On the picturesque sunny Sunday of Sept. 5, 2021, the Bizerkeley Vegan Food Festival at the city of Berkeley brought together a diverse blend of vegan vendors, musical entertainment and guest speakers. The event was the brainchild of Erika Hazel — known on social media as “The Bizerkeley Vegan” — who wanted to organize a festival bringing together both the vegan and non-vegan community in a setting filled with good food and fun activities. The festival also aimed to raise funds for the Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services by featuring a silent auction in which all proceeds went to the shelter.
Hazel, who is nearing her five-year anniversary of being vegan, is an active voice and prominent figure within the foodie world. She describes herself as a food critic who loves traveling to different food festivals to expand her palate by trying out a wide array of different vendors. Her inspiration for organizing the Bizerkeley Food Festival draws from the festivals she’s attended in the past, in places such as Oakland, San Francisco, Atlantic City, Portland and Southern Atlanta.
Hazel’s knack for event planning started at the tender age of 8 years old when she helped organize a charity toy drive for homeless youth in Vallejo. Hazel remarks, “I go to events and I’m like ‘I know how this can be more amazing.’” Given her food background and her love for event planning, it’s no surprise that Erika would eventually go on to orchestrate the logistics for her own food festival. One of Erika’s goals for the events was for all her vendors to sell out and be profitable, so she made sure to have little to no duplicates, “All the different types of cuisines are one of each so that nobody has to compete for customers and money.”
As I walked around the venue, I had the chance to meet and converse with a few of the vendors when they weren’t busy dealing with long lines. Popular vendors included Kubé Nice Cream, Crazy Rabbit Kitchen, Chef Reina, Plant ‘N Soul Vegan Pizzeria, Real Hard Kombucha, Cali Dawg Vegan Hot Dogs, Nature’s Fynd, Liquified Juicery, Grilled Cheez Guy, Vegan Heat, De La Tierra, Ube Mami and others.
Ashley Comora from Liquified Juicery says she came to the Bizerkeley Food Festival in order to promote wellness and healing with her juicing products: “I want people to learn about the benefits of juice cleansing (and how] drinking juice daily can reverse sickness and disease, boost your immune system and give you natural energy.” She hopes that attendees of the festival walk away from the event realizing that “being healthy can taste really good and be enjoyable.”
Kai Nortey from Kubé Nice Cream, a close friend of Erika’s, says she was interested in coming to the festival to spread the word about her company’s product and mission. Kubé Nice Cream is a “black woman-owned, artisanal coconut ice cream manufacturer in Oakland,” specializing in producing “vegan, non-dairy, soy-free, peanut-free, artisan-made cold-pressed coconut cream.” Unlike other ice cream brands, the company is also deeply committed to food justice and restorative economics, hiring formerly incarcerated individuals with a background in the food industry. “It all ties back to restoring life, health, joy, dignity and equity back to people, back to the soil and back to animals,” Kai notes.
Desirae Devis of Ube Mami, a Vegan Filipinx Baked Goods business based in the Bay Area, might’ve only started her business in February of 2021, but it’s already a big hit. “We have Filipino baked goods . . . everything from traditional baked goods such as pan de sal to Filipino inspired desserts such as cookies infused with ube and traditional Filipino flavors.”
Devis says the reception to her goods has been great thus far: “A lot of people are really excited about our food . . . most haven’t had Filipino desserts in a long time because none of them are traditionally vegan.” With Devis’s talent for baking and putting a creative vegan twist on traditionally non-vegan desserts, she says it’s “great to see how they get a piece of their culture back.”
Similar to Devis, Filipina-American Chef Reina Montenegro based the premise of her all-vegan Filipinx restaurant — Chef Reina — around cooking her childhood favorites and comfort foods from home, but with a vegan twist. When asked what her hopes for the event entail, Montenegro remarks, “If I could feed someone who’s not a vegan and get them to try our food and convince them to go vegan that way, that would make my day.”
Sachi Georgieva, a healthy habits coach who specializes in holistic health and plant-based nutrition, gave one of the guest speaker talks during the event. Her remarks centered around breaking down common myths and misconceptions about going vegan and answering audience questions about the lifestyle. “I just want to help people eat more plants, be kinder to their bodies, be kinder to the animals, (and) be kinder to the planet,” Georgieva says.
The throngs of people at the festival visibly enjoyed the ambiance and all the delicious vegan food as well.
Scott, a vegan going on his 10th year of the lifestyle, says he was interested in checking out the Bizerkeley Food Festival after seeing his favorite vendors on Instagram promote the event: “It seemed like a fun thing to do, a chance to try out some different vendors that I haven’t had the chance to try out before and some of my favorites that I have tried.” Scott says he wasn’t disappointed. “It’s been great so far. Great food, everyone seems very chill and mellow. It’s just a great time.”
Gabriela, a vegan going on her third year, was excited to attend the festival after hearing about” it from her manager at work. “I wanted to see what people around the area are doing, how different people are promoting vegan food. It’s kinda hard to find stuff so it’s nice to see that there are so many vendors out.”
Though the Bizerekley Vegan Festival is no longer in session, be sure to check out the event and purchase tickets early before they sell out when it graces the city of Berkeley next time!