Veganism Isn't Just for White People 

Oakland Veg Week's multicultural focus. Plus, Hi-Life reorganizes in the wake of controversy.

At the fourth annual Oakland Veg Week, which runs until April 26, featured events include a broad-ranging celebration of multiculturalism, a youth-oriented hip-hop show, and presentations by more than a half-dozen prominent African-American health experts and food activists. If that isn't the kind of cultural slant you've come to expect from the weeklong celebration — well, according to Oakland Veg Week organizer Katie Cantrell, that's precisely the point.

Cantrell, the executive director of the Oakland-based Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, explained that, despite evidence to the contrary, there's still a perception that veganism is primarily a white, upper-middle-class movement. So Cantrell and the other organizers of Oakland Veg Week decided to make a conscious effort to combat that stereotype.

"We wanted to make sure that we were having diverse events so that we could reach out to all of the different communities in Oakland," she said.

Perhaps the best example of this focus is Oakland Veg Week's collaboration with Youth Hip-Hop Green Dinners, a Seattle-based national initiative that uses hip-hop music and culture to introduce urban youth to healthy vegan food. On Friday, April 24, the organization will host a free vegan dinner at the Oakland Peace Center (259 29th St.) for 150 Oakland youth and their families. The event taps into what appears to be a burgeoning, if still under-the-radar, vegan hip-hop movement — you may recall reading about Berkeley-based rapper Lil B's recently launched Vegenaise emoji app. The featured act at the Oakland Youth Hip-Hop Green Dinner will be the Oakland-based group Earth Amplified, known for its healthy eating manifesto "Food Fight."

Cantrell explained that part of Oakland Veg Week's mission this year is to show how vegan eating is deeply rooted in an array of traditional cultures. It's fitting, then, that the youth hip-hop dinner will be catered by Taste of Africa's Malong Pendar, who cooks traditional — and very delicious — Cameroonian food.

Meanwhile, this past Sunday's kickoff event, Vegan Soul Sunday, set the tone for the week with a diverse lineup of food vendors and speakers, including the keynote speaker, Oakland resident Bryant Terry, who is probably America's most famous advocate for vegan cooking inspired by African-American and African diasporic culinary traditions.

Other new events this year include a panel discussion about nut-based vegan cheese-making on April 22, and the first ever Oakland Veg Fest — a free, all-day outdoor festival at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater featuring guest speakers, local vegan food vendors, and lots of free samples.

Hi-Life Hopes for Clean Slate

Hi-Life (400 15th St.) has reopened under new management after Damon Gallagher, who had been the public face of the downtown Oakland bar and late-night pizza spot since it opened in 2013, sold his share of the business.

The change comes in the wake of the controversy sparked by Gallagher's actions after a stray bullet killed local musician Emilio Nevarez in front of the Golden Bull in downtown Oakland earlier this month. As the Express reported online (See "Vinyl Nightclub Wrongly Blamed for Shooting in Downtown Oakland," 4/8), even though the initial facts surrounding the tragedy were unclear, Gallagher quickly pointed the finger at Vinyl/Venue, the hip-hop club located next door to the Golden Bull. In Vinyl's security footage viewed by the Express, Gallagher could be seen putting up handwritten signs on the club's window the night after the shooting. "THE COMMUNITY HAS DECIDED THERE IS BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS," one of them read. "FUCK THIS FAKE ASS VENUE," read another.

In the end, Gallagher's campaign backfired: Given the lack of any evidence implicating Vinyl, word began to spread — fairly or not — that Hi-Life was racist, explained Marco Senghor, the restaurant's new majority owner. According to Senghor, Hi-Life's sales dropped by 60 or 70 percent in the days following the incident.

In a post to Hi-Life's Facebook page announcing his departure, Gallagher wrote that he had acted irresponsibly, "from a place of deep grief," but insisted that his actions weren't racially motivated. Senghor said that Gallagher was the one who made the decision to step down, selling his stake to Senghor after recognizing the damage that he'd done to Hi-Life's public image.

Senghor, a native of Senegal, also owns the two Bissap Baobab restaurants, and had been a silent partner in the venture up until this point. Aside from the management shuffle, not much else will change. The restaurant will still be a hub for the local pinball community. It will still serve mostly pizza and beer, though Senghor said he might add a few dessert options and late-night happy hour specials.

Mostly, Senghor said he just wants customers to know that what people are saying isn't true — that Hi-Life isn't a racist business, and that people from all cultural backgrounds are welcome there: "I don't feel like the whole place has to go down because someone made a mistake."

Senghor said Hi-Life would likely close for a day or two this week for minor renovations — to apply a new coat of paint to the restaurant's interior and, hopefully, turn over a new leaf.

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