In Here We Are, artist Martine Thompson explores what it means to care for oneself in a world that doesn’t make it so easy. Up next, a conversation with Hugh Augustine, rapper and founder of the vegan comfort food pop-up Hugh’s Hot Bowls. Before you read, queue up Martine’s Scorpio Season playlist, featuring music by Augustine.

Hugh Augustine understands the importance of community and adaptability. When COVID-19 halted an upcoming music tour, the South Central rapper and vegan chef found himself in the same depressing tizzy of canceled jobs and lost income faced by many fellow artists and cultural workers.

But after some lounging, some wallowing, and a family pep talk reminding him of the hustler’s spirit embodied by his beloved late grandmother Jackie, Augustine decided to pivot and tap into the culinary skills he’d honed cooking alongside his mother, who ran a catering company specializing in gourmet food for 25 years. In May, with $200 and an idea, he launched Hugh’s Hot Bowls, a cottage-style business offering vegan comfort food at $10 a bowl.

“The key lesson I learned from my mom is that food is art and presentation is paramount,” says Augustine. “Each step is integral to the final product and you can’t take shortcuts. I use this in my approach for Hugh’s Hot Bowls because I want people to feel the love and energy I put into my food.”

Los Angeles is filled with fond and dour memories for the fourth-generation Leimert Park native, who now resides in Baldwin Hills. The emcee came of age in the ’90s and early 2000s, where high school summer nights were spent dancing it out at teen clubs like Access, and where food rituals included trips to Roscoe’s with family after Sunday service or with friends after the weekend turn up. Then there are the more sobering experiences, like navigating grief from the familiar cycle of losing friends and family to death and lengthy jail sentences. To be of service to the community, many of whom are bonded by these same lived experiences, and help combat the overwhelming number of fast-food chains with accessible, health-conscious alternatives has been deeply rewarding for Augustine.

“You shouldn’t have to drive 30 minutes to find a Trader Joe’s or a Sprouts Market or places that sell locally grown, organic produce,” says Augustine of the dearth of healthy options in Baldwin Hills and neighboring Black communities. “Even Ralphs, the main chain that’s walking distance from my home, doesn’t always have the freshest produce. Sometimes you’re still seeing the same fruits and vegetables that were on the shelf from last week.”

But the chain’s offerings depend on the neighborhood in which it sits, a common disparity among grocery stores since the days of segregation. “I’ve gone to a Ralphs on the other side of town, like on Bundy and Wilshire, and the quality of food over there is way higher than what’s over here on La Brea and Coliseum,” he continues. “It makes you ask the question: Why is the food quality lower in my community that’s majority Black people and people of color? And is there a bigger plan there? Because somebody had to make the decision of where those resources are going. We were petitioning Trader Joe’s to come into the community and put a store on what’s now Crenshaw and Obama back in 2012, and they didn’t want to come into the community. Why? Do they not want us to have access to this food? What’s really going on? I’ve taken it on myself to be somebody who can provide that to my community because I know that these bigger companies aren’t going to do it.”

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