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Small-batch beers are a popular feature at the Eat Real Festival. Locals may also submit their homemade brews for a beer contest Saturday. Photo courtesy of Eat Real Festival.

Eat Real food festival kicks off in Oakland this weekend

on September 22, 2011

The third annual Eat Real Festival’s organizers hope the event is so much fun you’ll forget it’s reshaping your assumptions about food. The free event, which takes place in Jack London Square this weekend, will feature local music and film screenings alongside food workshops, demonstrations, contests and scores of food vendors.

Founder Anya Fernald said, “For three days, Eat Real will offer people a real alternative to industrial food.”

Director Susan Coss said the festival aims is to promote a regional food system and encourages skills for craft food preparation and appreciation. Vendors are required to use at least two local ingredients and exclusively hormone- and antibiotic-free meat in all their dishes. She hopes the event will break down what she called “the usual perception of good food being elitist, being classist.”

“There’s nothing dogmatic and judgmental about it,” Coss said. “And people love that.”

The festival provides visibility for small businesses seeking to attract new customers, said Luis Avundis, owner of Nieves Cinco De Mayo in Fruitvale, which sells hand-cranked Mexican ice cream. Avundis has participated in the Eat Real Festival since it began in 2009. “We can let the people know we have a shop here in Oakland,” he said. “And we can make real money.”

About 60 food vendors have signed up for the event, including Oakland-based businesses Starter Bakery (known for their fresh croissants), Mr. Espresso and Blue Bottle Coffee. There will be public contests for homemade beer, pickles and jam. Demonstrations include workshops on making bitters and bread. Butchers will compete in a speed competition to break down a steer.

Because mobile food carts in Oakland face what Coss calls “some pretty strict regulations,” restricting them to operating within designated areas in the city, the Eat Real organizers decided to hold their event at Jack London Square, which is private property.

A new addition to this year’s program is an earthen cob-constructed bread oven that Eat Real workers built with the help of the Ecology Center of San Francisco. Attendees will learn to make their own sourdough starters, pie dough, pretzels and bagels, then bake them on the spot

Another new feature is the “grow-it” area, a series of garden installations “for people to see how they can incorporate a simple garden or a complicated garden in their back yard,” Coss said. “There will be chickens, goats, piglets, turkeys, and we might even have a few rabbits, too.”

The event has seen a booming interest among people who want to learn skills for quality home cooking—people that Eat Real organizers call “food-curious,” Coss said. Last year about 100,000 people attended the festival, generating $750,000 in revenues for vendors. The number of food vendors doubled to about 90 in 2010. In response to its immediate popularity, the Eat Real Festival expanded to Los Angeles this July and plans for a New York event are in the works.

Overall, said Coss, she hopes the three-day event will get people “really excited about getting their hands dirty.” Making foods from scratch is “really not that difficult,” she said, “but people just get overwhelmed in today’s society.”

Eat Real kicks off at 4 pm Friday, and events begin at 11 am both Saturday and Sunday, lasting until evening.

You can read Oakland North’s previous coverage of the 2010 festival here, as well as a story on the 2010 butchering demonstration and that year’s focus on “good eggs.”


  1. […] can read Oakland North’s previous coverage of the this years festival, the 2010 festival, and a story on the 2010 butchering demonstration and that year’s focus on […]

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