Following the success of the third annual Bizerkeley Food Festival in September, founder Erika Hazel is launching a new vegan event in Berkeley to be held twice a month.
The annual vegan festival originally launched in-person festivities in 2021 and has become a popular event with 75 vendors and 3,000 guests. The new Bizerkely festival will be a scaled-down version of the annual affair, and is the product of a partnership with the Fourth Street Makers Row and the Wiggins Marketplace. The event will be held every second Saturday and third Sunday at 1919 Fourth St. in Berkeley, with the first one in the series Nov. 11. Depending on the weather, the event may be held indoors.
“We have so many vegan companies that are headquartered here that nobody knows about,” Hazel said. Vegan food companies Impossible, Miyoko’s Creamery and Peamilk are all based in Berkeley.
The Bay Area has several vegan festivals, but Berkeley never had its own until Bizerkeley. In Southern California there are at least three vegan festivals a week, Hazel said, and it was surprising to her that Berkeley, a town known for being health conscious, had none.
“That’s a huge red flag on our part because we shouldn’t have to travel on an airplane or 400 miles by car to have an event that Portland, Oregon and that Los Angeles have on a weekly [basis],” she said.
Hazel believes a monthly vegan festival in Berkeley will help cultivate the food culture and support small vendors, two things that have become especially important as the Bay Area has seen a steady loss of culinary favorites recently.
“We have so many small business owners who are coming up in the culinary scene,” Hazel said. “But so many people are at risk of going out of business because the vegans think no one here is cultivating the vegan scene the way it is in other cities.”
The monthly festival is also a way to increase vegan food accessibility to people who may not know about the range of options. Hazel grew up in a meat-eating home and began her journey to becoming a vegan in 2015. When her grandmother died from cancer, Hazel realized that she wanted to alter her food choices.
Hazel says that it’s not her mission to turn the world vegan but to highlight the need for healthier options, and the new food festival will not have symposiums, panels or aggressive sales tactics. “We just let this food speak for itself.”
After traveling all over the country researching and talking to different organizations, Hazel learned to cultivate an event that was inclusive and attractive to everyone, not just vegans. For Bizerkeley Food Festival, she took what she liked from other events. One thing she learned is the most successful festivals did not use the word “vegan” in their event title.
”I felt that one of the easiest ways to get people to adopt more plants into their diet, is to show people how good they taste without the meat,” said Hazel.
While the annual festival is a nonprofit event and has supported Bay Area animal-based nonprofit organizations including Berkeley Animal Care Services and Berkeley Animal Shelter, the new event does not have a charity component at this time.
“I want my vendors to go on to be full-time vegan businesses that they can be really proud of,” said Hazel.
The event will be held twice a month at Fourth Street Maker’s Row beginning Nov. 11 on the second Saturday and third Sunday of every month. For more information about the Bizerkeley Food Festival, visit the Instagram page or webpage.
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