In July 2022, National Public Radio published a piece that highlighted the fact that non-white Americans are eating less meat. In that same article, they pointed to vegan activists of color. And while that piece didn’t include Jessica Cruz, the founder of Vegan Exchange LA, her efforts do not go unnoticed. (Read: It definitely should have.)

Originally from the Bronx and now a certified Valley girl (like, totally!), Cruz takes pride in her veganism, her business, and her North Hollywood home. Below, Cruz tells Viva the Valley about founding Vegan Exchange LA. 

And—as an added bonus—she shares the similarities she sees between the Bronx and the San Fernando Valley. Trust us, that’s a hot take you don’t want to miss.

Putting down roots for Vegan Exchange LA

In 2015, Cruz founded Vegan Street Fair, an annual event that celebrates the community and well-being aspects of veganism. To date, it’s the largest vegan festival in the world, says Cruz, and the page’s 180k Instagram followers. Like Vegan Exchange LA, Vegan Street Fair takes place in North Hollywood—but it’s on a much bigger scale. In fact, it’s more like a mile-long block party than a quaint outdoor market.

Though Vegan Street Fair holds events in New York, Seattle, the Bay, Denver, Austin, Las Vegas, and Miami, those are solely annual events. In fact, Cruz says the street fair is too big for her to even fathom organizing it more than once a year. 

Her solution? Vegan Exchange LA.

“In 2018, people kept asking, ‘Can you do Vegan Street Fair more regularly?’ And I couldn’t. The permitting for that, what it costs, the amount of time it takes… But I knew I could do something much smaller on a weekly basis,” Cruz says. “So I reached out to the city of North Hollywood and I said, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ And they were like, ‘Absolutely.’”

(Editor’s note: We first interviewed Jessica Cruz in July 2023. During this writing, we learned that Jessica is fighting breast cancer. Her friends and family have set up a GoFundMe for her medical expenses. Donate to Jessica Cruz’s recovery.)

The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Vegan Exchange LA takes place every Sunday at 5300 Bakman Ave., North Hollywood, CA 91601, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Of course, everything at the event is vegan—from the food to the drinks to the clothing. (Pro tip: If you’re over 21 and like to drink, be sure to visit the beer garden.)

Cruz’s hot take: “North Hollywood is a lot like the Bronx”

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Cruz moved to Los Angeles in 2009. Two years later, she found herself longing for the New York City lifestyle—and she decided to move to North Hollywood.

“I missed being surrounded by people [who looked like me] and I missed the walkability of the Bronx,” Cruz tells Viva the Valley. “When I first moved to LA, I had to drive everywhere and I hated that. 

“I really think that North Hollywood is kind of like New York,” says Cruz. “There’s a train here. I can walk to the movies and the gym. This city has a beautiful energy that I just don’t see in other places around LA.”

For the record, everyone is welcome at Vegan Exchange LA

Even though the word “vegan” is in its name, Vegan Exchange LA is open to all humans (and their pets). The large sign by the market’s entrance reads:

“At Vegan Exchange, we welcome vegans and non-vegans as well as:

  • Every race
  • Every gender
  • Every ability level
  • Every age
  • Every religion
  • Every sexual orientation
  • Every size and shape
  • Every class
  • Everyone in between

That’s what Cruz’s ethos is—and what it always will be. If that attitude doesn’t encapsulate the diversity and unity of the San Fernando Valley, we don’t know what does.

Author

As a writer and first-generation Mexican American born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, I'm passionate about celebrating the communities in the 818. That passion fueled the founding of Viva the Valley in November 2020 and it continues to fuel its upkeeping. Full time, I'm a writer and editor at California State University, Northridge. I also am a freelancer and work with editors at websites and magazines as well as small business owners who want to share more on their business blogs.

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