Archive | March, 2012

Native Foods Cafe: Preview or trainee view?

29 Mar

When I was at Native Foods recently I picked up a take-out menu, and when I looked at it later I saw some odd scribbling on it. At first I just thought someone had written down what they were going to order, and then dumped it back into the menu bin after their purchase. But then I started to realize that it was a little too formal for that. Someone had gone through every item making notes. And I soon began to think that I’d either found something used to train their new employees, or more likely I had stumbled onto a preview of the upcoming menu.

Take a look. Tandoor Kabobs, which were a new item in January, are crossed out. In their place at the bottom, with what looks like a “new item” symbol, are Crab Cakes. Hmm. Then under pizzas, both current pizzas are crossed out, and next to what looks like another new item symbol, is a Remo Caesar Pizza. And it also looks like the Meatball Veggie pizza is making a comeback.

Then under Entree Salads, the new Greek Goddess is gone, and replaced by a Caesar Salad.

I’m onto something here, right?

Now comes the bad news, at least for me, if I’m right about what I found and how I’m reading it. It looks like the Gandhi Bowl is gonedi! Can it be? It’s crossed out and replaced by what looks to be a Red Curry Bowl with Tofu Steak. Say it ain’t so. And under Chef’s Favorites the Chicago Dip is gone! That wasn’t just one of the Chef’s Favorites, it was one of Insufferable Vegan’s Favorites! Please tell me this was simply a menu someone gave their child to draw on and not the radical earth-changing Rosetta Stone I fear it to be!

But not all the news is bad, at least for the purists. It looks like those people who were so distraught by the banishment of the Baja Fish Tacos and the Native Deli Reuben that they set up a Facebook page in protest are about to get their way because it looks like both are coming back, at the expense of the recently added Very Veggie Wrap and Caribbean Queen Burger, neither of which I will be particularly sad to say goodbye to.

And while I didn’t even bother to take a photo of the Desserts section on the back since it wasn’t marked up, the drink section seems to be adding a Mango Salsa Fresca.

So what do you think? Am I mistaken about what I found? Or is this the Native Foods Wormhole writ large, allowing us to bend space and step a few weeks ahead with eerie precision? Or did I drop a frozen Spring Wellington on my head and imagine the whole thing, which might be the only way to explain that previous sentence.  If only I had photos. Oh wait. I do. It’s real! Isn’t it?

Bring back the Gandhi Bowl!!!  Bring back the Chicago Dip!!!

Or better yet, don’t take them away in the first place!

Love ya, NFC!

An open-faced letter to Jonathan Gold

24 Mar

Dear Mr. Gold,

I’m not sure what an open letter is but I think this counts as one.  As I’m sure you recall, I tweeted you a 2007 video showing abominable conditions at a Canadian foie gras producer and you replied back to me and said that this video was “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and that “all 3 US producers are impeccable.”  Then I sent you a recent video of conditions at the three U.S. foie gras producers – with some of the footage being as recent as late 2011 – and you went silent. It wasn’t surprising in a way, given that there’s no definition of “impeccable” that would allow for the conditions seen in that footage.

But don’t you think you owe it your 30,000 followers on Twitter whom you told that the U.S. producers are “impeccable” to then either defend those producers or admit you were wrong? Don’t you think it’s cowardly to accuse me of sending you “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and then when I send you a new video that’s current and couldn’t be more relevant, I’m met with radio silence?

I also found it surprising that you used the word “propaganda” – such a meaningless word thrown about by both sides in any argument. Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Even facts can count as propaganda. If your purpose was to be harsh by using such a word, then I don’t mind, since I was harsh in my first few tweets to you as well. But if that was a heartfelt use of the word then I find it very disingenuous.  Especially after the second video I sent you.

I was also troubled by what was implied in your tweets, which was that you DO have concern for the animals that become foie gras and that that’s why you were certifying the U.S. producers as “impeccable.” But DO you really care? Does this mean that you always check the provenance of foie gras before partaking? Does it mean you did not eat foie gras a few years ago when conditions were like those seen in the video you called “outdated”?

I took a look at the menu for Umamicatessen, where you enjoyed the foie gras donut featured in your adoring review in the Los Angeles Times (which didn’t even mention that foie gras is soon to be illegal in the state of California, though that’s even more your cowardly editors’ fault than your own). Well, it turns out the menu for Umamicatessen does not describe the provenance of the foie gras used in their donut. Did you ask them? I would guess you did not, even though your tweet to me suggested that you ARE concerned about such things. Did you make a reasonable effort to guarantee that the foie gras you were about to consume came from one of the three “impeccable” U.S. producers?

Aren’t you being a phony here, Mr. Gold? Trying to act like you indeed are concerned about the welfare of these animals and the conditions at the various production farms, and yet not really checking, and possibly never being concerned enough to check before partaking?

I also imagine that you roll your eyes at the upcoming ban on foie gras and see it as the work of pandering politicians and a misinformed and hysterical electorate, without stopping to think that this was not a measure to ban all meat, which would have gotten very little support, but a measure to ban a form of meat that is created in a way that is particularly cruel for the animals whose livers are taken.

As I said in one of my tweets to you, I wonder if you have a family cat or dog and if you’ve ever taken a moment to think about how you’d feel if someone shoved a long metal pipe down its throat the way that foie gras producers do to their animals.

Your writing is all about pleasure, about how food, well-prepared, can afford us one of the greatest delights that humanity has to offer. But do you ever take a moment to think about the lives of the animals that become this food? I know that’s tough to do, Mr. Gold, because I was a meat eater for close to half a hundred years. I was in denial, too. I occasionally heard about or saw the undercover videos revealing conditions at factory farms, but I chose to ignore them or to imagine them to be isolated incidents. Most likely I simply tuned it out before it was ever capable of gaining a toehold in the part of my brain that thinks about things.

But I was not a food writer for a major American newspaper, yet alone a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I did not have the professional obligation to consider the topic from multiple angles and in great detail.

What you are is an enabler. You enable people to view the mistreatment of these animals as something they needn’t ethically concern themselves with, to view it as something insignificant when compared to the end that justifies these means:  a sumptuous donut. After all, here is a prize-winning writer at a bastion of American journalism giving the continued consumption and treatment of these animals his imprimatur.

You spend your days seeking out new and mind-blowing tastes, which is fine, hey, it sounds like a great job, but think about what it rides on the back of. I stopped eating animal products after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book. Perhaps you consider that to also be “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” never mind the fact that Safran Foer, one his generation’s leading literary figures, took two years out of his life to research and write this book.

And Mr. Safran Foer, to my knowledge, is not a vegan. He is a self-described vegetarian, and according to his book, an on and off one at that. Perhaps you have read his book, which would come as a pleasant surprise. If not, you should, unless you fear, as I think you may, that it would lead you to stop eating meat and perhaps all animal products.

While I don’t eat meat anymore I am not someone who actively advocates for others to stop. My family and friends still eat meat and I do not attempt to proselytize them. I only bothered tweeting you in the first place because I found your foie gras donut orgasm to be so brazen and defiant and, well, hard-hearted. It was, to my mind, a political statement: I will eat whatever I god damn please.

I have tried to refrain in this letter from making analogies. The atrocities carried out on factory farms on a regular basis can be compared to many things, but those who defend meat are quick to accuse those who compare things of equating things. I’m sure you and they might even take offense at the use of the word “atrocities” to describe such treatment, thinking that word should only be reserved for human mistreatment. But if you’re going to throw around the word “propaganda” like a political hack on a cable news show then I have no problem using a word like “atrocities.”

As I mentioned in my tweets, I’ve been a big fan of your writing for years. Not that you need me to tell you that; you’ve got thousands of fans and a Pulitzer Prize. But don’t you believe that such a prize, especially a journalistic prize, comes with obligations and responsibilities, especially concerning honesty? And not just being honest with me, I wouldn’t expect you to care about that, but I’m talking about being honest with those 30,000 followers you told about the “impeccable” U.S. foie gras production. I can’t imagine that any of those 30,000 followers who watched the second video I sent you would think those conditions were anything but appalling, yet alone “impeccable.”

One of the major changes underway at this time in America, Mr. Gold, is a reconsideration of how we treat the animals that become our food. I wouldn’t expect you to be as contemplative a meat-eater as someone like Mark Bittman, whose recent New York Times columns have been in the vanguard of this current reassessment, but to blast out a blowhard huff about “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” when you and your bloodied-apron friends are about the only ones left defending this fort seems like the behavior of a spoiled little child.

If you consider yourself an intelligent person, which you no doubt do, and which I no doubt consider you to be as well, then the problem here must not be intellectual but rather psychological. Beyond the fact that you make your living writing about food, the great proportion of which comes from animals, there seems to be an unhealthy refusal to reconsider your current positions.

Were you to begin to question the ethics of eating meat, or even the tiny fraction of meat consumption that is foie gras, perhaps you fear your whole world would unravel. Foodie friends would abandon you. The industry you embrace would brand you a traitor. You would have to, gasp, refrain from certain things you find to be delectable! But delectability at what cost?

It seems pretty clear what direction the world is moving in, and on what side of history you will be left on, and there were no doubt many Pulitzer Prize winners who won for columns that would now make our skin crawl in 2012.

Again, not that you care about that. But you should care about the obvious. You should be better than the typical American who eats meat out of habit, who doesn’t think much at all about their food or where it comes from or how it’s made, who isn’t one of the country’s leading food figures, and who spend most of their lives eating food you probably wouldn’t even want if trying to survive a plane crash.

Take some time, Mr. Gold. Re-think your positions. Then please get back to me. Thanks.

Won’t you take you to… Figueroa Produce

16 Mar

Figueroa Produce Market
6312 North Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90042
323.255.3663

Such photography!

I don’t live on the Pasadena side of LA, but when I find myself that way I always head home via the 110 so I can hit Figueroa Produce. It’s a small market with an old-time neighborhood feel but they’ve also got a lot of stuff there and more importantly, a lot of great vegan stuff that I haven’t seen other places, especially their selection of Match Meats.

Although I love the store I wasn’t going to write about it because I thought most area vegans probably knew of it, but then I saw this tweet yesterday:

So I decided to tell you a bit about the place.

I got this from the frozen foods case.

The first time I went to FP I bought some Match Meats from the frozen foods case but I didn’t know what I now know, which is that there’s an even greater selection to be had in the fresh meat case. And yes, that’s as in real meat, but all the way to the left you will see, separated, a tray of Match Meats with a price list that I forgot to take a photo of. And there’s quite a variety: hamburgers, chicken breasts, chipotle chicken breasts, crab cakes and more.

While I was ogling this tray, Ruben — whose business card says “Owner” — came over and chatted me up. Ruben’s a real friendly guy and he’s glad to talk to you about all the vegan stuff he carries. When I settled on getting a couple of hamburgers and a couple of chipotle chicken breasts, he asked me if I was going to eat them that day, and when I said no he got some from the back for me, frozen, saying they would last longer and that I simply needed to thaw them in the fridge for a day before cooking. Ruben said he eats these a lot and that he fries them with a little bit of Earth Balance on top which then nicely melts over them while they’re being heated.

The Match Meats website says that Figueroa Produce is the only place you can buy these items in California, which should be reason enough to go if you’ve never been before. They also have some other products that I’ve never seen anywhere else, except maybe at the all-vegan grocery store Viva La Vegan in Rancho Cucamonga which is definitely a pilgrimage that all LA vegans should have to do at least once in their lifetime. But until then there’s FP, where I also bought the following item:

Won't you take me to... Tofutown

This was in the refrigerated case and is from a German company called Viana.  My favorite thing about Viana is that their packaging sends you to a website called Tofutown which even has, at least in my mind, its own song. There’s a few different varieties of their products and they were all pretty good though I wasn’t running back to buy more, but for a now and then thing, absolutely. The one thing that bothers me about these items is that they travel 6,000 miles to get to Los Angeles. “But hey, a guy can only have so many causes,” he said, typing on his computer that came from even farther.

So if you’ve never been to Figueroa Produce, go see what they have, and say hello to Ruben if he’s there, and make him show you a vegan product you didn’t know existed, because I bet he’s got one.

Not The End, I hope.

The OCV: Seabirds and Girl Scouts.

8 Mar

Sometimes I do the wrong thing and sometimes I do the right thing but I’m often not sure which and who’s to say?

A few weeks ago I gave the Seabirds Truck a hard time about their scheduled stop at Santa Anita Racetrack. They talk about cruelty-free on their website but horse racing is not cruelty-free for the horses.

But maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe the Seabirds Truck is doing so much good by traveling around with their great food and showing everyone how tasty this kind of food can be that I shouldn’t have called them out over it. Turns out, at least according to how it looks on their website, that they even decided not to do the horse track event in the end.

So anyway, Seabirds has been on my mind. I’d always wanted to try them, especially after having some great vegan truck food as turned out by the amazing Cinnamon Snail truck in the New York/New Jersey area.

So, wanting to get some of those vegan Orange County Girl Scout cookies that I’ve sent way too much information out into the Internet about, I decided to try to combine the two goals and the Seabirds Truck obliged. They attended an event last week at a school in Whittier, which took me only 45 minutes to get to in weekend traffic.

And I’m glad I went. First of all, the people working the truck are as friendly as can be. Probably because I didn’t mention who I was. But anyway, what’s important is the food, and it was very good. In fact, it was so good that I went back for more. The first time I ordered two items: the Beer Battered Avocado Tacos and the Jack-ie Chan Tacos, which are jackfruit. The Seabirds Truck had a contest recently to name their jackfruit tacos and by the result we can see that contests are not the best way to name tacos.

Beer Battered Avocado Taco

The Beer Battered Avocado Tacos were great. Crunchy on the outside with warm gooey avocado inside. They were hot, fresh and ready incredibly fast. They were also gone incredibly fast. I didn’t like the jackfruit tacos as much but maybe that’s not the Seabirds Truck’s fault. The only other time I had jackfruit tacos was at Pure Luck before it closed (not after it closed) and I didn’t love them either despite the fact that the vegan world adored their tacos and cried a river of plant-based tears when they closed.

Jackie-ie Chan Tacos

I was mostly full after those three tacos (I decided to bring one of the jackfruit ones home for Ms. Insufferable — isn’t it nice of me to bring cold food I don’t want to the person I love?) but I was so impressed with the avocado tacos that I decided I needed to try some more things.

I’m a big tryer. My life is mostly trying. Trying things, I mean, not trying. I like to try everything once — every place, every item. So back I went to the truck and got some “Fried Rice W/ Tanaka Veggies” and a Kale and Pear Salad. I also got three cupcakes.

Again, it was ready fast. They seem to have really mastered their prep to the point that things can be both hot and quick. And the fried rice looked amazing. So amazing that as I walked away from the truck with it, not kidding, two Boy Scouts passed me and one said, “Whoa, where did you get that?” Then I saw him walk up to the truck, have a brief conversation, and then walk away. Maybe the Boy Scout was surprised by the $8 price tag but I thought it was well worth it.

Fried Rice W/ Tanaka Veggies

Sitting on top of the rice were some charred/seared/roasted cashews — some of the most appetizing-looking cashews I have ever seen. And mixed into the brown rice along with carrots, celery, broccoli and green pepper was just the right amount of moisture. It was an excellent dish.

The Kale and Pear Salad was also good but not as good as the fried rice or the avocado tacos. And unfortunately, the cupcakes were only so-so. They weren’t bad, but there was no wow-factor either.

Kale and Pear Salad

But the rest of the food was so good it made me wish the Seabirds Truck would clone itself or visit LA more often. Maybe (enter favorite celebrity vegan name here) can finance a second truck.

So after stuffing myself in Whittier I drove a few miles east to the Stater Bros supermarket in La Habra, which was the closet Girl Scout “booth sale” to Whittier according to the Orange County Girl Scout Cookie Finder.

Girl Scout Cookie Booth Sale. (You can see the Girl Scouts to the right of the entrance. I took the photo from far away because, well, it's creepy to put photos of kids on the Web.)

Now as you all know, the Girl Scouts of Orange County sell cruelty-free cookies whereas the Los Angeles council only sells ones made with milk. But five of the eight varieties in Orange County are vegan and I bought me all five types.

I’m not going to sit here and review the individual types of Girl Scout Cookies bu– oh what the hell, why not. The Thin Mints are great as you know. They also came in foil packs. Not sure if the milky L.A. ones also came in foil packs this year but last year they did not because certain family members of mine still have some left in the freezer. I have no idea whether the foil facilitates freezer-chillin’ but I like to believe that it does.

A case! A case I tells ya!

I also bought a box of Lemonades which are lemon cookies with a lemony icing bottom. They’re good. Then there were the “Thanks-A-Lots” which led to way too many puns from the Girl Scouts after I bought way too many boxes of cookies. I guess it’s not a pun. Is it a pun? Hmmm…   Anyway, the Thanks-A-L0ts are really good. They’re kind of a regular plain type cookie but with a fudge icing bottom. And the fridge made them even better.

Then there were the Peanut Butter Patties. These are good too, and also benefited from some fridging. The only ones I thought were dudly were the “Shout Outs” which are caramel-flavored cookies emblazoned with words like “Learn” and “Lead.” The Girl Scouts made a point of telling me that this is the last year of “Shout Outs” and that they will be replaced with a TBD flavor next year. I’m with the Girl Scout deciders on that one because as far as I’m concerned these cookies should have said “S0-So” on them.

So now I’m all stocked up on cookies and you can be, too: These Orange County cookie booth sales end on March 11th so you still have a few days to get your plant-based butts out to the OC and get some vegan cookies instead of whining for the next three months while the meat-based butts in your life feast on milky ones.

Just don’t take the 10 back.

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