Archive | October, 2012

30 on 20

31 Oct

Okay, I’m cheating. I needed one more post to meet my VeganMoFo twenty and I have fifteen minutes to do it. In journalism they used to, maybe still do, write 30 at the end of a piece to signify the end. This was especially helpful if a reporter was filing in takes. From overseas. Via telex.

Now it’s easier to file a story. And I don’t know if reporters still write 30. But this is the end of my 20. So thanks VeganMoFo creators whoever you are for getting me going again with my blog, and for sending new readers my way, and I hope some of you stick around, in case, by chance, one day I say something useful.

In the meantime I’ll keep trying to remember when I think something useful, so that I can write about it, if I don’t forget. It’s harder for me now, two years into my veganing, to think new thoughts about it. It’s part of me now! This is good. But I don’t have fresh eyes on it anymore. And that’s bad.

I’m not sure how to get new eyes on it. Probably eating animal stuff again would give me a fresh perspective but I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to do that! So I have to be extra vigilant to remember the rare fresh perspective when it flies through my brain.

One of the things I always tell people who are thinking of going vegan is that they should simply try it for a month. If only to give themselves that new perspective. Because who doesn’t want a new perspective. On anything. Isn’t that one of the things we look for in art? Or in conversation? Or in Walmart?

Okay I have seven minutes left. it’s 11:53 p.m. on October 31 and I’m not going to miss my mofo deadline. But I feel that in these seven minutes I should say something useful about veganing. Something I’ve thought that nobody else has. So that you (six minutes left!) my fellow vegan, or vegan wannabee, or vegan consideringbee, can gain something useful and fresh and perspectivful.

So here goes: it is the right thing to do.

Morality is subjective. At least to me. Which means for everyone if one person says so. And yet whenever a meat eater watches one of those undercover videos they say that’s wrong. They *never* say, Well, that looks okay to me.

They say it looks awful. And evil. And horrendous. And then they keep eating animal products.

So be proud you don’t. Realize that one day nobody will. Or at least most people won’t. And it’ll be a black market good. And everyone will look back and think how wrong it was. And it was you people who bent over and let others stand on your back.

Okay, I have three minutes left. Make that two. I’m not going to chance it. Keep veganing! I’m proud of you! Which is another way of congratulating myself since I’m one of you! So congratulations me! You’re so wonderful. Done!

Vegan Food Porn

31 Oct

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and Hurricane/Superstorm/Hybridcar Sandy is the perfect reason to do it now.

I signed up for VeganMoFo because I thought it would be a good kick in the ass. I’d slacked off on blogging and thought this commitment might reinvigorate me. But in order to make it to the required twenty posts this month, I did a lot of posts about food. And a lot of food posts about restaurants. And a lot of restaurant posts strafed with photos.

Being vegan isn’t silly. Not at all. I mean, anything can be silly, and probably should be silly, but I mean it’s a serious undertaking, for serious reasons, okay never mind! What I’m trying to say is that while being vegan isn’t silly, posting photos of vegan food *can* be.

Now there’s an upside for sure. I think that posting photos on a blog, or on Instagram, or however, can help encourage other vegans, both new and old. I know that when I first went vegan a little over two years ago, and I found Quarrygirl’s L.A. vegan food blog, it was a lifeline that kept me going and made veganing fun and, more importantly, showed me that vegan eating could have the same fun elements as regular eating, including that feeling of discovery that was my favorite part of restauranting.

And now, on Instagram, I see hundreds of photos a day of great meals that give me ideas for what and how to cook. And maybe one day I’ll actually do that!

But what these photos do, even more than all this, is provide a way for us all to support each other. To be a community. Not the kind where you can come over and borrow a cup of bone char free sugar. Please don’t. But to know that other people are doing this too. To let people just starting out see they’re not alone. And to feel like it makes sense to do this. In the face of continual, daily, hourly, resistance. Resistance and ridicule. And bafflement.

Not that people need this community. Sure they could do it alone. Sure they *should* be able to do it alone. But if talking with others makes it easier, then why not. Because that’s kind of what the Internet is, right? A connector of like-mindedness. And maybe it’s not a coincidence that veganism took off in an Internet world. Like so many other isms did. (Isms didn’t flag my spellcheck, btw.) (And neither did btw).

But it’s still pictures of food. Often expensive food. Often food prepared for the luxury of taste. And it’s great that we have this, and that non-vegans can see this, or try it, and be surprised that it exists, and see that the what we eat of What do you eat isn’t cardboard and twigs and sawdust and straw.

But ultimately it still feels sybaritic to me. Lots of people go hungry. Lots of people can’t eat expensive food. Lots of people can’t indulge their fancies. (Or fancy, if they only have one.) Lots of people think of food as something their bodies need, not something their minds need.

And that’s where the porn part comes in. Because what’s porn in the food porn sense? Gratuity? Well then what’s gratuity? Toomuchofitness? Inyourfaceness? Or is it a feeling of taking the receptors in the body and brain that provide pleasure and cramming them full till they can’t recept no more. Because food, like sex, is pretty primal. Eat to survive, sex to reproduce, two things the mind’s designed to make us feel good about so that we keep doing it. I see the relation. I get the idea of indulgence and overindulgence and golden calf and golden tofu and bacchanalia and baconalia and fakinbaconalia.

And so it feels really wrong, and even outrageous, to be posting photos of gourmet food while other people are having to sneak past police lines to see whether their home is a total loss or if they’re merely facing an expensive year-long renovation. Or they’re dead.

I know people go hungry all the time. And get killed or maimed in wars and car crashes and machinery. And have their children die. But I don’t think I can just throw up my hands and say that since bad things happen all the time I might as well go ahead and post my food porn.

Besides, if I throw up my hands, how can I hold my phone and take my picture?

The Bubble

26 Oct

Art credit: onegreenplanet.org

 

This might be a “just me” thing. I’m not sure. But at 25 months of veganism, I’m realizing that I live in a vegan bubble.

What I mean by that is, my family knows I’m vegan, my friends know I’m vegan, even many of my acquaintances know I’m vegan. I know where to eat, where to shop, what stuff I can buy at the grocery store.

I’m so deep into the bubble that when something comes up where I’m asked to meet some friends at a restaurant that has absolutely nothing for me to eat, it’s shocking. Oh yeah, the rest of the world eats animal stuff. They eat it without thinking about it. The world hasn’t really changed at all, just my one-sevenbillionth of it. Don’t they see? Don’t they get it? How can they keep going about their business and be so happy and miss this giant issue completely?

And they’re not bad people. Many of them are good people. Many of them consider themselves eco, or green, or kind, and yet…

That’s what I mean by the bubble. I forget that even though some days it feels like veganism has caught fire in the last year, it’s not even a brush fire, or even a kitchen fire. It’s a flare-up in a pot. Maybe.

Recently some relatives came to visit. They know I’m vegan. I see them once or twice a year. And I thought they’d have a typical non-vegan reaction. Like the way my mother-in-law will ask, “Are you still on that diet?”

But these relatives started treating me like I was clinically insane. Why would you do this? Why would anyone place restraints on themselves that they didn’t have to place? Nevermind that some of these relatives are religious, and place restraints on themselves that they don’t have to place, they don’t see it that way. It’s certainly not the same thing! That makes sense! And it’s part of their heritage!

So when we go to a restaurant with a million menu choices BUT NOT A SINGLE THING I CAN EAT, and I have to ask the server if the kitchen would be willing to make me an avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich on rye since I see that all those items are on the menu, these family members look at me like: Why would anyone do this?!?!?!

I live in a bubble. These relatives are the real Americans, not me. These relatives are the real humans, not me. I am an oddball. Living in a bubble.

So be it.

Aren’t you sick of vegans?

26 Oct

Aren’t you sick of them telling you that vegan food can actually taste quite good?

Aren’t you sick of them telling you about how animals are treated?

Aren’t you sick of them ruining your dinner party by expecting you’ll have something for them to eat simply because you invited them?

Aren’t you sick of them always wanting to go to a restaurant where they’ll be able to find something to eat?

Aren’t you sick of them being an ever constant reminder that what you’re doing is fundamentally wrong and immoral?

Aren’t you sick of them reminding you that something you get a lot of pleasure from comes at the price of a living thing?

Aren’t you sick of them politely declining meat that you’re only offering to them because you don’t want them to feel excluded?

Aren’t you sick of them not even telling you that they’re vegan and just sitting there quietly eating their vegetables or whatever other crap food they eat?

Aren’t you sick of them pointing out that egg-laying chickens and dairy cows are treated worse than cattle so you’re better off eating steak than a cheese omelette?

Aren’t you sick of that arrogant way they sit there eating the food they think makes them superior?

Aren’t you sick of them sitting there quietly while you tell them about that great new steak place you went to last night?

Aren’t you sick of their blogs?

My love-mildannoyance relationship with Native Foods

21 Oct


I have a fondness for Native Foods. When I first went vegan a little over two years ago, and I didn’t really know what to do or what to eat, it turned out that by chance (as opposed to intention) there was a Native Foods not far me. I must have walked past the Native Foods in Westwood Village eighty-three times without ever going in or realizing it was vegan. But back then I really kinda sorta didn’t know what vegan even was.

So when I entered for the first time as a NEW VEGAN and didn’t know what I was doing, I really appreciated how friendly and helpful everyone there was. And it didn’t hurt that the food was so good.

Over time, I became a regular there, and even when Native Foods opened a bigger, nicer space in Culver City, which wasn’t all that much further from my place, I continued to go to the one in Westwood. Now part of the reason, mind you, is that the Culver City location has always been very poorly run. It’s the highest-grossing Native Foods spot, and they have a constant stream of customers, especially at lunch when the line is often out the door and onto the street, and they simply can’t handle it.

Mistakes happen frequently when you eat there, but worse, much worse, is when you try to order something to go. Every time, and I’m not exaggerating, every single time I have called in a pickup order, and I have done this well over a dozen times, something was wrong. Every time! It could range from something as small as the dressing for the salad being left out of the bag to entire entrees that were paid for not being in the bag when I got home. And often, there was more than one screw up. To the point that I gave up and would only use the Westwood spot, where I can not recall them ever making a mistake.

And then.

Well, about six months ago Native Foods finally moved out of their odd, tight space into a brand new, much bigger location next door. Way more tables, way bigger kitchen, a much more pleasant space. And at first things were great. Bosses were around, lots of managers always working, things went smoothly for the most part.

But now, six months later, I’m sorry to say, the place has been Culverized. Almost every time I go there, something goes wrong. I should have realized there were problems when they left the “We Open to the Public May 1st” sign in the front window for more than two months. How did the managers walk past this sign every day and not realize what it said and not do anything about it? It was only after I tweeted about it on July 13th that it came down.

Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger

This weekend I went in for the Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger special. And things did not go well. For starters, there was a line to the door on a Saturday night and only one register open. They have two registers at the front of this location and a third around to the side. But not since they first opened months ago have I ever seen more than one register staffed at a time. Lunch rush, dinner rush, there always seems to be only one register open. And it’s not like the place isn’t staffed. Last night for example, with a line to the door, a bunch of staffers were hanging out behind the counter joking with Adam the manager while the woman at the register struggled with a giant line. It was like the manager didn’t even notice. Then the staffers he was joking with went off to do their jobs and he pulled out his smartphone and hung out checking his email or something. It was unbelievable.

Then I tried to order the chili cheese fries and was told it was no longer available. Now you might remember, a few weeks ago, when Native Foods introduced their new menu items, they took the chili cheese fries off the menu. I watched one evening as a woman tried to order them only to be told by both the cashier and the manager that it wasn’t possible to get them, even though they said that they still had all the ingredients in house. So I tweeted about this, which led to a nice email from Native Foods in which they told me that customers would still be allowed to order the chili cheese fries, and that a memo was being sent to all Native Foods locations letting them know this, so that such a problem would never happen again. Until last night when I was told they were no longer available.

Another thing that happened last night was that I ordered a soup, the Moroccan Lentil, which is very good. However, when I order a hot bowl of soup in a restaurant, I do not want to eat it with a plastic spoon. But I had to, because I was told there were no metal spoons available, even though they did have metal forks and knives.

And one other thing I will mention about last night’s meal is that, while I’m usually very lenient with what gets called a “burger” in the vegan world, this was not something I would ever even imagine could be seen as a burger substitute.  Have you ever had, or seen, an Arby’s regular roast beef sandwich? It’s made of thin shavings of roast beef. That’s what this was like, thin shavings of seitan on a bun. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t particularly good either, but it certainly wasn’t anything I’d ever call a burger. And the garlic fries weren’t as good as they have been in the past.

I really miss the days when this Native Foods ran smoothly. Now it’s vegan roulette. I think they are expanding faster than they can handle it, and yet their new locations are bringing in so many people interested in this kind of food that if the problems cause people to walk out or never return, it doesn’t matter to them because there’s new people streaming in the next day anyway. But at some point the slow and bad service will come back to haunt them. And just to be clear, by bad service I don’t mean unfriendly service, since almost everyone there is always friendly, it’s just long lines and mistakes that I’m talking about.

Someone from Chicago needs to show up here, preferably on the sly, and take a look at the lines to the door, only one register open, the manager busy playing with his phone, and potential customers getting frustrated and leaving. Before the loyal customers decide to take a break, too.

Why this keeps happening is Beyond Meat

20 Oct

Have you been following my Beyond Meat saga? And by saga I mean two boring blog posts. Plus this one. Three.

It started off on Wednesday when Beyond Meat sent out a not-even-quite-cryptic email asking us all to guess which region they were rolling out in that day. As one of my Instagram followers said: I wasn’t in the mood to guess.

Then after a similarly mysterious Tweet they sent a second Tweet revealing that it’s Southern California. Now keep in mind, Beyond Meat had already been available for a few weeks in the Madeleine Bistro bistro box, and in big bags at Viva La Vegan, and in sandwiches at Phoney Baloney’s. But I guess the fact that it was going into Whole Foods was supposed to be a big deal. The place they expected to find their core audience or something. Like match.com for fake meat and fake meat lovers.

Except they completely blew it. The email, tweets and website all directed people to the prepared foods cases at Whole Foods and listed a whole bunch of Whole Foods locations where you could find it in Los Angeles. So, because I’m pathetic, I jumped right in the car and burned rubber. (Hyperbole.)

Beyond Meat mislabeled as Gardein at the Westwood Whole Foods

But when I got to the Whole Foods in Westwood there wasn’t any in the prepared foods case. Only in a nasty steamed-vegetable-concoction at the hot bar. With a card saying, “Gardein Chicken.” So I headed over to the Whole Foods in West L.A. Where there wasn’t any in the prepared foods case either. Or the hot bar. And only after encountering a knowledgeable and helpful “team member” who wondered why so many people kept coming in that day asking for Beyond Meat, and learning from me that it was their big rollout day, wondered why nobody bothered to tell Whole Foods that or to make sure it was actually on hand.

You see it turned out that both stores DID have Beyond Meat. Only not the day of the rollout. They had it for the previous two weeks. But again, NOT on the day of the rollout. Finally, the helpful team member had an inkling where I might be able to find it — he thought there might be some left over from the previous day at the taco bar. And he was right! There under the tag “Vegan Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce” was some Beyond Meat, and it was as good as the steam table concoction was bad.

I was sold. Or so I thought.

The Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce was so good that I wanted to try it some other ways. So the next day, after getting some very positive tweets from Beyond Meat saying that my blog post had led them to look into their distribution problems, I went off to some of the other Whole Foods listed on the Beyond Meat website to see what I could find.

Beyond Meat Summer Chicken Salad. Photograph taken on October 18th.

At the Whole Foods on 5th and Wilshire in Santa Monica, for the first time I encountered Beyond Meat in the prepared foods case, which is where customers were supposed to be able to find it all along. It was only available in one preparation: a “Summer Chicken Salad.”  Okay, I know, it was October 18th. But I have to tell you, this preparation would not have tasted any better on July 18th. It was nasty. It was in some purple-colored mayonnaise-like dressing that turned the whole salad purple. Who created this recipe, tasted it, and said “Yes, this tastes good!”?  But I bought some anyway because, well, it was still Beyond Meat and I had driven there!

Then I went to the Whole Foods at Wilshire and 23rd in Santa Monica. (Yes, there are two Whole Foods eighteen blocks apart — one was a smaller store from when Whole Foods acquired Wild Oats.) And there, in the giant prepared foods case, at the giant 23rd and Wilshire store, they had NO Beyond Meat. Did they even know what it was? Yes, they did! And they said they had some on Monday, in fact. But not since then. Which means not on Wednesday, the day of the company’s alleged giant rollout.

Vegan Curry Chicken Salad Pre-Pack

However, a few minutes later, nosing through the refrigerated shelving where the pre-packed foods are displayed, I found one (and only one) pre-packed Vegan Chicken Curry Salad. Now mind you, the Whole Foods vegan chicken curry salad is one of my staples and has been since I first went vegan a little over two years ago. Back then it was made with Gardein. I loved it, ate it at least twice a week for lunch. It was really good. Then, about a year ago, they stopped making it with Gardein and switched to Eco-Cuisine. I was devastated! I contacted Whole Foods and was told that Eco-Cuisine absorbed the sauce better and they were sticking with it. *Sigh*

Well, that happens in life. The things you like go away or get changed. You have to move on. And learn to accept online bill pay and eat Eco-Cuisine. So I did. And while it wasn’t as good, I got used to it. Maybe, just maybe, it was almost as good. Or at least as my Gardein Memories faded it was.

But now, in my hand, reading the label, I saw that my beloved vegan chicken curry salad was… drumstick roll please… made with Beyond Meat! Exciting! I guess. So I bought it.

Mislabeled card at Beverly Hills Whole Foods

And then… yesterday… aka Friday… I was in Beverly Hills, and wouldn’t you know it, they also have a Whole Foods that was on the Beyond Meat website list. So I went. And what kind of Beyond Meat did they have in the prepared foods case? Nothing, according to the first team member I spoke to. And nothing, according to the woman he asked after I asked him to ask someone else. However, the person she asked after I asked her to ask someone else, who was the head of the prepared foods section, told me that in fact there was an item in the prepared foods case made with Beyond Meat, and it was… the vegan chicken curry salad. “But look,” I said, “The card for it says it’s made with Eco-Cuisine.” “Yeah I know,” he said, “But the card is wrong.”  And so I bought some, even though I already had some in a pre-pack in my fridge. Because, well, like I said, I was excited about Beyond Meat, and I wanted to see if there was any difference between the fresh and the pre-pack.

And here’s the result of my scientific experiment, aka eating: the Whole Foods vegan curry chicken salad, when made with Beyond Meat, SUCKS. The pre-pack and the fresh sucked equally. They weren’t nearly as good as the Eco-Cuisine, which wasn’t as good as the Gardein. Now I’m a realist, and I don’t ever expect to see Eco-Cuisine at Whole Foods again. They have clearly thrown in their lot with Beyond Meat and whenever Whole Foods make a change like this there is no going back. And like I said, the Beyond Meat in the Tomatillo Sauce at the taco bar was fantastic. Really, really good. But somehow, the sauce from the vegan chicken curry salad, or some other food chemistry reaction from the ingredients, turned the Beyond Meat in the chicken curry salad into a hard rubberlike substance. Chewing it was like chewing taffy, only harder. It was like taking a rubber washer from your washing machine and trying to eat it. One piece was so hard and rubbery I literally could not chew it enough to swallow it. I had to take it out of my mouth and throw it into the trash. It refused to allow itself to be chewed.

THIS IS BAD.

How could someone at Whole Foods have tried this and thought it could be served to humans? I imagine they knew it could not, but were under orders to use Beyond Meat in this product from now on anyway. Period. There is nothing else I can imagine that would explain why Whole Foods would do this. If the BMB (Beyond Meat Boss) were to try a bite of this vegan curry chicken salad he would be horrified. Mortified. Because, like me and my tomatillo, he knows how good his product can be. And this was the opposite. The nadir. It was a showcase for how BAD his product can be. It was so bad you practically wondered if it was a competitor committing sabotage. It really was that gross.

So what’s next? Hopefully, since Beyond Meat seems to be aware and concerned about the fiasco they are enduring in their Whole Foods rollout, they will investigate, get the recipes fixed, and make sure their product is used in ways that make everyone realize how good it can be. Otherwise they will quickly begin to wonder why nobody is buying their product. And Whole Foods, if they have the kind of inventory system I imagine them to have, will wonder why sales of the once quick-moving vegan chicken curry salad have begun to dry up.

And it’s early. I know. And things can be fixed. And I hope they will be. But like I said, how any of this could have happened in the first place is Beyond Meat.

Craig’s Lust

20 Oct

Craig’s
8826 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood CA 90069
310.276.1900

You might think it’s VeganMoFo month but more importantly, it’s Bad Headline month. And this might be my worst one yet!

However, if you eat at Craig’s, or even look at these photos, I think you will understand the lust part.

Craig’s is a high-end restaurant in Los Angeles owned by Craig Susser, who used to be a GM at nearby Dan Tana’s. And like Dan Tana’s it features steaks and Italian food and serves them to a similar crowd. However, Craig’s now has a vegan section on its menu!

How did I learn about this development in the L.A. restaurant world? From The New York Times of course. In an article I’ve already written about. So the head of Supervegan’s L.A. office and I decided we needed to investigate.

The first things I noticed when we entered is that Craig’s is a hoppin’, even on a Tuesday night. A wide mix of people, not unlike the Dan Tana’s crowd. We were seated in a great booth and quickly got to work on our investigation.

Following some questioning of our very helpful server, including the important info that the vegan version of their “Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken” is made with agave not honey, we decided to do what we usually do and order way too much food. Which we then ate almost all of.

What did we get? We have photographs!

Vegan Sausage Pizza

Craig’s has a Vegan Pizza on the menu as well as a Vegan Sausage Pizza. Well, the Vegan Sausage Pizza has an extra word in its name so we got that one. Good choice, us! This pizza was really good, but it clearly didn’t have Daiya. It had a melty, reflective cheesy-looking cheese. Hmm, what was it? Can you believe this, one of the servers knew without even needing to go check: “Oh, it’s Follow Your Heart,” he said.

We ate the pizza as our appetizer and then dove into the main courses. “Dove” figuratively, unless you count moving forward at rapid speed and descending toward something as diving, in which case take away those quotes. Because this is what we got:

Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken

Like I mentioned above, even though the Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken says it’s “tossed with truffle-infused honey,” our server assured us that for the vegan version they use agave instead of honey, so we got it. And it was good. Two big pieces of Gardein that looked like they had been pounded flat and then battered and fried. It was crispy and tasty. Winner!

Stuffed Peppers

We also got the stuffed peppers and I liked this a lot. One red half and one green half, stuffed with stuff. What kind of stuff? Good stuff. Maybe the picture will help. I thought there were some tofu cubes in there but I could be wrong. I often am. But it was really tasty. I could eat this again. Now. Even though I’m not the least bit hungry.

Vegan Chicken Parmigiana

And you didn’t think we were going to pass up the Vegan Chicken Parmigiana, did you? Another big round Gardein patty that looked like it had been pounded flat. We didn’t ask if this was also Follow Your Heart cheese but I’m guessing it was. This dish was also very good and my only criticism would be that the Gardein patty was almost a bit too tender considering that my memory of real chicken parmigiana is that it had a thicker texture. But hey, small complaint.

And as we ate all this great food, I was sitting there thinking: we are in a nice restaurant, having dinner like adults, and this feast we are consuming is vegan. If you’re vegan, I don’t have to tell you how rare that opportunity is.

It is great to see Craig going out of his way to make you feel like the kind of food you eat is just as valid and normal as the kind of food that anybody else eats. That there is nothing weird about it and that there is nothing unwelcoming about having you come there to eat it. He and his staff were as gracious as could be.

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Crunch Ice Cream

Okay, time for dessert. We got the vegan chocolate cake and we were offered the choice of three vegan ice creams to go with it: mint chip, vanilla or coffee crunch. Now I don’t like coffee but THOSVLAO does, so I said let’s go for it and I made the right choice! It was not too coffee-ee and it was delicious, with some kind of toffee in there providing said crunch. However… I did not like the cake. It wasn’t a slice of cake like the menu made me think it would be, but more like a little Pillsbury biscuit of chocolateyness. Oh well, the ice cream was good!

So that’s it — two humans, four dishes, one dessert, and four pounds. Worth it!

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