Over the years, Hella Vegan Eats operated in many forms: a farmers market stand, a food truck, a catering company, and a pop-up restaurant. Meanwhile, Espice and their partner were also evolving; both in their 20s, they began more fully embracing their queerness and, in Espice’s case, transness. But although Hella Vegan Eats “definitely became this super queer, bubbly thing,” it couldn’t quite make up for the isolation that Espice felt both inside and outside of the food industry.
“I was the only trans person in the art or music scene that I was involved in, and definitely the only trans person visible in both San Francisco or Oakland in kitchens,” Espice says. “Now, everyone I know in Oakland is trans! Part of me is like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so beautiful,’ but I really wish I would’ve had a community.”
It makes sense, then, that so much of Espice’s work is rooted in creating intentional spaces for queer and trans people to thrive. In the last few months, they’ve organized several “GayMarts,” featuring live music and local LGBTQ+ makers, and “Trans Skate Parties” that double as fundraisers for organizations like We Are the One We’ve Been Waiting For, which runs the Arm the Girls campaign, and Trans Youth Equality Foundation. (All this, of course, is on top of working grueling hours at Gay4U during a global pandemic.)
Espice cites Unity Skateboarding as a primary influence for their work, raving about how founders Jeffrey Cheung and Gabriel Ramirez “literally changed the world” by supporting and celebrating queer skateboarders. Unity’s community-building efforts — which include organizing queer skate events and giving away skateboards to queer teens and QTPOC — 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 skating world, Espice hopes that the complimentary meals can help people talk about the heightened transphobia faced by many people of color.
“When you’re a white person, you have all this advantage,” they reflect. “But communities of color aren’t necessarily as sweet to trans folk, even though their trans folk are way more visible, and have been for years and years.” By offering free food specifically to trans people of color, Espice is opening the door for customers to reflect on why that community specifically might need extra 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 instance, experience homelessness, poverty, and unemployment at rates four to eight times higher than the general population.