The Activist Behind Berkeley’s Only Vegan Food Festival

Since fully committing to veganism in 2016, The Bizerkeley Vegan has gone straight to the point of sharing its knowledge of vegan lifestyles with the public. His greatest feat? Organize the Bizerkeley Food Festival in 2021 – Berkeley’s first and only vegan food festival.

Originally slated to debut in May 2020, Hazel was forced to put her plans on hold until the following year, when she received sponsorship from Berkeley to throw the city’s first-ever vegan festival to a crowd of over 1000 participants in the parking lot of Sports Basement. The event featured local vegan vendors, family activities and educational resources for community members of all ages. Now in its second year, Hazel looks forward to expanding its reach to include more vendors to benefit more people.

But the success she’s now enjoying wasn’t concocted overnight – nor was it a solo effort, thanks to her family and community members who “dragged (her food choices ) instead of (rejecting them)”.

“My dad used to eat Burger King and McDonalds, and now he’s very meat conscious,” Hazel tells me. “I tell him, do you want to meet your grandchildren? You must eat well. Diseases like diabetes are often hereditary due to certain dietary habits. You must have something green on your plate. Eat your steak, but also eat more plants.

For the past eight years, she has volunteered, observed, and connected with vegan restaurants, festivals, and organizations across the country to create a vegan food festival full of “culinary wizardry.” She owes a lot, she says, to the Vallejo Healthy Food Festivalas well as organizations such as Food Empowerment Project in San Jose.

“I was inspired by the hustlers here,” she says. “I first met Vegan Hood Chefs in their early days, when they just had a table at pop-ups in the Bay Area. Now they have their own food truck, catering business, and are featured on VICE. Watching them grow and come from our communities made me appreciate the spirit of hustling that makes our vegan scene so dope.

Watch other black women like Chefs Vegan Hood earning national recognition through their Southern-style cuisine and independent courage and enjoying other Vallejo contractors like E-40 for his contributions to food culture, his passion now is to share how the bay is a world-class destination for any vegan.

Supporting local vegan businesses like Vegan Heat is a priority for Hazel (Jeffrey Litman)

At holiday events and culinary outings, she tries out recipes like buffalo cauliflower instead of chicken wings, or adapts her neighbors’ Filipino dishes to make vegan sisig. In people dependent on meat and saturated fast food environments impacting many low-income East Bay communitiesHazel prepares ways to rethink how everyone can benefit from vegan practices.

“There are so many ways to be vegan and healthy,” says Hazel. “It’s not some unreachable white hippie thing. I want to take the whiteness out of veganism, because it really is for everyone.

Working with organizations like the Food Empowerment Project in Petaluma and coordinating the 2019-2021 Vallejo Healthy Food Festival, Hazel has happily marinated in the Bay Area’s diverse vegan community and shared what she’s learned with others.

She may be a self-proclaimed “tree hugger,” but Hazel isn’t too idealistic about her approach to changing the eating habits of people living in her neighborhood. Currently, she is working on a cookbook with her mother that offers alternatives to dishes commonly enjoyed in her household, such as black-eyed peas. It also collaborates with small businesses in the region, including Doctor Hop’s real hard kombucha, liquefied juice, Eclipse Ice Creamand Nixta Pupuses to “put for outsiders”.

For anyone skeptical of the practicality of veganism, The Bizerkeley Vegan has a simple reminder: “Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan.”

Catch Erika serving up more news about the Bay Area’s vegan culture on his websiteor watch it recommends his favorite vegan pizzeria in San Francisco on an episode of “Check, Please!” by KQED..