, and toasted coconut on top. While “The Magic City” features black-eyed pea fritters, gluten-free cornbread, braised collards, and a scoop of “chow chow”—a Southern-style pickled relish.
Things slowed down in 2020 when the pandemic hit. Many clubs shuttered, and Newton was forced to switch gears to survive. She began doing more private catering events, working with organizations including the Oregon Food Bank, Don’t Shoot PDX, and Pride Northwest. That same year, Meals 4 Heels received a $3500 grant from Seeding Justice, a Portland-area social justice foundation. Newton put the funds to good use—covering payroll and rent for commercial space while also donating $1000 to local social-justice organizations. She even helped fund a “heaux-listic” self-care kit full of wellness products from BIPOC companies that was available free to BIPOC sex workers in the U.S. and Canada.
Then, in the spring of 2021, Meals 4 Heels kicked things up a notch by opening a to-go window at The Redd on Salmon, a Portland-area event space. “This past summer and fall, we were invited to a handful of local food festivals, which helped broaden our audience,” says Newton. “We’ve also gotten a lot of media attention from local food magazines and food critics regarding not only Meals 4 Heels, but also the role we play in the city and how we show up for a largely invisible community.” –Niesha Davis
images courtesy of Nikeisah Newton
This article originally appeared in BUST's Spring 2022 print edition. Subscribe today!
Niesha is a writer, diversity editor, and traveler. Her bylines include Glamour, Mic.com, Business Insider, Women's Health, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. She is the digital editor for BUST. Keep up with her at brownandabroad.com