Cheap Eats, for Real 

Eat Real Fest offers a wide range of gustatory pleasures, without busting your wallet.

At its inception, Oakland's Eat Real Festival consisted of two things: taco trucks and beer. The impetus, said founder Anya Fernald, was to promote healthy local food that didn't bust your wallet. A longtime farmworker activist, Fernald generally supports the "good food movement" that's spawned such luxuries as biodynamic farming and Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. But it doesn't quite fit her personality. "I find the whole gauntlet of food and wine events really boring, expensive, and repetitive," she said. "The values don't speak my language." Eat Real marketing director Susan Coss couldn't agree more. "As the economy began tanking last year we were looking at the reality of how people ate, which was — and is — on the go," said Coss. They decided that if one had to eat quickly and cheaply, taco trucks provided a better, more nutritionally balanced option than vending machines or fast-food joints. And the beer? Well, it just seemed like a logical beverage of choice.

The idea percolated, and the organizers thought, wouldn't it be great to address issues of food accessibility on a much larger scale? Their newly expanded Eat Real Fest includes 49 vendors on wheels, each selling a healthy dish priced between $1 and $5. It took a lot of jiggering to keep the prices down given Fernald's requirement that each cheap eat contain at least one "sustainable" ingredient. But in the end, the Eat Real crew figured out how to cut costs, limit deep-fried foods, and still source everything as locally as possible. The concept of "vending on wheels" gets a lot of latitude at Eat Real, which will include two bona fide taco trucks and about 25 other trucks hawking everything from burgers to smoothies. The remaining food peddlers will use carts, bicycle baskets, tricycles — even a modified baby carriage. A nearby farmers' market will feature fresh produce, cheeses, and cookies, while the beer shed will supply more than forty local microbrews (eight tastings for $20). Additional entertainment includes the canning, foraging, and cooking-from-scratch demos; hand-churned ice cream; live music; food-themed outdoor cinema; and Friday's butchering contest, at which three teams get fifteen minutes to break down the hind quarter of a steer.

Fernald wants to grow the event and ultimately generate revenue for local food-justice nonprofits (half the proceeds of this year's fest will go to People's Grocery, La Cocina, and Community Alliance with Family Farmers). She hopes that of the 25,000 projected attendees, about 10 percent will get inspired to alter their dietary habits. "You don't have to change your whole life," she said. "You don't have to start growing your own mung beans." In fact, it boils down to simple, everyday decisions like whether to pack a bag lunch or eat at McDonald's. Or, for that matter, a taco truck. Eat Real runs Friday, Aug. 28 (4-9 p.m.), Saturday, Aug. 29 (10 a.m.-9 p.m.), & Sunday, Aug.30 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) in Oakland's Jack London Square. EatRealFest.com

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