Over the years, Hella Vegan Eats has operated in many forms: a farmer’s market stand, a food truck, a catering business, and a pop-up restaurant. Meanwhile, Espice and their partner were also evolving; both in their twenties, they began to more fully embrace their queerness and, in Espice’s case, their transness. But while Hella Vegan Eats “definitely became this super weird, bubbly thing,” it couldn’t quite make up for the isolation Espice felt both inside and outside the food industry. .
“I was the only trans person in the art or music scene that I was involved in, and certainly the only trans person visible in both San Francisco or Oakland kitchens,” Espice said. “Now everyone I know in Oakland is trans! Part of me is like, ‘Oh my god, this is so beautiful,’ but I really wish I had a community.”
So it makes sense that much of Espice’s work is rooted in creating intentional spaces for queer and trans people to thrive. Over the past few months, they’ve held several “GayMarts,” featuring live music and local LGBTQ+ creators, and “Trans Skate Parties” that double as fundraisers for organizations like We Are the One. We Been Waiting For, which runs the Arm the Girls campaign and the Trans Youth Equality Foundation. (All of this, of course, is on top of the grueling working hours at Gay4U during a global pandemic.)
Espice cites Unity Skateboarding as one of the main influences for their work, raving about how founders Jeffrey Cheung and Gabriel Ramirez have “literally changed the world” by supporting and celebrating queer skateboarders. Unity’s community-building efforts — which include hosting queer skate events and distributing skateboards to queer teens and QTPOC — have inspired not only Espice’s trans skate parties, but also their TPOC-eat-free policy. Just as Unity sparked a conversation about homophobia in the world of skating, Espice hopes the free meals can help people talk about the increased transphobia faced by many people of color.
“When you’re a white person, you have all that advantage,” they reflect. “But communities of color aren’t necessarily so soft on trans people, even though their trans people are way more visible, and have been for years and years.” By offering free food specifically to trans people of color, Espice opens the door for customers to think about Why this particular community may need additional resources. There are, of course, many answers to this: LGBTQ+ people of color face compounded discrimination when accessing health care, education, and housing; Black trans people, for example, experience homelessness, poverty and unemployment at rates four to eight times higher than the general population.