The sprawling metropolis of Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond is home to countless vegan restaurants — so many, in fact, that it can be hard to even know where to begin. But vegan food blogger and critic Erika Hazel, known as The Bizerkeley Vegan, is slowly trying them all, and helping others transition toward veganism in the process.
“My purpose as a food critic is to steer people to veganism in the most fun and happiest way possible. I want to take the trial and error out of going vegan,” Hazel said. “I don’t want people to quit because they can’t find the delicious stuff.”
Hazel started her own transition toward veganism when she made the connection between the cruelty of factory farms and what was on her plate. She started food blogging in 2016, writing restaurant reviews and documenting her food adventures on a popular Instagram page. Hazel believes that vegan cuisine has the power to connect people and form meaningful communities.
“Everyone can eat at the vegan table. Not everyone can eat at the omnivore table but everyone can eat at the vegan table,” Hazel said. “Food is how I show my love.”
Animal rights remain central to Hazel’s commitment to veganism. But she emphasizes that it is difficult to separate compassion for animals from compassion for humans. According to Hazel, vegans who fail to extend their compassion to humans are hypocritical.
“I just want everyone to be free — animals and humans included,” Hazel said.
Hazel mentioned several local restaurants that are using their business for societal good, including Curbside Creamery, The Butcher’s Son and Stand-Up Burgers, all of which have contributed to local causes. The Butcher’s Son in particular has made an effort to actively seek out and support BIPOC-owned vegan vendors.
A few other vegan-friendly spots Hazel recommends include Super Super Pho, Kiku Sushi, Ginger Bakes, the taco truck Tacos El Último Baile, Nature Vegetarian for Chinese food and Roasted and Raw near Jack London square for the best vegan chicken waffles Hazel has ever tried.
If you’re a transitioning vegan, Hazel emphasizes that you might get more support than you anticipate from coworkers, friends and family. As a school counselor, she noticed that her world started to accommodate her once she made the switch — for example, her workplace orders vegan catering for staff parties or arranges a vegan plate for her at dinner events. And she brings that support right back to her students, supplying them with nutritious snacks while gently educating them on the benefits of adding more plant foods into their diet.
“I always have fresh fruits in my office for them to eat,” Hazel said.
Hazel will be hosting the Bizerkeley Food Festival Sunday Sept. 5 at the Sports Basement Berkeley outdoor parking lot from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will feature more than a dozen local food vendors, live entertainment and guest speakers, and proceeds will benefit the Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services. Vegans and non-vegans alike are encouraged to attend.
Hazel is thrilled to bring the Bizerkeley Food Festival to Berkeley, a city she holds close to her heart.
“Our vegan community is everything. They’re the bees’ knees,” Hazel said.