Vegans and meat eaters alike crowded the Bizerkeley Food Festival on Sunday at Berkeley’s Sports Basement in celebration of veganism, animal advocacy and local plant-based eats.
With the help of 100 volunteers from El Cerrito High School and Oakland Technical High School, festival founder Erika Hazel made her vision of creating a festival to help a nonprofit while destigmatizing veganism a reality. All event proceeds go to Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services for allocation to facility enhancement of local pet adoption shelters.
Hazel adopted a vegan lifestyle six years ago, earning the nickname “Vegan Gordon Ramsey” for her social media food critiques. She made it her mission to abstain from factory farming practices and inspire others to do the same.
“My plate had to reflect my heart and my ethics,” Hazel said at the festival.
After making friends in the vegan community, Hazel spent six years traveling to food festivals across the country, talking to chefs and conducting research. She envisioned and realized her own nonprofit festival geared towards nonvegans, with education and advocacy at the forefront.
The second annual in-person festival, Hazel incorporated feedback to include shaded canopy and seating areas, streamlined ticket sales at the door, free giveaways from plant-based sponsors Guru Organic Energy drinks and Brave Robot ice cream and festivalwide Bingo cards with prizes.
The Bizerkeley Food Festival featured a diverse lineup of vendors from areas including the Bay Area, Los Angeles and India, each with a unique take on veganism. Strategic booth placement allowed for equal foot traffic to all vendors and accommodation of 2,000 to 3,000 estimated guests throughout the day.
“Hometown hero” Vegan Hood Chefs are a fan favorite, according to Hazel. The San-Francisco-based chefs serve classic cultural foods like Cajun mac balls and popcorn chicken with a nutritional focus, aiming to increase access to health education for Black and brown communities. The Vegan Voodoo sported long lines all afternoon for its “Jammin’ Jambalaya” and po’boy vegan varieties.
“It’s a safe space for people to try food that’s in alignment with their food preferences and values,” said eventgoer Najla Barance at the festival.
Humbowl owner Eric Wright said his hybrid menu caters toward an omnivore diet, featuring a Thai curry bowl and togarashi, aimed at introducing vegan menu items “one step at a time.” He noted the push towards veganism is difficult but necessary.
President of San Francisco Vegetarian Society, Christy Griffin, said the event’s fun, “laid-back street vibe” created a more “accessible and approachable” atmosphere towards veganism. Her organization focuses on the health, environmental, animal and social justice impacts of veganism through advocacy events in the Bay Area.
“It’s wonderful to know so many people are doing their part to make the world a better place,” said vendor and Spa Organica owner Christina Conrad at the festival.