Hillside Quickie's Vegan Sandwich Shop
4106 Brooklyn Ave NE, 632-3037

Mon-Sat 11 am-9 pm.

It was A Tribe Called Quest who first proposed to the hiphop world the importance of a considered diet. The chorus to the song "Ham 'n' Eggs," on their first CD, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), claimed that they didn't eat ham and eggs because "they're high in cholesterol." Though the diet they prescribed was neither vegan nor entirely healthy--it allowed an "occasional steak"-- it emphasized the importance of vegetables and fruits. It also criticized traditional black American eating habits, as represented by Grandma's greasy breakfasts. A concerned Q-Tip stressed, "[Grandma] started yellin' (come and get it)/And the gettins were good/I said, I shouldn't eat, she said, I think you should/But I can't."

Around the same time, KRS-One, the rapper for Boogie Down Productions, made this radical assertion in "My Philosophy": "[I'm an] intelligent brown man/a vegetarian/no goat or ham or chicken or turkey or hamburger/'cause to me that's suicide, self-murder."

At the heart of this was a rising awareness that the enslavement or exploitation of black people was not only direct (economic oppression, police brutality) but also indirect (the substance of one's diet). For the then-new breed of progressive rappers, a form of black liberation could be obtained by revising, significantly, the content of black meals. If the body broke out of the prison of fast and fried foods and red meat--all of which, by inculcation, dominated the black diet--it would perform better, live longer, and, ultimately, produce the most revolutionary instrument: a healthy black mind. As Dead Prez put it in their 2000 song "Eat Healthy," "Lentil soup is mental fruit/And ginger root is good for the youth.... Life brings life, it's valuable/So I eat what comes from the ground, it's natural."

Progressive hiphop's long preoccupation with diet, nourishment, and the care of the body informs the menu at Hillside Quickie's Vegan Sandwich Shop, Seattle's only health-conscious, hiphop-oriented deli. The deli, which is managed by rapper/ poet Ayinde Howell and his sister Afi Howell, has served meatless sandwiches to the Roots, Source of Labor, Saul Williams, Erykah Badu, Lifesavas, and other famous and local progressive hiphop artists. This is not the sort of place that 50 Cent or Memphis Bleek would much care for; the break from the conventional American foods is too extreme--and as a consequence not macho enough--for their gangsta temperaments.

But even if one agrees with the deli's positive vibe, this does not mean that their food is exempt from the question "Is it bad or good?" The answer is that it's good.

When I visited the deli on the second day of our present year, Lauryn Hill's solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was playing (unsurprisingly) on the stereo behind the counter. It was lunchtime, and a quick look over the menu showed that West Indian spices and foods inspired the majority of the sandwiches. For the sake of variety, I ordered what I felt were representative items: a Crazy Jamaican Burger ($6.75), a New York Deli Tofu Sub ($6.99), and a Tempehestrami TLT ($6.95).

All of the sandwiches are filling but not heavy, and spicy but not to the point that it masks the taste of the ingredients, which in the tempehestrami sandwich includes thin slices of tempehestrami, lumps of potato salad, rings of grilled onions, and layers of lettuce and tomatoes. Like the other sandwiches on our table, it was stacked high and yet seemed stable, compact. One would expect a sandwich with so much in it to fall apart on the first bite, and demand much effort and time to consume. The same was true of the Crazy Jamaican Burger, which has Jamaican spiced tofu, potato salad, grilled plantains, and vegan mayo. Between two brown buns, the piled contents of the sandwich looked crazy, but somehow nothing fell from its place. The New York Deli Sub, which includes New York deli-style tofu, grilled onions, and coleslaw, was a little messier but not much.

Though intended to improve the black body and produce revolutionary headz, anyone can benefit from the rather opulent fare at Hillside Quickie's. More power to the people.