Cam MacQueen’s longtime commitment to social justice activism led her to open The BLOCK Off Biltmore in November 2015, pledging to provide Asheville with “a unique, multicultural, progressive, vegan gathering spot for activists, artists, educators, community organizers and others to come together to socialize, to dream and to dare to create positive social change in Western North Carolina and beyond.” Over the years, The BLOCK hosted multitudes of meetings, events, meals, celebrations and calls to action and served as a launch pad for marches and movements right up until July 12, when MacQueen announced she had come to the wrenching decision to close the space.
The month before, she partnered with neighbor Benne on Eagle and the acclaimed restaurant’s executive chef, Ashleigh Shanti, to co-host a free, outdoor celebration of Juneteenth in Asheville’s historically Black neighborhood, The Block. The event, which featured live music, an open mic and vegan meals, raised over $2,000 for the newly formed Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice and Color of Change. “I was on cloud nine after that,” MacQueen says.
In early June, MacQueen also combined her passions for social justice and food justice to create CommUNITY Meals, an initiative that offered free, twice-weekly, nutrient-dense dinners made with produce donated by the North Asheville Tailgate Market and West Village Market, shiitake mushrooms from 12 Bones Smokehouse and vegan products from Smiling Hara Tempeh, Diosas Cheeze and Fermenti. Eden-Out Organic Meals and Benne volunteered the use of their kitchens, and local chefs Katie McGrath and Jeremy Salig jumped in to cook. From The BLOCK’s front door, the three have given away over 700 plant-based meals, distributed free face masks and handed out voter registration forms and absentee ballot request forms in English and Spanish.
Although The BLOCK is closed for business, MacQueen intends to keep CommUNITY Meals going, offering service 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays at 39 S. Market St. She advises people to check for updates on The BLOCK ‘s social media platforms.