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Veggie Grill menu fiasco

27 Mar

Veggie Grill doesn’t get it. Or sadly and more precisely, they do get it but have no shame. They are a disgraceful, pathetic company, and here’s why.

I have had to fight a one-man fight to get them to stop misleading their customers. It has been ugly and they have refused to publicly acknowledge what they’ve done, but in a classic “actions speak louder than words” way they’ve — kicking and screaming — made the changes I demanded, EXCEPT for my demand that they explain to their customers what happened. Their latest stealth move — and they are all stealth moves because there has not been one public statement on the matter in the last two months — was to alter their regular menu yesterday in a way that will shock you.

Menu change

On top is what the menu used to say, the bottom is the new version

Did you spot the difference? Sneaky, right? Does this look like they’re moving in a positive direction to a more open form of communication between a company and its customers? I think not. Because instead of simply removing the misleading statement that “Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas” they’re now saying they’re “made from organic or non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas.” (Emphasis added emphatically.) So what the hell does that mean? It means nothing! Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from Academy Award winning or non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas. That’s just as accurate as what their menu now says. Have you ever seen such disdain toward customers? Such cynicism?

And gardein, the company that makes the Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak for Veggie Grill, isn’t willing to say that these items are made with organic soybeans, wheat and peas. When I asked them earlier this week to confirm the accuracy of Veggie Grill’s February 4th tweet which stated “Gardein says that the soy, wheat and peas used in their product to us is organic & non-GMO” this is how gardein replied:

Tweets

“Wherever possible”?! Really?! What kind of phrasing is that? That seems like slippery, lawyered wiggle room if ever I heard it! Not only does gardein also use the “or” construction, which Veggie Grill finally adopted yesterday, but they further protect themselves by saying “wherever possible” — a phrase that Veggie Grill has not yet added to their slippery statement, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

So the question is: why does Veggie Grill insist on throwing around the word “organic”? Did Veggie Grill make a simple mistake here? Did they not understand that gardein very carefully chooses its words since not a single one of the 22 items on the gardein products page lists organic soybeans, organic wheat or organic peas in its ingredients? That’s right, I went through the ingredients lists of all 22 gardein items on their website and the only organic ingredients listed were “organic cane sugar,”  “organic ancient grain flour,” “organic beetroot fiber” and “organic rice flour.” That’s it.

But Veggie Grill has been saying on its menus for at least two years that its veggie proteins are “made with soy and wheat that are organic and non-GMO.” Meanwhile, anyone who wanted to could simply take a look at the “Veggie Proteins” page on Veggie Grill’s own website and see a list of ingredients for their Chickin’, Veggie-Steak, and Veggie-Steak burger, which listed no organic soy, wheat or peas, merely organic evaporated cane juice and organic beet root fiber. That is, anyone could take a look at that Veggie Proteins page on their website until yesterday, when it vanished. Now when you click that link, you get this:

wrong place

But don’t worry, I took a screen shot of the entire page for my original post because I knew Veggie Grill wouldn’t want anyone to see that ingredients page once I drew attention to it (though I have to admit it took them way longer that I thought it would to realize how bad it made them look and remove it).

In my experience, when a company makes a mistake, even a series of huge mistakes as Veggie Grill has done here, they cop to it, apologize to their customers, make things right with everyone, and move on. Not Veggie Grill. They have said nothing in two months. Not a word. Well, not a word unless you count favoriting and retweeting attacks on me and sending a private DM via twitter whenever a prominent critic comes along asking for an explanation.  I’m not kidding. Take a look at the response to these two food and public health experts. This is a company bathed in secrecy.

DM tweets

How come those people get an explanation but their loyal everyday customers get NOTHING? And how laughable for Veggie Grill to use the word “confusion” here. I think Veggie Grill is the only one who’s confused. And I’m curious, do you think a word like “confusion” could cover a situation where, let’s say, hypothetically, someone was trying to confuse people?

And for what? Why does Veggie Grill keep insisting on using the word “organic” when describing its chickin’ and steak and burgers? Is Veggie Grill desperate to attach a veneer of health to their enterprise in the same way that Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics in the hope you will associate the company with fitness and athleticism? Is it all about throwing around the word “organic” in the hope that the customer won’t notice the items that are processed and fried?

Because at this point, it’s not clear why Veggie Grill is doing what it’s doing, since they flat out refuse to say, but one thing that’s clear is that it’s NOT a mistake. Not after changing the menu under pressure, and deciding to keep the word “organic” in there anyway, just in a new even more “confusing” usage. Call it what you want, but at this point in time it is anything but a mistake.

The only mistake Veggie Grill has made is in handling this matter like amateurs, and often like children. And by doing this, I fear they have damaged the prospects of vegan businesses in general. I have taken a lot of heat on this topic from vegans who say this has nothing to do with veganism, and that organic is not our fight so why am I criticizing a vegan business, but aside from the question that has been raised as to if they’ve been misleading people about their organic claims, what else might they have been misleading people about, there is the issue of showing the larger marketplace that a vegan business can conduct itself professionally, and can have what it takes to succeed.

Is this really how you want a vegan business to behave? Should they really get a pass for being vegan? I think just the opposite. And I’m not the only one:

Simon tweets

Come on, Veggie Grill, enough is enough. It’s time to give your customers an explanation. You owe them at least that. At least. Get your act together. Finally. Don’t you want to move on? I know that I do.

Veggie Grill can listen, but apparently they can’t speak

21 Mar

Hey, where'd the "mindful living" menus go?

Hey, where’d the “mindful living” menus go?

It’s been ten days now since my post asking,”Is Veggie Grill’s gardein organic, like Veggie Grill claims it is, or is it not?” and a lot has happened so I figured I’d update you.

The main thing that happened is that immediately after I published my post, Veggie Grill finally removed the claim on its website that “All of our veggie proteins and tempeh are organic and non-GMO.” And this past weekend, more than six weeks after I first brought the matter to Veggie Grill’s attention, all stores were told to pull all copies of the menu containing that claim, according to a manager I spoke to at one of their locations.

And yet despite these actions, there hasn’t been a single word from Veggie Grill about any of this. Given that they deleted the language from their website that I challenged, and ordered their store managers to remove all those menus, obviously they realized I was right. These actions seem to be a pretty clear admission that they had misled thousands of customers about the organic nature of their product.

But did Veggie Grill make any kind of public admission? Did they apologize for challenging me initially on this? More important, did they apologize to their customers about this? No, not a word.

But they weren’t *entirely* without response. They did favorite a mysterious tweet that attacked me. A tweet from @vegan, the same person who owns vegan.com, a person whom I can’t remember ever having a conversation with before, and who doesn’t even follow me on Twitter, and who out of nowhere tweeted one morning:

favorited tweet

And Veggie Grill favorited that tweet, a tweet from someone with 54,000 followers, a tweet that occurred not long after my blog post went up. And not only that, Veggie Grill later retweeted a tweet from, yup, that same person:

2nd tweet

I don’t know what the connection is between @vegan and VeggieGrill, but Veggie Grill sure must have appreciated the support because since then they’ve retweeted a number of random tweets from @vegan to their 74,000 followers, even though I went back months prior to my post and didn’t see a single retweet of @vegan by VeggieGrill. I guess one hand washes the other and all.

And that favorite of the attack on me, and the retweet above, have been the entirety of Veggie Grill’s response. Unbelievable, I know, and it’s both pathetic and shocking at the same time. Up until this, I thought Veggie Grill was a well-run company. I thought they had what it takes to grow the company. I thought the leadership was in place to actually turn this into a vegan giant that could divert people from meaty fast food all across America. But now my confidence in them is shattered.

It turns out that it’s amateur hour over there at Veggie Grill, which makes me sad. Any well-run company would have apologized to their customers, issued some type of statement about the matter, tried to make right with those who were misled, and begun to move on. But not Veggie Grill. Instead they have shown disdain for their customers, which is awful, considering how loyal their customers can be.

So loyal that many have attacked me on various social media platforms, and not just @vegan. The general opinion of the attackers seems to be: This is a vegan company spreading veganism so if the thing they’ve been misleading people about doesn’t pertain to the vegan nature of their products it’s okay. Then there have been some people on the other side who have basically said: If they misled customers about the organic nature of their products, what else might they be misleading people about?

Personally, I trust that they are indeed 100 percent vegan and committed to that. And I should add that I have never questioned their non-GMO claims, nor their claims that their tempeh, which is not from gardein, is organic.

But it’s important to note that Veggie Grill still has not addressed the claim on their regular menu, which is still online and in stores, that “Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas. Produced by GARDEIN™, these hearty proteins are deliciously satisfying, easily digested and packed with nutrients and fiber.” This despite the fact that Veggie Grill’s own list of ingredients for these gardein items on Veggie Grill’s own website shows only the beet root fiber and the evaporated cane juice as being organic. On their own website! And Veggie Grill has been claiming on menus for at least two years that the wheat and soy in their gardein products are organic, even though the ingredients list that’s still up on their website today says otherwise!

Where are the answers from Veggie Grill? Is anyone in charge there? Is this what they think of their customers?

Oh, and I almost forgot that they also unfollowed me on Twitter. That’s the way the adults there decided to deal with this issue: they covered their eyes.

Vegan Girl Scout cookies and how to get ‘em!

18 Feb

OMG! Vegan Girl Scout cookies!

Girl Scout cookies

At this time of year I always see lots of online posts from vegans saying, “What?! Girl Scout cookies are vegan?!” or “Did you know that Girl Scout cookies are vegan?!” and there’s lots of misinformation going around so I thought I’d clear things up.

It’s pretty simple, actually. The Girl Scouts divide up geographically into “councils.” A council is roughly a county, though in more rural areas a council can consist of multiple counties. There are two and only two baking companies nationwide that make Girl Scout cookies and the councils decide to buy from one or the other. The two different bakeries are Little Brownie and ABC Bakers. NONE of the Little Brownie cookies are vegan (they all contain milk — BOOOOOOO!!!!!) , so if your local council buys from Little Brownie you are out of luck, unless you’re willing to take a drive to a nearby council/county that uses ABC. You can call or tweet your local council and they will be happy to tell you which baker they get their cookies from. Once you’ve determined if your local council uses ABC, or if you’re going to have to drive to a nearby county, then you can plug in a zip code in the Girl Scout Cookie Finder and it will tell you where they are selling them. But be warned, this zip code finder has ALL locations in it, not just ABC ones.

ABC makes eight different varieties of Girl Scout cookies and four of them are vegan: the Thin Mints, the Peanut Butter Patties, the Lemonades, and the Thanks-A-Lot ones. They are even marked vegan on their website!

I live in Los Angeles. They use Little Brownie. (BOOOOOO!!!!!!) So every year I will drive to Orange County and find a place where they are selling cookies, usually at a table in front of a supermarket. Booth sales this year began on February 14 and they will go until March 9. You can use this amazing Orange County only zip code finder to find the closest vegan Girl Scout cookies to LA. Just plug in a zip code for a town close to L.A. like Seal Beach (90740) or Westminster (92683) and you’ll be on your way.

UPDATE #1:

I have some good news! @nicolegp, a vegan instagrammer, spoke with ABC’s customer service department which informed her that the sugar in the vegan cookies “is from sugar beets and does not use bone char in the refining process”!

UPDATE #2:

The company says that the new Cranberry Citrus Crisps are not vegan because one of the natural flavors is not vegan. So disregard the side note below since we now have the answer.

One side note: there is a new cookie that ABC is offering for the first time this year called Cranberry Citrus Crisps. They are NOT marked vegan, but none of the ingredients seem non-vegan. The info page for this cookie says, “This product is manufactured on equipment that processes products containing milk,” but so does the info page for the Peanut Butter Patties, which are marked vegan. If I had stumbled across these cranberry cookies in a store, and saw this ingredient list, I’d probably buy them. But maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Happy Cookieing!

12 best things i 8 in ’13

5 Jan

Ten

Wait, did the year end? Crap, I gotta get this list out! Following a yearslong (two) tradition, here are the y-1 best things i 8 in y = past year – 2000.

Chardonnay cheese by Chef Dave Anderson

Chardonnay cheese by Chef Dave Anderson

12. I don’t want to start off on a sad note but I’m starting off on a sad note. Because my #12 best thing i 8 in ’13 was the Chardonnay cheese from Maddy’s in West LA which has closed. (Insert frowneyface emoticon.) Maddy’s was the creation of Chef Dave Anderson who comes up with some amazing vegan creations. Chef Dave is one of those rare chefs who is equally amazing as a pastry chef and a regala chef. PLUS HE MAKES GREAT CHEESE. When I bought a jar of his Chardonnay cheese on the very first day Maddy’s opened and took it home and eated it I was floored. It was the best vegan cheese I’d ever had. How he made cashews taste like this I have no idea but it was remarkable. But then two things happened veese-a-veese the cheese: as Chef Dave’s employees took over making it, the quality declined, to the point where after a few months it went from the best vegan cheese ever to not even worth buying anymore, and… Maddy’s went out of business. But there’s some good cheews (cheese news) ahead, so read on.

Chocolate Almond Midnight at Millennium in San Francisco

Chocolate Almond Midnight at Millennium in San Francisco

11. The Chocolate Almond Midnight Cake from Millennium in San Francisco. If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t oh my goodness now I like you a little bit less) then you know I recently made my first trip to San Francisco as a vegan. And I ate at Millennium, an elegant all-vegan restaurant that is 19 years old, which is about a Millennium in the all-vegan elegant restaurant business. And I enjoyed their two-billion-ingredients food very much but the thing I remember most was this cake. It was so good. And that’s real praise from me. It was so good! I want it now, and every day, but my world is otherwise so I’ll just have to accept it. But go eat that cake!

buffalo sub

Buffalo Sub at Sweet Hereafter, a vegan bar in Portland, Ore. Photo © Vegtastic Voyage. Used by permission.

10. The Buffalo Sub at the Sweet Hereafter vegan bar in Portland Oregon while I was in town to attend Vida Vegan Con 2013. You can read my giant Portland blogpost if you want to learn about the conference and vegan Portland and while I had lots of really good food that weekend I think the best thing I ate was this soy curls sandwich. I’d never had soy curls before and I knew it was kinda a Portland thing since it’s made by Butler Foods in Grand Ronde Oregon (63.2 miles from Portland via OR-99W S and OR-18 W) and this sub was almost as great as the concept of a vegan bar! The only problem is that I have no photo of it. Because my phone died. And because specialneedseater, who was sharing said sandwich with me, refused to take a photo of it with her living phone. So I had to grab this photo from VVC’s own Vegtastic Voyage, who was nice enough to let me use it. (Can’t wait for VVCIII!)  And speaking of vegan bars, I just want to say that the Charlie Brown chocolate peanut butter brownie bar from Sweetpea Baking Co. in Portland was the runner up from my Vida Vegan Con weekend veganing. Check out this beautiful bad boy!

Potato Harra (aka the best French fries you will ever eat) at Hayat's Kitchen

Potato Harra (aka the best French fries you will ever eat) at Hayat’s Kitchen in North Hollywood

9. Potato Harra (French fries with garlic and cilantro) at Hayat’s Kitchen in North Hollywood. Yes, I’m putting French fries on my list. And no, I’m not putting them on my list because they’re “loaded” or “discoed” or anything where a ton of delicious stuff is dumped on them. I’m putting them on because it’s all very delicate and maybe even art. Oh, and spicy. Sneak up on you kick the crap out of you spicy. (Though I suppose you could ask for no red pepper flakes.) I found out about Hayat’s Kitchen from an entry on Eater LA that was about the great, secret, and  yup, “Loaded” vegan burger at M Cafe (which I had and which, sorry, isn’t all that special). But the article also mentioned Hayat’s. And what a find. I’ve been there twice now and it’s not just French fries, it’s lots of great Lebanese food for people like us. Including stuff like vegetarian kibbie (which spellcheck wants to change to vegetarian cabbie) that was also really good.

Not sure what V-RV stands for but these vegan red velvet cookies are great!

Not sure what V-RV stands for but these vegan red velvet cookies are great!

8. The V-RV cookies from Isabella’s Cookie Company. V-RV stands for Vegan Red Velvet. And stop rolling your eyes, I don’t love Red Velvet either. (Though come to think of it, the vegan red velvet cake from Jamaica’s Cakes might be the best vegan cake I’ve ever had, but I put it on a previous year’s list, and I don’t like to repeat myself.) I found these vegan recreational vehicles at the Co-Opportunity in Santa Monica, but lately they haven’t had any. (Insert another frowneyface.) But you can order them directly from Isabella’s. And if you do, I’ll just share my point of view that the V-Coco ones are also terrific and that the V-Breakfast ones are some of the most disgusting cookies I’ve ever put in my mouth. (There’s also a V-Ginger that I want to try but haven’t found in any stores yet.)

Pure Luck Pop Up Pulled Pork

Can you say Pure Luck Pop Up Pulled Pork three times fast?

7. The BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich from the Pure Luck pop-up. The beloved vegan restaurant Pure Luck closed not long after I went vegan, though I did get to eat there once before it shuttered. (I said “shuttered” because I didn’t want to say “closed” twice in the same sentence but I should have just said “closed” again because “shuttered” sounds so douchey.) But what I ate at the Pure Luck restaurant didn’t prepare me for how good this jackfruit Pulled Pork Sandwich from a hot plate outside a clothing store on Melrose was going to be. An incredible combination of flavors finished off with the perfect amount AND TYPE of pickles. I want one of these right now!

Mushroom Shu Mai at Street

Mushroom Shu Mai at Street

6. The Mushroom Shu Mai at the kinda gone Street. I say kinda gone because Street closed for a few weeks and emerged from its chrysalis as Mud Hen Tavern. Which I haven’t been to yet. Even though Chef Kajsa does some amazing vegan things. Like the Chinese New Year dim sum brunch last February  where I had these Mushroom Shu Mai and a lot of other amazing food. What am I waiting for?!

Punk Rawk Labs' delicious misnamed cheese

Punk Rawk Labs’ delicious yet poorly named cheese

5. The Smoked Cashew Cheese from Punk Rawk Labs. I know, I just told you how great that Chardonnay cheese from Maddy’s was. But that was before I had this. And after having this, I think this is the best vegan cheese I have ever had. And I don’t much like smoky things. And this isn’t really smoky at all. What it is is pepper coated, and that’s the dominant taste, and it’s an amazing dominant taste. And I’m content to let it dominate me. If it would only come back in stock at Viva La Vegan which is where I got it.

Peppermint Patty Brownie from Bramble Bake Shop

Peppermint Patty Brownie from Bramble Bake Shop

4. The Peppermint Patty Brownie from Bramble Bake Shop. According to the Bramble Bake Shop website they are opening on January 15th, but they did a holiday preview box and the peppermint patty brownie was one of the items in it, and item is a strange word to use for a piece of art, because that’s what this thing was. A creation that takes your brain in new directions. The complexity of a great wine. And not all that surprising, given that the owner of Bramble is Miel Bredouw, who was the sous chef at Mohawk Bend and also in charge of all their pastries, including the delicious horchata spice cake that Mohawk sold at the LA Vegan Beerfest, not to mention the amazing Cadbury eggs she made last Easter. If the preview box is a preview of what she’s going to be doing, I can’t wait for the actual view.

Vegan Drunken Noodles with gardein chick'n at Wazuzu in the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas

Noodles up the Wazuzu

3. Vegan Drunken Noodles at Wazuzu in the Encore at the Wynn in Las Vegas. I was vegan more than three years before I made it to Las Vegas. Before I made it to the Wynn. Which I ‘d heard for three years was a mecca of vegan fine dining. And I wasn’t disappointed. In four days I managed to eat a lot of their food and try a lot of their restaurants, though I need to go back soon and try all the rest. And though much of it was good, and some very good, I think my favorite thing was these Vegan Drunken Noodles, which were incredibly good. The serving was tremendous, enough for me to bring home three-quarters of it in a doggie bag and still be full, except that there was no doggie bag, and the bowl was empty when I was done, although there might have still been a drop of sauce. My bad.

California Cone at The Bazaar by José Andrés

California Cone at The Bazaar by José Andrés

2. The Bazaar by José Andrés. Okay, this is a place, not a dish. Because if I went by dishes then The Bazaar might have taken three or four spots on this list. I found out about this place from my partner in vegan crime, specialneedseater. Who told me this place had A SEPARATE VEGAN MENU. And it’s true. And she also told me I needed to go because the food on that svm is amazing. And it is. So if you have a special occasion to celebrate, go splurge here and try it. Oh, what were the things that would have taken up three or four spots on the list? The California Cones are pretty spectacular. The pisto is outrageous. (Is “outrageous” as douchey a word as “shuttered”?) The gazpacho is delicious. But I think my favorite might have been the jicama-wrapped guacamole. You get five to a serving. I could have eaten a hundred.

Blackened Tomatoes at the Plum Bistro pop up in Hollywood

Blackened Tomatoes at the Plum Bistro pop up in Hollywood

1. The Plum Bistro pop-up in Hollywood. Yup, I’m cheating again with a meal not a thing. Because this might be the best vegan meal I’ve ever had. Might be the best any meal I’ve ever had. Chef Makini Howell of Seattle’s Plum Bistro was the conductor of this symphony with contributions from Chef Shawain Jay of Cafe Blossom in New York and also from Chef Roberto Martin whose blackened tomatoes were one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. specialneedseater and I kept looking at each other in amazement over how good this food was. And after dinner we got a chance to chat with Chef Makini who said she was thinking about opening a permanent place in LA. I haven’t heard anything about that since but it would certainly be a lot easier than me moving to Seattle.

And that’s my list. Did you have some vegan food this year that was so good you had to shake your head in amazement? I’d love to hear about it, especially if it’s within driving distance of my driveway.

Livin’ La Pura Vida Loca

9 Dec

Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro
1236 Western Ave
Las Vegas NV 89102
702.722.0108

Pura Vida

Holy shit.

I have been to a lot of restaurants in my half a hundred years on Earth. I have seen a lot of weird things and experienced a lot of odd situations. But I have never walked into the middle of a Dali painting quite like this one.

I was in Vegas for business. If you look up Las Vegas on Happy Cow, there is only one all-vegan restaurant in the city (besides a few raw places) so I had to go. I also had to go because writing for the late great SuperVegan, my vegan pal specialneedseater raved about this place. I’ll settle that score separately.

So I drove my rental car into the near-the-railroad-tracks industrial wasteland a little north and west of the Strip and found Pura Vida. I was so excited.

The time: appx 11:30 on a Saturday. Are you ready? Let’s go.

I walked in and was greeted by a friendly server. He directed me to a nice two-top near the door. I sat down.

Before long, the owner, the famous (at least to Las Vegas vegans) Chef Mayra emerged from the kitchen and I saw her point at me and then have a conversation with the server. What did I do?!

The server came back to my table and told me that I had to move. Huh? Chef Mayra must have seen my look of puzzlement — you know, the look that any human would have in this situation — and said I couldn’t sit at the two-top because I was eating by myself and that I needed to move to a table in the back. I decided not to say anything and just comply.

But I have to say it was a bizarre request. The place wasn’t full. In fact, there was an entire section to the left of the entrance that wasn’t being used. And next to my two-top was another solo diner enjoying his lunch at a two-top. But I let it go and changed tables. To a table that not only left me facing the dirty spot where they threw table scraps into a bucket, BUT TO A TABLE THAT WAS ANOTHER TWO -TOP!

IMG_8255

Photo taken by me, sitting in my seat, of the other chair at my table, and beyond.

Why couldn’t the still-theoretical party of two get this crappy table instead of me? But again I didn’t say anything. I was there for the food and decided to go with the flow. So I sat down to look at my menu. Except I realized that when the server sat me there he never gave me a menu. That was odd. And now he was helping someone else. And not looking my way. And the other server wasn’t either. So I was left just sitting there. For quite a while. And then my server helped another party. And still I didn’t have a menu. And neither server was either within earshot of me nor in a position to catch my glance, so I sat there for quite a while menuless. Five minutes maybe? Wow, this was odd.

But then when my server finally grabbed a menu and came over to me, I realized why he hadn’t just given me a menu to start. It’s because the menus require a presentation. Or at least someone has decided they do. But first let me tell you that the very first thing the server said to me when he gave me the menu was: “Do you have a Groupon today?” And when I said no, he said, “Good.”

Now I’m not a big Yelper. I find it to be minimally helpful. So I didn’t check it before going to Pura Vida. But if you take a look at the Yelp reviews and search Groupon you will see a lot of stories. A LOT. And they are not good.

But I didn’t have a coupon, and so I was apparently allowed to order anything I wanted. So nice of them!

My server did his little presentation of the menu and I settled on the “WOW Pastry Puffs” that specialneedseater had raved about. The server then told me they would take about thirty minutes and that I should consider ordering an appetizer while I waited. Hmm, well, I do always like to try a few things at a place, especially when I won’t have the chance to get back for a while, so I said okay. He suggested the Chili Cheese Potatoes or the Salsa & Chips. I went with the potatoes. I then ordered a smoothie. “Sorry, we’re not doing smoothies right now.” Oh. Why, I asked. “Because Chef Mayra is the only one who can make the smoothies and she’s busy cooking right now.”

That seemed odd. Really? Nobody else is trained to make smoothies? No other human is capable of making one of their smoothies quite as well as Chef Mayra? But I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it and shrugged and asked for a glass of water instead.

Chile Cheese Potatoes. $9 worth of potatoes with a little vegan cheese and chili.

Chile Cheese Potatoes. $9 worth of potatoes with a little vegan cheese and chili.

Maybe ten minutes later my chili cheese potatoes came out and they looked terrific. Don’t they look amazing? Well, they weren’t amazing. They weren’t bad but they weren’t good either. They were mediocre. Solidly mediocre. I ate a little more than half of them, due to their mediocrity and to me not wanting to fill up on potatoes with my main course coming, and I settled in to wait. And I have to say, contrary to what other people on Yelp have endured, it wasn’t bad. I’d say that the puff pastries arrived maybe 25 minutes after I ordered them, which was fine. It wasn’t a problem to me.

WOW Puff Pastry. The only thing WOW about these was the $16 price tag.

And don’t they look terrific? I was pretty excited. And then they were mediocre. Not bad. Not good. Mediocre. Okay, I thought. I know what’s going on here. This is the only all-vegan restaurant in the city, and the Vegas Vegans defend it. They didn’t have any vegan restaurants for a long time and so they embraced this one. And maybe they find all the strange behavior to be charming, or at worst eccentric. Not annoying. The way someone like me, who lives in a city which has so many vegan options that I don’t have to tolerate let alone defend mediocre food and odd behavior, would see this place.

Dessert Menu

So I ate my puff pastry and then asked about dessert. There were three desserts on the dessert menu that day. Two contained banana and I don’t like banana. And they were sold out of the non-banana one. So I asked my server about the Peanut Butter & Banana Silk Pie since that one said it had “bananas on top” and I thought maybe they could be left off, but it turned out that one was also sold out. Two of the three desserts were sold out long before closing. And keep in mind, this is a place with the word “bakery” in its name, and which places the word “bakery” before the word “bystro” in its name. And yes, they spell “bistro” with a “y” — an affectation that should have tipped me off to to how byzarre thys joynt ys.

Anyway, I skipped dessert and asked for the check and was paying when Chef Mayra came out of the kitchen and asked how everything was. And although I wasn’t going to say anything, since she wanted to know, I said, “Well, I still don’t understand why you moved me.” And I’m not a mental health expert, so I won’t attempt to characterize the condition of the human who responded, but rather I’ll just share the response.

“I moved you because the server should never have sat you there. One person is supposed to be sat in the back and I have told them that repeatedly. I guess they need even more training.” Me: But I was already seated, and the gentleman next to me was by himself at a two-top, and there were other open tables in the restaurant, and the table that you moved me to was also a two-top. “But I can’t take a chance that I leave you sitting there, and then a party of two comes in and they have to be sat in the back and I’m not going to do this.” But why should they get priority over me for the better table? “Because this is a destination restaurant. I have people come from out of town and go out of their way to eat here. I have people who take cabs from the Strip to eat here!” I did not point out to her that she never asked me if I was from out of town, or if her restaurant was a destination for me. Because at that point I saw the look in the eyes. You know the look. The look that makes you say to yourself, “Whoa!” And like I said, I’m not a mental health expert, so I will not venture to characterize what was staring back at me from those eyes,  but if you my dear reader happen to be an expert in this field, or at least a trained professional, and have visited Pura Vida and spoken to Chef Mayra, I would love to get your official take on what we are dealing with here.

And by the way, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to trust my take on the situation. All you need to do is go to Yelp. Look up Pura Vida and then click “rating” and then click it again so it gives you all the one-star reviews first. Then read through all the one-star reviews and two-star reviews and even most of the three-star reviews and after reading dozens of these you’ll start to see that everyone felt the exact same way.

Another thing I should mention is that if you look on Yelp, there are a lot of complaints about people still waiting for their food long after the rest of their party had been served, and that when they asked their server about it they were told: your entrée was given to someone else by mistake. And this happened to a nearby table while I was there! I heard a gentleman ask where his food was – the woman he was with had her food for a while – and he was told it was given to someone else by mistake. What was strange was that looking around, there was no other table that seemed like it could have received his meal. The other tables were all finishing up, so I was confused. But now after reading Yelp, I know that this is just an excuse the servers are told to say to cover up for ridiculous wait times. And there are also people on Yelp complaining about being asked to change tables for no reason after having already been seated.

But I saved the best part for last. While I was eating, I heard one of the customers at another table tell a server that she heard Pura Vida was closing. And the server said it was true, but that they would be re-opening elsewhere and that she couldn’t say anything else about it. So after getting Chef Mayra’s “explanation” as to why she moved me to a table with a view of the dirtiest, most disgusting part of the restaurant, I told her I heard that Pura Vida was closing. Her eyes sprang from her head in pure Captain Queeg style and she said, or rather insisted,  in a loud voice, “Who told you that?!” I was vague and just said I’d heard it. She then said it was true, and that they had to move because the area was being taken for a freeway expansion project, but that she already found a new location which she couldn’t tell me about, but she proudly said that it was going to be a “148-seat location.”

Well, it’s a good thing my food was pretty far down in my belly by then or I’d have spit it out laughing. The current restaurant has 14 seats on the side that I was on, and another 12 to 16 seats on the other side of the restaurant, which was closed. So let’s take this in:  this woman can not run her already tiny restaurant effectively unless she further cuts the seating in half, and she’s planning on opening a space that’s ten times the size of what it was today? My prediction is that she’s going to go out of business pretty fast. And you know what? She deserves to. She’s a gigantic asshole serving mediocre food at ridiculously expensive prices and who seems to think she’s the vegan Alice Waters.

Maybe if you’re a vegan who lives in Las Vegas you don’t want to head down to the Strip for lunch any more than a New Yorker would have wanted to head to Times Square for lunch in 1985 but trust me, there is much better food to be had at the Wynn and elsewhere for similar or not much higher prices. Pura Vida is what vegan food USED TO BE. Mediocre, expensive and served by a weirdo. We don’t have to live like this any more, folks. We are everywhere now. But if you’re a defender, and I’m sure I will hear from many of them, then my suggestion is to go now and go often because with a 148-seat establishment, you’re going to have to wait about seven hours for your $9 pile of diced potatoes and that might be about as long as that spot will stay in business.

Part three: The Green Truck has egg on its face

21 Nov
So now it's a "Veggie Burger" with a "Veggie Patty." Yup.

So now it’s a “Veggie Burger” with a “Veggie Patty.” That other stuff they said? Never mind.

This is just a quick post because I realized that although I instagrammed the denouement I never posted it on the blog. So for completion’s sake here’s what happened, as told on Instagram earlier this month:

Not sure what to say about the Green Truck at this point. Almost decided to just let this go and not report back to y’all about what happened. As you probably remember, not that long ago I went to the Green Truck in LA when it was over on Wilshire near LACMA. I ordered their signature item: the “Mother Trucker Vegan Burger” and it was served to me on an obviously eggy bun. I asked and they said they thought the bun indeed had egg and they called the owner who instantly confirmed it had egg. So the owner knew the bun contained egg but was still presenting it to the public as a vegan burger. Went back the next day in a hat and dark glasses with a different name and ordered the “Mother Trucker Vegan Burger” and the same workers in the truck sold it to me again without tipping me to any non-vegan issues and again it was served to me on an eggy bun. When someone tweeted the owner to ask about my reporting, he said it was just a “rumor” and also someone named Sara from Green Truck left a comment on my blog claiming it’s usually served on a vegan bun (even though the workers in the truck told me it’s “always” served on the eggy bun) and also claiming that whenever they run out of these alleged-to-exist vegan buns they note that on their menu board (which the pix I posted that day last month showed not to be so).

After my tweets and blog posts set records for hits and retweets and were seen by over 100,000 people, the Green Truck changed its menu board the next week to say “Mother Trucker Veggie Burger. Go full vegan! Have Mother Trucker Vegan Patty on greens or kale.” So much for it being a “rumor.” But I did not trust the lowlifes who own the Green Truck to police themselves so I filed a number of complaints with local authorities about what happened and now this week when I paid another visit to the Green Truck the menu board, as you can see, had been changed yet again to read: “Mother Trucker Veggie Burger. Mixed greens, tomato, veggie patty, trucker sauce.” So I have to wonder if this is the result of the proper authorities coming down on them, and I have to wonder if the patty itself was ever vegan since they’re now saying it’s “veggie” not “vegan” and I have to wonder if the patties they were selling at the LA Vegan Beerfest were merely vegetarian and not vegan. It’s a sad state of affairs, really, and makes me wonder about all their other claims of greenness and sustainability and whether or not the “Green” in “Green Truck” is referring to an altogether different kind of green, which really makes me blue.

Part two: The Green Trucks give me the blues

4 Oct

I suppose I could feel angry, hurt, cheated, or any other number of feelings about what has transpired with the Green Trucks over the past couple of days, but the profound feeling that I have is sadness. I am sad that these people are such profound assholes.

This morning I received a comment on my blog post from someone named Sara at Green Truck. I’m going to re-post it here because it is one of the most astounding things you will ever read, and it confirms for me that the Green Truck people are vermin.

Green Truck comment

Rarely have I come across a piece of writing that reeked this badly. Let’s go through it. She starts by defending the patty. “Our Mother Trucker Vegan Patties have been made in house with locally sourced ingredients since 2007. ” Classic straw man maneuver, since I never questioned whether the patty was vegan. “We do offer our patty on vegan bread, a bed of kale”… let me stop right there. Um, no, you don’t. There was no vegan bread offered to me, nor was I offered the choice to have it on kale. I was not offered ANY choice. It was served to me on an eggy bun. And when I spoke with the two people in the truck, and they called the owner who immediately confirmed there was egg in the bun, the only thing I was offered as a result was a tortilla. But no choices were offered to me beforehand. “This is up to the customer”… um, no, it is not. And then she pathetically hides behind the non-sequitor of some people like their vegan patties on eggy buns with bacon and cheese! Well, good for them and, for the record, vegans DO NOT LIKE THEIR BURGERS ON EGGY BUNS WITH BACON AND CHEESE YOU SHITHEAD. And a burger called vegan that contains these items IS NOT VEGAN.

“Our menu supports vegans and non-vegans alike” — well, your vegan burger doesn’t support vegans because it contains egg, and your beef burger and chicken pesto sandwich kinda tipped me off that your truck supports non-vegans, even though “supports” is a terrible word choice that shows what a terrible writer you are. But I digress.

“Our Mother Trucker patty is 100% vegan” — here’s the straw man again “and it is the customer’s choice as to how they wish to accompany it.” This is the kind of sentence that really let’s the entire world know what lowlifes these people are. It was not the customer’s choice at all. There was no choice offered. The burger is called the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger, and as served it is not vegan. Nor is the customer notified that oh by the way, if you want your vegan burger to be vegan, you have to speak up and tell us that, even though of course how could you know that, since we tell you on our menu board and our website that it’s vegan, it just isn’t. But hey, it’s your choice. But if you don’t know, and thus don’t speak up, your “vegan” burger will be accompanied by animal products that by definition are not vegan.

And then comes the killer comment: “No deception here.” Are you old enough, or well-enough versed in history, to remember Nixon’s “I am not a crook”? Well, here’s the newest iteration: “No deception here.” Are you realizing at this point what kind of scum these people are? It’s truly shocking.

“On days where we have run out of the vegan bun it is served on an artisanal bun which is listed on printed menus on the truck and it is the customer’s choice if they wish to sans the bun and go with the bed of kale to ensure their meal is vegan.” First of all, sans is not a verb. I think she sansed an education. Second of all, why should I have to change anything to make an item called “vegan burger” vegan? And third, the menu board on the truck describes it only as “Mother Trucker Vegan Burger” and doesn’t say anything about the bun, and neither does the printed menu description from the website:

Green Truck menu

Your description doesn’t say a damn thing about the bun. But you call it a BURGER and you DO serve it on a bun and you say it’s a VEGAN BURGER so why would any customer ever think that they had to speak up and tell you they don’t want the bun? More to the point, nobody said to me: “We’re out of vegan buns, is a non-vegan bun okay or do you want it on a bed of kale.” Quite the opposite, THEY DIDN’T SAY A WORD.  As if I’m supposed to know to ask whether the bun on their vegan burger is vegan or not. And do you know why nobody working there said anything about the bun? Because as I said in my previous post, when I asked the woman working in the truck, she said the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger is ALWAYS served on that eggy bun.

It doesn’t matter if she’s only worked on your truck for a year, a month or a week, it tells me all I need to know about your claim that it’s usually served on a vegan bun and that your truck usually carries both vegan and non-vegan buns. This directly contradicts not only what I experienced but also contradicts what YOUR employee told me.

And then you go on to say, “Our apologies if your experience was confusing.” Well, Samuel Johnson was wrong. Patriotism is not the last refuge of the scoundrel. The last refuge of the scoundrel is claiming that the other side is confused. She does it here, and the douchebag who handles the Green Truck in San Diego did it to me last night when he said, “I can understand your confusion.” There is nothing confusing about the situation. You people are worthless and despicable. You are boils on the ass of humanity, wrapped up in a package of alleged greenness. You think you’re clever and can explain away the obvious but what’s obvious is that you don’t realize how transparent you are. I’m not confused at all. It’s pretty simple: you are poop.

She closes with, “We love our local vegan community and proudly provide delicious, organic fare.” I don’t care if the egg in your vegan burger is delicious egg or organic egg because I’M VEGAN AND I DON’T EAT EGG. As for whether you love the vegan community, I can’t speak to that. There’s all kinds of love. There are parents who love their kids yet burn them with cigarettes. Is that the kind of love you are talking about?

Okay everyone, are you ready for the big surprise? Oh wait, there’s something else I want to talk about before the surprise. It’s that fuckface tool down in San Diego. He whined to me like a baby last night that he was separately owned from Green Truck and that I was harming his business. He also didn’t apologize, for my confusion or otherwise. If he really gave a shit about vegans he would have expressed concern about my vegan burger containing egg, but he didn’t even have it in him to pretend he cared about that. But you know what I saw today? It turns out that Mr. I’m In San Diego And The Los Angeles Green Trucks Are Separate Separate Separate has his own Twitter account for the San Diego Green Truck (@GreenTruck_SD) and this morning he tweeted about the Green Truck Los Angeles being back on Wilshire today! And a few days ago he tweeted about the LA Green Truck being in Santa Monica! Now keep in mind, there is also another twitter account for the GreenTruck (@GreenTruck) but I’m talking about a Twitter that specifically describes itself as the San Diego Green Truck twitter yet promotes the appearances of the LA Green Truck in Los Angeles. And the fact that this San Diego account was tweeting this morning about the Green Truck being on Wilshire today after his email to me last night — without ever apologizing or explaining what happened on Wilshire yesterday — tells you plenty about Mr. San Diego Green Truck Fartlips. He’s a giant, giant asshole. And… not long after I received the comment from Green Truck’s Sara, the tweet on the San Diego twitter account promoting today’s Wilshire appearance was deleted! But fear not, because I screen-shot it before it disappeared and here it is:

@greentruck_SD tweet

So I do want to thank Mr. San Diego Green Truck Crybaby because without his tweet this morning I would have never thought to go back to Green Truck today. Which I did after receiving Sara’s comment, so thank you to Sara as well. And that’s the surprise! I went back to the Green Truck, ordered the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger from the same person who sold it to me yesterday, WHO DID NOT ASK IF I WANTED IT ON KALE OR IN A TORTILLA OR ON A NON-VEGAN BUN OR WHETHER I CARED IF IT WAS EVEN REALLY VEGAN OR ANY OTHER QUESTION WHATSOEVER. She just took my name and money, and then a few minutes later I was given a box marked “vegan” that contained my Mother Trucker Vegan Burger. And here it is, with today’s LA Times to show you that I really went back today and experienced the exact same thing despite the comments and remarks from representatives of both the Los Angeles and Green Trucks defending themselves to the hilt. THE SAME THING HAPPENED AGAIN.

Non-vegan vegan burger. Two days in a row. Sad and disgraceful. Shame on them!

Non-vegan vegan burger. Two days in a row. Sad and disgraceful. Shame on them!

Like I said, it makes me sad. Yesterday was bad enough. But after everyone at Green Truck was made well aware of what happened yesterday, they pulled the same thing again. I know. There’s really only one conclusion that can be drawn. They are knowingly selling a non-vegan burger as a vegan burger. The same woman who sold it to me yesterday didn’t say a word to me when I ordered it today, even though I wore a hat and big sunglasses today and used a different name so there was no way she knew it was me. I was wrong when I said in my post yesterday that she was nice. She’s yet another piece of Green Truck Trash. Is this job really so important to her that she would do this? Are the owners so terrible that she thinks they would fire her in a second if she didn’t stick to the party line and keep her mouth shut about the eggy buns? And speaking of these Dogshit Owners, after all that happened yesterday, and after Mr. San Diego Green Truck told me last night that he spoke to them about it, they send that truck out again today with none of their supposed- vegan buns (remember, the woman on the truck said the vegan burger ALWAYS comes on the eggy buns) and with no instructions to the staff to at least warn people that, as served, the vegan burger isn’t vegan at all. I can’t tell you when I’ve encountered such pathetic, despicable people.

But we’ll see what happens. My original tweets about the story yesterday were retweeted to tens of thousands of people today. And my blog post about the incident drove record traffic to my blog. The vegan community in LA is big but it’s not that big that word won’t get around to everyone. Ditto the Green community here. Word is spreading about the kind of people involved with the Green Trucks. The proper authorities in LA are being notified about the risks to those with egg allergens, among other things. And soon everyone will know what kind of green these people really care about.

(Did I mention that the dickwad in San Diego says the buns on his vegan burgers have always been vegan? And that I believe him? He’s a dickwad for other reasons, and not nearly as big a dickwad as the Los Angeles Green Truck dickwads, but a dickwad nonetheless. But don’t worry about his vegan burgers not being vegan. Because he assures me they are. So if you want an actual vegan Green Truck Mother Trucker Vegan Burger, all you have to do is drive to San Diego! Easy Peasy, right?)

This vegan burger isn’t vegan so they can Green Truck themselves

3 Oct

Green Truck
multiple trucks and locations
(310) 204-0477

Green Truck

UPDATE: 

I received an email this evening from David Holtze who claims to be the owner/operator of the Green Truck San Diego, which he says is a “separate business LLC” — this despite a shared website and a shared fax number on that website. He asks that I remove any reference to “San Diego” in my post because it is “causing harm to my business.” It seems to me that what is causing harm to his business is an association with a Green Truck in Los Angeles that is selling non-vegan vegan burgers. My post did not say that this happened in San Diego — it explicitly stated that this happened in Los Angeles.  In fact, my only reference to San Diego was in a general sentence that began “It’s hard to operate a food truck in LA (or San Diego)” and so I will remove the words “San Diego” from that sentence as a courtesy to Mr. Holtze and I will point out that he says he has served only local vegan focaccia buns since the day he has opened. I am happy to hear this since it means there is at least one Green Truck out there whose vegan burgers are actually vegan. So if you live in San Diego, go enjoy a vegan burger from his Green Truck and write him a positive review on Yelp if you like it, since he says he received a negative one tonight.

But obviously Mr. Holtze’s (vegan) beef is not with me but with the Green Truck in Los Angeles that is serving non-vegan vegan burgers. That is what is causing any perceived damage to his business. Does Mr. Holtze not realize that he shares a website with the Green Truck in Los Angeles? Does Mr. Holtze not realize that this website lists his weekly San Diego schedule alongside the weekly Los Angeles schedule? Does Mr. Holtze not realize that there is nothing to alert a visitor to this website that the Green Trucks are separately owned? And so clearly, his concern should not be directed toward this blog, but to the owner of the Green Truck in Los Angeles that is selling non-vegan vegan burgers. It seems that Mr. Holtze wants to have his vegan burger and eat it too, associating himself with Green Truck Los Angeles when it comes to a joint website, yet separating himself from Green Truck Los Angeles when there’s a problem.

Two final things to note in this update: Mr. Holtze’s buns in San Diego don’t even contain honey, and Mr. Holtze needs to stop slanderously using the word “slanderous.” Furthermore, he must immediately apologize to me at the top of the joint Green Truck website for his reckless and actionable comment that my post is causing harm to his business, and he should insist that SEPARATELY OWNED Green Truck Los Angeles apologize to the vegan community right under his apology to me, and then for heaven’s sake he should learn not to shoot the messenger!

My Original Post:

I haven’t posted in a while but this truck drove me to it. This isn’t a typical complaint about a vegan food item not being vegan. This is bigger than that. This is what appears to be an intentional fraud perpetrated on the vegan community. And it gets worse.

Back in May I went to the LA Vegan Beer Fest. It was great. Lots of vegan beer and food. Including the Green Truck. I’d heard about their Mother Trucker Vegan Burger and really wanted to try it. And I did. And it was good.

The Mother Trucker Vegan Burger is something that’s always on the menu at the Green Truck. Along with a number of meat items. But of course at the LAVBF they could only sell vegan items, so instead of their meat sandwiches they had a few different vegan offerings. But I got the Mother Trucker since I’d never had it before. And this is what it looked like:

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger at LA Vegan Beer Fest.

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger at LA Vegan Beer Fest.

It looks good, right? Well, here’s what it looked like when it was served to me today on Wilshire near LACMA:

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger. I mean "Vegan" Burger.

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger. I mean “Vegan” Burger.

If there’s one thing I can spot after 3+ years as a vegan, it’s an eggy bun. That bricohy shine gives it away every time. So I asked the two people working in the truck if the bun contained egg. The woman taking the orders said she thought so and looked at the man making the orders who said yes, he thought it did have egg. And let me say right now that both these people were extremely friendly and seemed like they wanted to do the right thing. So much so that the man making the food immediately volunteered to call the owner and ask. As I stood there, he called, he asked, and he was IMMEDIATELY told that yes, the buns contain egg. After he ended the phone call I politely said, “Okay, well then your vegan burger isn’t vegan.” And they agreed. And the man making the food offered to re-make it in a tortilla as a wrap, so I said okay, and he did, and it was tasty.

So a lot of credit goes to the people working the truck. There was no eye-rolling, they understood the problem, and they tried to rectify it. They didn’t act like they were well aware of the problem from other people asking. But maybe I’m a sucker and they knew they were selling non-vegan vegan burgers. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because like I said, they only seemed like they wanted to help.

It’s the owner of the Green Truck who’s the piece of shit. Here is a guy who knew immediately that the buns contain egg, who knowingly markets the burger as a vegan burger to the point that the word “vegan” is in the name of the burger, and who was a vendor at LA Vegan Beer Fest, so I KNOW it was made clear to him at that time what were and weren’t permissible ingredients. Oh, and I should mention that when I asked the people working the truck if that’s the bun that the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger is always served on they both said yes.

This is unacceptable.

My first email was to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. What if people with an egg allergy are buying this burger because they think it’s vegan, but being served egg? That’s a real problem. My next email was to the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. This seems to me to be a situation where we are knowingly being sold something that is not the thing we are told we are being sold. The third email was to the Los Angeles County Agricultural Department’s Weights & Measures Division. They are the ones who regulate consumer overcharges, farmers market fraud, etc.

As I said, it’s one thing for someone to incorrectly market a non-vegan item as vegan. It’s another for someone to knowingly pass off a non-vegan item as vegan. But it’s a whole other thing when someone participates in the LA Vegan Beer Fest, takes advantage of the publicity afforded that event to promote themselves as vegan-friendly and ingratiate themselves with the vegan community, and then turns around and does something like this.

Oh, and did I mention the emails going to the movie studios and production companies around town, since the Green Truck does a lot of their business on a catering basis at those facilities? Whoever might be thinking of hiring them or bringing them back needs to know what is going on and what their employees are being subjected to. Because if the vegan burger isn’t vegan, how do we know if the “organic” ingredients are really organic, or if the “local” ingredients are really local?

This business needs to be fully investigated by the proper authorities. And believe me, it will be now. And every single violation that is noted — such as no conspicuous litter receptacle as required by LAMC 80.73(b)2(D — will be reported. The truck extends into a red zone? It will now be photographed and reported. Oh and guess what, they were just in Santa Monica yesterday selling their non-vegan vegan burger. Were they 35 feet from the nearest truck as required by that permit? That’s another email.

It’s hard to operate a food truck in LA (<<courtesy redaction>>) even when you’re being honest with your customers. I can only imagine how hard it must be to retain your permits if there’s a steady stream of clear violations being properly documented and reported. Hmmm. Maybe it’s impossible?

Field Roast might be the worst vegan food company ever, also known as The Mystery of the Fake Fake Meat Booth

19 May

IMG_7547

The Field Roast booth with the giant Field Roast sign.

2nd UPDATE: The person who ran this booth without Field Roast’s knowledge has responded in the comments under the name “Walter.”

UPDATE: The owner of Field Roast has responded to me with the following comment:

“Hi…this is the doofus owner of Field Roast.  It wasn’t a Field Roast booth and we had no idea that he was going to register as Field Roast.  Walter May has been selling Field Roast for years at World Fest….i’m sorry for the confusion.  We will certainly talk to Walter, we had no idea that he was registering the booth at Field Roast.  We have never met him but wish him well…as he is putting out the vegan food for all.  Peace – David.”

Frankly I find this to now be an even more shocking story. Someone registered this booth as Field Roast, it was listed on the WorldFest website as a Field Roast booth, it had a giant Field Roast sign on the booth, and they were selling stuff as Field Roast (for example: “Our corn dogs”) that weren’t actually Field Roast, and yet the owner of Field Roast wishes the mysterious Walter May well? A little research shows that this booth was also registered as Field Roast last year! Why would WorldFest allow this to happen? Could I have registered a booth as, let’s say, Odwalla, hung a giant Odwalla sign, and then sold a different company’s juices with signs that said “Our famous carrot juice” and this would have been fine with WorldFest? This is something the Attorney General’s office will need to look into, as well as the Department of Recreation and Parks. The vegan community has been scammed. I think I will find a class action lawyer to get involved.

ORIGINAL POST:

I was really excited. I looked at the website for WorldFest, which bills itself as “L.A.’s Largest Veg Festival” featuring a “Vegan Food Court” and I saw that Field Roast was going to be one of the exhibitors. I thought this might be a chance to try some of their foodservice items that aren’t available in stores. I was even hoping they might have the Field Roast burgers, which as far as I knew were only available at Safeco Field, the Mariners’ ballpark in Field Roast’s hometown of Seattle.

In fact, I was so excited about trying these items that I decided it was worth a pretty far drive, a $9 admission fee, and $5 to park. I tweeted @FieldRoast to see if they’d be selling their burgers but of course they didn’t respond since their social media is awful and they rarely respond to questions and comments. But I did see on their twitter that they were also at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago today. That’s impressive, I thought, that they could handle two events in two different cities in one weekend.

Well, it turns out they can’t, or they didn’t, I’m not sure which. You see, @VeganEvents, which if you’re not following them on Twitter and you live in Southern California what are you waiting for?!, was nice enough to see my tweet and let me know that the Field Roast booth at Worldfest was selling corn dogs. Okay, I decided, they’re there and selling Field Roast items I can’t get in stores, so I’m going.

I drove out, paid to park, paid to get in, found the Field Roast booth with the big Field Roast sign, and waited on a long line to order.

IMG_7559

When I got to the front of the line I was really excited to see a whole bunch of items I’d never seen before. Meatball subs! Corn dogs! And yes, Veggie Burgers! Score! I didn’t know what to get so I was prepared to order a whole bunch of things. “I’ll take a meatball sub,” I said, when it was my turn to order. “And a corn dog! Oh, and a veggie burger, too! And I suppose I should get some fries to go with it all!” Man, was I psyched for a feast.

Then the thought occurred to me: are these the Field Roast veggie burgers from Safeco Field or the Field Roast coconut cutlets foodservice item I’d seen on their website. So I asked that question. “Uh…” the woman replied, they’re these,” at which point she picked up a bag and handed it to me: Gardenburger Flame Grilled veggie burgers, a frozen pack like the kind you’d get at Costco, full of hydrogenated oil and other garbage. The kind of stuff that’s not even allowed to be sold at Whole Foods because of the junk ingredients they contain. And yet here was Field Roast passing them off as their own, to unsuspecting customers who didn’t think to ask what they were buying.

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I was stunned. So of course I didn’t order one. I just got the meatball sub and the corn dog and the fries and paid. And I was overcharged by five dollars by the way, an error I only realized because the price seemed way too high, but I think this was probably just an honest mistake, and they corrected it. Anyway, while I was waiting, the thought occurred to me: Is it possible that these meatballs aren’t a Field Roast item? Now keep in mind, the Field Roast classic meatloaf is my favorite Field Roast item as well as my favorite vegan meatloaf, so I just assumed it was made of something like that. But now I decided to ask. “Excuse me, what are the meatballs in the meatball sub?” The woman was very nice and went and got the bag to show me. “Whole Foods 365 Meatless Meatballs.”

Meatballs

Are they kidding me? Look, I knew Field Roast was not the best-run company, because I’d spoken with the owner at the Natural Products Expo and frankly, I found the guy to be a total doofus, but I had no idea he was capable of something like this. So then I had to know more: “Uh, and that corn dog I ordered, is that Field Roast?” She didn’t know and couldn’t find a bag, so she went behind the tent and asked one of the guys cooking the food. He came out and told me he’d check and then returned to tell me they were Cedar Lake brand corn dogs. Okay, I’ve eaten Cedar Lake products before. You can get them at Viva La Vegan or at some of the Seventh Day Adventist stores, like the one I sometimes go to in Glendale. They’re pretty good actually. But they’re frozen food! And they’re NOT FIELD ROAST! (And note that the sign in the photo of the menu above says they are “our” corn dogs.)

So after asking some more questions it turned out that the only thing Field Roast at the entire Field Roast booth, of the six different items they were selling, was the sausage! How the hell was this a Field Roast booth at all? Which raises the question: Was it? It sure says clearly on the WorldFest website that it was. There sure was a big sign up at the booth saying that it was. And there was even this sign taped to the inside wall of the booth saying clearly that it was, with this name, whoever the hell that might be.

Inside sign

But was someone pulling a fast one on Field Roast? Or did Field Roast, in their endless idiocy, authorize someone to falsely sell other companies’ cheap frozen products as their own gourmet items? Because while I’m not a lawyer, I have to wonder if that counts as criminal fraud. In fact, I am going to write a letter to the California Attorney General’s office, as well as the state of Washington’s Attorney General’s office and the FDA, and submit my evidence and photos, and let them decide if Field Roast was victimizing the vegan community here, or was itself perhaps the victim of a fraud.

And I didn’t even get into the customer service, which was abysmal. Now look, I get it, it was a fair, with long lines, so I’m not going to dwell on it, but even by those standards what was going on at this booth was horrific. I waited half an hour for those french fries, only to watch them finally arrive, be put onto two separate plates, and given to two other customers who supposedly were waiting even longer than I was. And that was it, that was all the french fries that were made. But I, and about five or six other people, were also waiting for fries. Sorry, we were told, the fryer also has to be used for the corn dogs, so we can’t cook too many french fries at once. Really? You can only cook enough for two orders? After I waited 30 minutes for them? Well, how long till more come out? Twenty to thirty minutes, I was told. At which point I asked for my money back and was given it. And by the way, while I was waiting, there were several people waiting for all kinds of food that they hadn’t received, including some people who’d been waiting since before I ordered. And then they announced that they were out of meatballs, prompting people who’d been waiting for their meatball subs to react with anger. Like I said, a complete and utter disaster.

But lame service is one thing. Like I said, it’s a fair. But falsely passing off cheap supermarket items as their own gourmet products is another matter altogether. One for which Field Roast owes the vegan community an explanation. We’re waiting.

Oh Whole Foods, it’s getting worse not better…

7 May
Whole Foods card

Prepared Foods case at the Westwood store in Los Angeles

Good ol’ Whole Foods. Will they ever get their vegan/vegetarian labeling act together? Will they ever hire staffers who understand what both words mean and the difference between them? How on Earth can they sell two Beyond Meat vegan chicken salads, yet label one of them “vegan” but the other one merely “vegetarian” even though the name of the item itself starts with “vegan”?! It’s really mind-boggling, isn’t it? Adding to the mystery, it appears that Whole Foods has decided to start removing the “Beyond Meat” name from the Beyond Meat items they are selling, even though up until recently they not only included the name Beyond Meat in both the name and ingredients list for these products, they even had secondary cards clipped to many of them touting the fact that they were made with Beyond Meat! But as you can see here, one item lists its main ingredient as “Beyond Meat Chicken” but the other just calls it “Chicken-Free Strips” without mentioning the company’s name. Has there been some kind of dispute or falling out? Very odd.

Either way, the labeling error here is part of a larger problem I’ve seen at Whole Foods for the past few years. Many of their prepared food items that, based on their ingredients lists, are obviously vegan, are instead labeled as vegetarian. And of course such carelessness makes you wonder what’s really in any of their products or how many of their other products are mislabeled. And further, it makes me wonder what Whole Foods’ definition of “vegan” is for purposes of labeling these cards. Does “vegan” extend to honey? Bone char in refined sugar? “Natural flavor” that might include animal products? If they’ve published their definition of what makes something “vegan” I can’t find it.

There really needs to be a soul-searching at Whole Foods and some respect paid to the desires and needs of their vegan customers, especially since John Mackey the head honcho there is himself vegan. John, do you follow my blog?

Whole Foods continues to botch its vegan/vegetarian labels

27 Apr

Whole Foods Logo

You might remember that a couple of months ago I wrote about the new labels that Whole Foods started using on their pre-packaged prepared foods. They came out with two symbols — “VN” and “VEG” —  and it wasn’t clear what they meant, an obvious problem considering that the goal of introducing the symbols was clarity.

While looking at the newly labeled products I’d noticed that their Greek Orzo with a “VN” symbol had cheese in it, so it was clear that “VN” couldn’t mean “vegan.” But… it did mean vegan. Because they made a mistake. So not only were the symbols themselves confusing, they were misapplying them, too.

After I tweeted a link to my post, Whole Foods replied and told me they’d look into the problem, and a few weeks later they got back to me and said the orzo was mislabeled and they were correcting it. And one of my favorite followers, @10ftdoll, brought the problem to their attention at the store level. And sure enough, before long, the orzo labels were changed to show the “VEG” symbol not the “VN” one. And “VEG” is short for “VEGETARIAN” because it’s obviously the first three letters of “VEGETARIAN” and apparently it doesn’t matter that it’s also the first three letters of “VEGAN” and apparently that didn’t occur to the geniuses involved in creating these symbols who never thought to go with “VGT” or something else with a letter that’s not in “VEGAN” thus making it obvious what they were talking about. Because why would you want to be obvious when your goal is clarity?

Anyway, at least they corrected their unintentional mistake with the orzo so that only their intentional mistakes remained. In other words, at least the new labels and symbols were now merely useless and not incorrect. Until this week.

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Because this week at my local Whole Foods while looking through their pre-packaged items I noticed more mistakes. Now remember, it’s Whole Foods, so maybe, according to their Alice in Wholefoodsland logic, these mistakes are intentional, but to me and you and everyone but the idiots creating and signing off on these symbols, they’re mistakes nonetheless. Because as you can see from these photos, both the “Red Quinoa Salad” and the “Superfoods Salad” are mislabeled. They both are marked vegetarian (VEG) not vegan (VN) even though a reading of the labels shows them both to be vegan.

Quinoa ingredients

How does this happen? Do the people labeling these foods not understand what their own labels mean? Are they just careless? Even though they already had to correct a mistake with the orzo do they still not pay close attention to their work? And after all, there’s money at stake! If vegans don’t ever pick up these packages to read the ingredients label on the bottom because they see the “VEG” not “VN” symbol on the front, how many packs are being left behind that might otherwise be sold?

Superfoods Salad

Or is it not a mistake at all and did Whole Foods decide to abandon the “VN” symbol altogether and say to hell with vegans and let us fend for ourselves? It’s hard to know. But the more mistakes that occur, the harder it is to trust any of their labels, and don’t they realize this? Don’t they understand that it’s important for vegans to know there’s no dairy or egg in their food and for vegetarians to know there’s no meat? Don’t they understand that if they create brand new symbols for their packages that people will start to rely on these symbols? And don’t they understand that if people see that Whole Foods is constantly using the wrong symbols that people will realize they CAN’T rely on these symbols, and that then Whole Foods will be putting symbols on their packages for nothing, since nobody will trust them or even look at them anymore?

Superfoods ingredients

What’s the point of John Mackey fighting unionization if not to be able to summarily fire the morons who created and maintain this idiotic system? Those staffers need to be stamped “UN” for UNEMPLOYED. Or wait, will Whole Foods think “UN” means UNTOUCHABLE and thus never fire them? Damn, this simplification is complicated! I wish Mr. Mackey would fix it for good. Because after all, he is VN you know.

Natural Products ExpWHOA! (aka: Why I’m now even fatter than this blogpost)

15 Mar

Expo

I did it. I went!

And if you follow me on Instagram (which you can do by clicking my new awesome badge up there to your right, yeah, the blue one, click it) then you know that I saw a ton of new vegan products and ate two tons since I ate at least two of everything I saw.

Last year, when I first got to know Special Needs Eater, she had just returned from a trip to the Expo in her capacity as writer extraordinaire for SuperVegan. And I got to listen to her Wonkavilian description of a wonderland of vegan foods, many never before seen by human eyes!

Back then, I could hardly imagine that a humble vegan blogger (me) who had barely been vegan blogging for three months (me again) would one day roam the halls of a place (more like palace) that I have to tell you makes vegan dreams disappointing by making vegan reality superior.

But that is how far your insufferable servant has come! Because this year I accompanied SNE to the NPE and I’ve got the photos to prove it! So without further ado (to yeu and yeu and yeu) here’s my roundup of Paper Spoon Expo West 2013! I mean, Natural Products Expo West 2013!

DAY ONE!

Okay, here’s what I saw on day one keeping in mind that my day one was day two and my day two was day three. Oday? Great!

When Follow Your Heart says "mini sandwich" they don't kid around! I'm still looking for the sun-dried tomato.

When Follow Your Heart says “mini sandwich” they don’t kid around! I’m still looking for the sun-dried tomato.

The first exciting booth I saw was Follow Your Heart. We all know them, the creators of the most often misspelled product in the world: Vegenaise! And look, they were debuting a new roasted garlic flavor. I tried it, I liked it, I moved on.

Congressman/Mayor/Councilman/Presidential candidate Dennis Vegan Kucinich!!! (Most people are not this happy to see me.)

Congressman/Mayor/Councilman/Presidential candidate Dennis Vegan Kucinich!!! (Most people are not this happy to see me.)

And while moving on, I saw my first vegan celeb of the Expo, Dennis Kucinich, a man who very well might have been the first vegan president of the United States if way more people had voted for him and if you don’t count the first “almost vegan” ex-president of the United States, William Veganson Clinton.

Amy's got ice cream!

Amy’s got ice cream!

The next stop of note was the Amy’s booth. Amy’s keeps growing and they had a big ol’ booth. Now I’m not much for frozen food so I almost walked right past — until I noticed an ice cram cart! That’s right, Amy’s is getting into the ice cream business! I was skeptical, but their mint chocolate chip was good! It arrives in July.

No furkin' way! Pot Pie AND Quiche? Yes, it's true!

No furkin’ way! Pot Pie AND Quiche? Yes, it’s true!

The next stop is a big one so get ready: Tofurky! Well, I’m excited to report that the Tofolks at Tofurky have been Tofurking ’round the Furk to bring you a huge array of new items. They’ve got a Pot Pie and a Quiche, and they’ve also got some Pockets, which I’m disappointed they didn’t call Tofockets. All are due this summer.

Is that some tofu in your pocket or are you just glad to oh never mind.

Is that some tofu in your pocket or are you just glad to oh never mind.

Not only that, they’re going after Field Roast with a gourmet line of sausages! I also stopped by the Field Roast booth but I didn’t take any photos. Why? Because they didn’t have a single new product and not only that, some honcho I talked to wouldn’t even give me a hint of what’s coming down the pipeline. All he would say is, “Have you tried our frankfurters?” Dude, those have been out for like 40 years in vegan time. Get off your hammock and Tofurk!

UPDATE! So even though the honcho wouldn’t tell me about any new products, it turns out he gave a party the night before to debut his new Field Roast burgers! That’s him in the middle in the photo below. Did he really think he could keep his new burgers secret in an era of cellphone cameras and social media? Did he really think it was a good idea to tell some vegan bloggers about them but mislead others? What a gigantic doofus! No wonder I’m seeing less and less of his products at Whole Foods! And by the way, those frankfurters he asked me if I tried? They’re awful, with a nasty aftertaste.

That guy in the middle needs some lessons in how to run a business, not to mention a remedial class in social media. What a buffoon!

That guy in the middle needs some lessons in how to run a business, not to mention a remedial class in social media. What a buffoon!

I wonder if these new Tofurky artisan sausages, which they told me are coming to stores as early as April, will put Field Roast out of business since they’re way better than what Field Roast has been selling.

New Artisan Sausages from Tofurky. I didn't put quotes around the word Artisan but we all know they're there, k? Three flavors: Chick'n & Apple, Andouille Cajun Style, and Spinach Pesto.

New Artisan Sausages from Tofurky. I didn’t put quotes around the word Artisan but we all know they’re there, k? Three flavors: Chick’n & Apple, Andouille Cajun Style, and Spinach Pesto.

I was so overwhelmed by all the Tofurkkovation that I almost walked past a small booth but boy am I glad I didn’t, because this small product I’d never heard of, NutBurgers, was one of the best things I ate at the Expo. Like I said I’m not a big fan of frozen food, but I will definitely buy some of these the first time I see em.  Oh, and I did not post this photo on my Instagram because Special Needs Eater taught me a lesson which is that you can’t tip everything on your Instagram because then no one will check out your blog post. Speaking of which, be sure to check out Special Needs Eater’s very own Expo roundup blog post on SuperVegan.

I think this was a sample size because the box says each patty contains 290 calories and this looks like 288 tops.

I think this was a sample size because the box says each patty contains 290 calories and this looks like 288 tops.

But the Expo isn’t all NutBurgers and roses. Nope, there’s a few disasters too. And the biggest debacle of the Expo was the Lightlife booth. I didn’t even make the word Lightlife clickable because I’m not in the mood to support them at all. And I’m not going to bother wasting time on it here, since they’ve already apologized to me, but if you want to know what happened then you can read the world’s largest Instagram caption to find out.

And Lightlife wasn’t the only debacle. The Blue Diamond almonds booth was another fiasco. They were giving out samples of some new crackers and I asked if they were vegan. The woman said, “Yes, they are.” So I tried some. Then when I got home, I did some more research before including them here, because I always double check to make sure I’m not recommending something that’s not vegan, and it turned out they have butter in them! I mean seriously, it’s the Natural Products Expo and you’ve got people working there who either don’t know what “vegan” means or haven’t been trained about the products they’re promoting? Pathetic!

But back to fun. And one of the fun things about the Expo is seeing the weird products that people come up with. There was a breakfast cereal named Holy Crap. I’m not kidding. You can click that link and you’ll see it really exists. And they asked me to try it. And I would not. Nor would I have tried a breakfast cereal named Raw Sewage. Sorry, just can’t do it. But I did try something called Guacamame, which is guacamole made from mommies! Okay, it’s late, sorry. It’s guacamole from edamame, and their big selling point is that it doesn’t oxidize, which I thought was another word for rust, so I guess avocado rusts? I’m not saying it beats guacamole but guacamame is guacatasty.

My prediction is that the next dance crazy to sweep the country after the Harelm Shuffle will be the Guacamame!

My prediction is that the next dance craze to sweep the country after the Harlem Shuffle will be the Guacamame!

Another fun thing about the Expo is getting to voice your complaints to the top honchos of the companies that drive you crazy with the idiotic ways they handle their products. For example, the Boca sales rep was completely unaware that the chik’n nuggets they had on display have been completely unavailable in Southern California for months. “What makes you think they’re not available?” I was asked. To which I replied, “Because I’ve tried multiple stores of multiple supermarket chains and have had multiple conversations with multiple grocery managers who tell me they’ve been trying to get the product back on their shelves for months.” “Oh. I’ll look into it. Thanks for telling me!”

Next stop was the Earth Balance booth. Earth Balance recently introduced four new vegan products for your supermarket’s snack aisle: cheddar flavor puffs, buttery flavor popcorn, cheddar flavor popcorn, and P.B. Popps, which is some kind of Cracker Jacky peanut butter coated popcorn thing. I found the puffs and the cheddar popcorn at the Whole Foods near me a few weeks ago, and tried them both. I liked the puffs and ate the bag right away. I didn’t love the cheddar popcorn. And I was unable to find the other two anywhere in LA. So I was psyched to get to try them at the Expo.

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The buttery popcorn was only okay. But the P.B. Popps were crazy good! In fact, the only thing that would keep me from eating an entire bag at once is the scary lady on their webpage who’s gonna hit me with her wooden spoon if I overdo it.

I suggest you hop on these popps.

I suggest you hop on these popps.

Oh, and I figured out why the company is called Earth Balance — because it’s a balance of the joy of the Popps and the sadness of this little white bread sandwich they were serving to demonstrate their mayo:

Check out the name of this product. That is some in-the-moment mayo!

Check out the name of this product. That is some in-the-moment mayo!

After Earth Balance we hit the Go Veggie! booth, where I met their Glaswegian food master who claimed to have “a Ph.D in tofu”! Go Veggie!, for! those! not! in! the! know!, used to be called Galaxy. So now they’ve rebranded themselves and created a line of vegan cheeses that they’re marketing to people (vegans) who *never* refer to themselves as veggies. In fact, to tell a vegan to “Go Veggie!” is like telling us to go backwards. It’s even a different sound. Vegetarians get the “juh” sound and we get Hard G. Anyway, despite their misnamed company, the Go Veggie! people are all very nice. And they had the Spork Sisters there serving a delicious strawberry cream cheese mousse that was made with Go Veggie!’s strawberry vegan cream cheese. Hmm, I wonder if that Ph.D got his degree from Veggie U., because then I could understand the rah-rah name Go Veggie! But if that wasn’t the case, then Go Figure!

Sporkberry Mousse

Sporkberry Mousse

And do you know who else was at the Expo? The Justin’s peanut butter people, though I did not see Justin himself. Maybe he was stuck to the roof of the Expo! Hahahahahahaohsorry. I think all vegans know Justin’s. Justin’s sells a dark peanut butter cup that is crazy good. PROVIDED YOU EAT IT REAL FAST. That’s right — one time I bought a whole box of these and after about two weeks the remaining ones went bad. I guess that actually speaks well of the product — it’s not preserved up the wazoo (which was my favorite Edward Albee play) but trust me you don’t want to eat a faded brown decomposing peanut butter cup. I say this as a cautionary tale because Justin’s — which since releasing the dark chocolate peanut butter cup has released about three hundred delicious looking candies THAT ALL CONTAIN MILK — has finally gone back and done something for us vegans, by introducing a big ol’ bag of their DPBCs so we don’t have to keep buying them two at a time. (Or buying a box of two-at-a-times which costs the same as 2 multiplied by however many packs are in the box.) Now I didn’t ask how much of a discount the big bag will provide, but I hope it’s substantial. And I also hope they find another way to market these in March besides Halloween, because the only thing scary about these peanut butter cups is what my LDL is going to be after eating a whole bag.

Happy Halloween! Uhh... it's March.

Happy Halloween! Uhh… it’s March.

So by now you can only imagine how full I was, and the 6 p.m. closing time was approaching so it was probably time to just call it a day and OH MY GOD IT’S THE GARDEIN BOOTH!!! Okay, to be honest, that only goes a little way toward explaining my excitement upon seeing what @SpecialNeedsy called the Gardein of Eden. And it’s kind of interesting because, between you and me, their products aren’t that good. Hey, hold on, wait, hear me out. I love Gardein! It’s just not that good. I love their hamburger sliders. I eat them a lot. Even though they taste highly processed. And kinda don’t sit well. But that doesn’t stop me. Ditto my trips to Veggie Grill which is Gardein that someone else cooks for you! And I think my love for Gardein is rooted in its fast food replacementology. Because there was always something I liked about McDonald’s. And it wasn’t the food. Okay, it’s the food until you get to a certain age, maybe in your mid to late 20’s, when McDonald’s goes from tasty food to pore-extruded greasy film forcefield. But I still kept going back to McDonald’s, despite how ill it would make me feel, because I’d been brainwashed into seeing it as part of my happy childhood. But one of the things that veganism saved me from, besides myself obviously, was the end result of that apparent need to re-experience my perceived happy childhood. With Gardein, I get to re-live the vegan childhood that I never had! Oh wait, time’s up for this session? Let me quickly add that they debuted a crazy amount of new products, and allowed me to taste a few.

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I really liked the new Crispy Chick’n Sliders. Of course the ones in the box won’t come with lettuce, tomato and sauce like these ones did, and I doubt they’ll be crispy when I microwave them which is the way all sliders are meant to be slid, but even taking all that into conslideration, they were really good!

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I also tried the new Sizzling Szechuan Beefless Strips — which weren’t so much sizzling as sitting in a cold plastic sample cup — but they still tasted like they could be tasty.

And they also have a Teriyaki Beefless Jerky they’re coming out with, but since jerky might be the single most disgusting food product I can think of — and doubly-disgusting if you buy it at a 7-Eleven — I see no need for a vegan version. But if you like it, this is what the package looks like:

It's beefless AND meat-free!

It’s beefless AND meat-free!

Okay, seriously, Gardein introduced so many new items that it was getting silly already:

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I could keep posting photos of new Gardein products but instead I’m going to just give you a photo of all of it, courtesy of SuperVegan/SpecialNeedsEater who was smart enough to take a shot of the whole shebang:

Gardein of Eatin' -- as captioned and photographed by SuperVegan/SpecialNeedsEater

Gardein of Eatin’ — as captioned and photographed by SuperVegan/SpecialNeedsEater

And even though we were full from the Gardein booth, we forged on, and managed to make one more stop before wrapping up DAY ONE. Last but not least, the nice folks at Vege USA have two new vegan items from their Vegetarian Plus line headed your way. And I tried ‘em both and liked ‘em both.

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DAY TWO!

Day two was, for all intents and purposes, Ice Cream Day! First up was DF Mavens, from New York. Now before I tell you how good this was, I want to tell you there’s someone running around online trying to start a controversy about it. Apparently, their first run of containers listed honey as an ingredient, even though the company says there was never honey in the product. But instead of trashing the mislabelled containers and eating the cost of a reprint, they did something stupid and used these containers. Not a great way to make a first impression. However, they say the problem is behind them and swear there never was honey in there. I have no way of knowing if the person devoting a lot of time to kvetching about this online is a competitor or just someone with too much time on their hands, but I do have a way of knowing if their ice cream is good or not, because I put some into my body, and it was good indeed.

DF Mavens New Orleans Sweet Praline Vegan Ice Cream

DF Mavens New Orleans Sweet Praline Vegan Ice Cream

Next up was Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine. Maggie is from North Carolina but has more attitude than entire boroughs of New York. She seemed skeptical about giving me a taste of her food. But I skepticaled her right back and she caved. Maggie had three flavors she was sampling and one of them was really good. Her website calls it “Lentils with Curry & Lime” but I know she worked the word “Thai” into her description when she was telling me about it. Either way, it was good. And Maggie is quick to tell you it comes in microwavable BPA-free jars. One thing Maggie wasn’t quick to tell me was that she’s also got a Vegetable Korma flavor which she wasn’t sampling. Well that sucks because I used to love Vegetable Korma pre-vegan and haven’t found a single one since. Also, I’ll give Maggie the benefit of the doubt that she really means “conscious” not “conscientious” since I did kind of feel the lentils were looking at me (though not with as much attitude as Maggie).

Maggie's Conscious Vegan Cuisine. I heard that later in the afternoon, some of the cuisine hit its head and was rendered unconscious but I can not confirm that report.

Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine. I heard that later in the afternoon, some of the cuisine hit its head and was rendered unconscious, but I can not confirm that report.

The next stop  was hard to believe, even though SpecialNeedsEater had tried to prepare me for it: The Daiya Booth! Daiya’s space at the Expo was Mothership-sized, with what seemed like hundreds of nattily attired minions scurrying to and fro dishing out samples of brand new sliced cheeses, cream cheeses, and, are you ready, pizzas! While I stood stunned like a Daiya in the headlights, SpecialNeedsy was alert enough to snap a photo of the entire Daiya Displaiya:

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Behold the Daiya Displaiya, photo courtesy of specialneedseater.com

Being your humble vegan servant, I tried to sample as many of the new Daiyaties as I could. I had some Chive & Onion Cream Cheese Style Spread on a bagel, which was good, some Margherita Pizza, some Daiya Cheeze Lover’s Pizza, and some Mushroom & Roasted Garlic Pizza, all of which were good especially the mushroom and garlic one which was great. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot be so positive about the new Swiss cheese singles, nor the Provolone. These tasted nothing like Swiss or Provolone, and I mean not even a tiny amount. They were both pretty flavorless, with a chalky, powdery texture. No wonder they were serving them only in sandwiches, with bread and lettuce to hide the nastiness (though when I asked for a piece of each of them plain, they obliged me). I really have no idea why Daiya decided to release these when they’re clearly not good enough yet but oh well, at least the pizzas are killer. The pizzas, by the way, are coming in August, while the cream cheeses and new Swiss, Provolone, and Cheddar slices all arrive in April.

Coming in August

Coming in August

Coming in April

Coming in April

Coming in April

Coming in April

I know what you’re thinking: What happened to Ice Cream Day?!  Well settle down, because my next stop was Mr. Dewie’s! Mr Dewie’s is an almond milk ice cream from Oakland that is dewielicious. I think their mint chip was my favorite ice cream of the entire Expo and that’s saying something because there was lots and lots of ice cream. And let me just say that not only was the ice cream good, but Mr. Dewie’s proprietors, Ari and Andrew Cohen, might have been the nicest, most personable exhibitors at the Expo, right up there in a tie with the Chicago Vegan Foods folks. Plus, I discovered the top secret reason why the product is called Mr. Dewie’s. I’m not allowed to divulge my source, so let’s just say a little twitter birdie told me.

Ari Cohen, who with his brother Andrew just might one day be more famous than the Coen No H Brothers.

Ari Cohen, who with his brother Andrew just might one day be more famous than the Coen No H Brothers.

Next stop was the Beyond Meat booth. For those who might not know, Beyond Meat was one of the big stories of Vegan Year 2012. In fact, I think it’s the most hyped vegan product of all time. And unfortunately, it rarely lives up to the hype. From what I’ve learned, it’s very hard to prepare, although in skillful hands it can be great, and I’ve had a few preparations that were truly delicious. But most of the time, and especially when found in the prepared foods section of Whole Foods stores, it’s terrible. Sometimes it’s mushy, sometimes it’s hard. And if you read my blog regularly, you know I’ve often criticized Beyond Meat for their numerous shortcomings. Well, Beyond Meat had a giant booth at the Expo. And they were giving out lots of samples. But unfortunately, what I ate at their booth wasn’t good! It’s truly baffling, I have to tell you. One of the preparations they were offering at the Expo was some type of southwestern style concoction with corn and hot sauce. Did anyone really try this and think it was good? And while Beyond Meat has been exclusively known for their fake chicken so far, at the Expo they debuted their new fake ground beef crumbles in a chili they were serving, and sadly the chili just wasn’t good. Here’s my suggestion to the Beyond Meat people: hire a competent, perhaps well-known vegan chef to showcase your product, not the talentless dolt who you’ve currently got under contract.

Yuck. Seriously, did anyone enjoy this strange corn and hot sauce mixture?

Yuck. Seriously, did anyone enjoy this strange corn and hot sauce mixture?

Chili made with Beyond Meat's new fake ground beef crumbles. This did not taste good at all.

Chili made with Beyond Meat’s new fake ground beef crumbles. This did not taste good at all.

But one thing I will say about Beyond Meat is that the people who work on their management team could not have been friendlier. And it turns out they were familiar with my work, had read all the unflattering things I’ve written about their work-in-progress product, and were still pleasant as could be. They explained to me why things have gone so wrong for them, and their explanation went something like this: They never intended to debut their product via the Whole Foods prepared foods counters nationwide, but what happened was that after Mark Bittman of the New York Times wrote about Beyond Meat while it was still in its developmental stage, a frenzy broke out, and they felt the need to rush the product onto the market to capitalize on all the excitement. They claimed that their intention all along has been for the vast majority of their sales to come from the packaged Beyond Meat strips that were only just announced TODAY and still will not be on your grocer’s shelves until next month at the earliest. They say they anticipate that the prepared foods will only be a small slice of their business.

Okay, but someone at the company, whether pushed by their investors or not, still made the decision to rush the product onto the market via the Whole Foods prepared foods departments. And that is where the real problem occurs, because as they explained to me, in that context, they are merely an ingredient. And the Whole Foods employees who use their product to make the prepared foods often misuse the product. For example, I was told that when the product is frozen, it needs to be thawed to room temperature, but that some of the Whole Foods staffers try to speed up the thawing by placing the Beyond Meat in the oven to defrost it, which badly damages the product. This was offered by way of explanation as to why the product is often mushy and sometimes rock hard.

Kim Fernandez, vice president of retail sales, and Mary Adams, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat. These people could not have been friendlier or more professional to someone as insufferable as yours truly, and Beyond Meat is lucky to have them!

Kim Fernandez, vice president of retail sales, and Mary Adams, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat. These people could not have been friendlier or more professional to someone as insufferable as yours truly, and Beyond Meat is lucky to have them!

Furthermore, I was told that the Beyond Meat “merchandisers” assigned to Whole Foods have very little say in how Beyond Meat is used, prepared, displayed and sold. Some Whole Foods stores allow these merchandisers to give advice to their staff, but some do not. This would go some of the way toward explaining why still, nearly a year later, I often see what is clearly Beyond Meat displayed in Whole Foods prepared foods cases with ingredient cards that falsely claim the product you’re buying is made with Gardein and not Beyond Meat, even though these items haven’t been made with Gardein for months.

But clearly much if not all of the blame for the fiasco that has been Beyond Meat falls on the company itself. It’s obvious that despite the rush of publicity they received, they should not have rushed the product to market, especially now that I have learned that their intention all along has been for the vast majority of their sales to come from the retail packs, which as I said, ARE STILL NOT AVAILABLE. Instead, they debuted their product to the public in a way that they had very little control over, and as a result, when the retail packages finally reach consumers, they will be trying to get people to buy a product that has been badly damaged and which the vast majority of vegan, vegetarian, and health-oriented consumers have already had a bad experience with.

And the fact that their product was displayed in untasty preparations at their own trade show exhibit really makes you wonder how much of the blame lies elsewhere, or if they’re simply in denial about the incompetence that surely must exist at the top levels of this company.

And as I always do, let me just say again that I have seen the product be exceptional, and that chefs have told me that in the right hands no other meat substitute can compare. And as always, I wish them well, because of course I want nothing more than to have Beyond Meat be a delicious alternative to meat that will lead millions of people around the world to swap it out for the millions of pounds of chicken they now consume. But they’re probably not going to get there without wholesale changes in the upper echelon of the company.

This is what the Beyond Meat retail packs will look like when they finally reach stores some day.

This is what the Beyond Meat retail packs will look like when they finally reach stores some day.

One final thought about Beyond Meat: When the retail packs are finally available, it should be sold at Bed, Bath and Beyond, doncha think? Okay, let’s move beyond Beyond Meat because there’s still a lot more to cover. The next stop was Upton’s Naturals, where I spoke with the super-friendly Nicole Sopko, a vice president, who was giving out little pieces of sandwich made with their new bacon seitan. But what I really wanted to find out about was their vegan pastrami. I never got to try it before Phoney Baloney’s closed its storefront location in Irvine, and so I wanted to find out if any restaurants were currently serving it in the Los Angeles area, since it’s a food-service-only product. Nicole told me that I might be able to find it at Locali and was trying to think if there was any other place I could find it when her boyfriend, Dan Staackmann, the owner of Upton’s came back to the booth. Perfect, I thought, the owner will know for sure! But as friendly as Nicole was, Dan was unfriendly! Dude, what’s your problem? I’m a fan of your food, I want to buy more of it, I want to publicize it to my followers, and this is how you act? Well, these two are clearly in love, so I guess it’s yet another case of opposites attract. UPDATE: Dan e-mailed me after reading this post to apologize and explain that it had been a long, stressful week for him. I thought it was big of him to reach out like that and so perhaps I misjudged him and the situation.

It was hard to taste the seitan the way it was presented. I mostly tasted bread and lettuce, and I should have removed the seitan from the sandwich to try it on its own.

It was hard to taste the seitan the way it was presented. I mostly tasted bread and lettuce, and I should have removed the seitan from the sandwich to try it on its own.

One thing about the Expo is that the time zooms on by, kind of like the opposite of writing a blog post about the Expo. So before long we realized that we only had an hour or so left! Luckily, we made it to the Chicago Vegan Foods booth, because as I said earlier, these were some of the nicest people at the show, and they were giving out all kinds of samples. Chicago Vegan Foods, for a company that basically sells three products, has to be one of the more diverse companies out there. What they’ve got is Teese, their tasty fake cheese, then Dandies, their tasty vegan marshmallows, and now, some darn tasty vegan soft serve ice cream!

Nachos made with Teese. These were decidedly ballpark style, with no guac, beans or salsa, but they were tasty nonetheless. And who can resist hot Teese from a pump?!

Nachos made with Teese. These were decidedly ballpark-style, with no guac, beans or salsa, but they were tasty nonetheless. And who can resist hot Teese from a pump?!

I was particularly excited about the Dandies because I’ve heard so much about them but had never tried them before. And they were really, really good. More than just the taste, the Dandies also recreated that telltale powdery texture and mouthfeel of a truly legit marshmallow. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a better marshmallow, vegan or non-vegan. And I’ve heard they even melt like a real marshmallow. In fact, the only thing they don’t contain is torture. I also learned the history of Dandies: There was the original size, then they came out with a larger size, and coming soon, a retail pack of mini-marshmallows, which up until now have only been available as a food service item.

I think Dandies are probably the best marshmallows I have ever had. In fact, they are simply... darn, I wish I could come up with an adjective!

I think Dandies are probably the best marshmallows I have ever had. In fact, they are simply… darn, I wish I could come up with an adjective!

But perhaps the most interesting thing I learned at the Chicago Vegan Foods booth is that Veggie Grill is trying out their soft serve at its new Laguna Niguel location. And, I hear, if things go well there the soft serve might become available at all Veggie Grill locations! I sure hope so, because the chocolate that I sampled was really good!

Coming soon to a Veggie Grill near you?

Coming soon to a Veggie Grill near you?

Like I said, time was running out so we quickly moved on and found the Hodo Soy booth. This, proclaimed @SpecialNeedsy, is the best tofu in the world! Wow, that’s quite a statement. So I did some sampling and you know what? It was pretty dang good! If Hodo Soy sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it’s the Oakland-based company that is providing the tofu for Chipotle‘s new sofritas burritos, which are currently being tested at seven Chipotle locations in San Francisco. And the owner of Hodo Soy told us that if things go well, the sofritas should be available in Los Angeles this summer!

I need this in a store near me!

I need this in a store near me!

One of the booths I was excited to see was The Real Deal chips people. I recently went looking for the new Lay’s Potato Chips sriracha flavor only to learn that they were made with cheese. Boooo! But someone left a comment on my Instagram letting me know that The Real Deal makes sriracha chips that are good. And then, lo and behold, there they were at the Expo! But then, no and behold, they were out of samples of the sriracha chips. However, even so and behold, the woman was nice enough to give me a full-size retail bag straight off their display since the Expo was drawing to a close anyway. And I am happy to report, these little scoop shaped chips are really tasty. They’re also gluten-free, and if you’re a gluten-free vegan, be sure to check out SuperVegan’s excellent roundup on all the GF goodies (gfoodies?) at the show.

IMG_3823

One of things I almost forgot to mention was that while grazing at the Chicago Vegan Foods both, I ran into Jackie of Vegan Yack Attack fame, who is one of the nicest vegan humans I have met. We chatted for a bit and she told me I should try the WayFare ice cream from Montana. Well, if I wasn’t going to miss any ice cream at the Expo, I certainly wasn’t going to miss any recommended ice cream, so off we went.

And on the way to Montana we passed another vegan ice cream that I’d heard about, NadaMoo. Unfortunately, the the women manning their booth were NadaFriendly. Even though there was still a good half hour to go in the Expo, they were already packing up and refused to give us a sample. Luckily, one of the men womaning the booth took pity on us and gave us some ice cream. And I am sorry to report that this was just not good. In fact, it was the worst ice cream of the Expo.

I will Nada be buying this.

I will Nada be buying this.

So despite eating bad ice cream, a hardship which brings to mind Lewis and Clark, like those determined explorers we persevered and headed for Montana. And finally, there it was, four unrelated companies sharing a giant Made in Montana booth. And you know what? Vegan Yack Attack was right, the WayFare ice cream turned out to be WayGood. And here’s the most interesting part: it’s oat-based! And oats in your ice cream beats horse in your burger any day.

Oh, it's just some delicious oat-based Vermont maple ice cream from Montana.

Oh, it’s just some delicious oat-based Vermont maple ice cream from Montana.

By now the Expo really was just about over. And we had almost seen it all. As we raced to finish up, and turned the corner for the last row of booths, we stumbled across a vendor who turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire show, The Elegant Vegan. Not only did The Elegant Vegan have some delicious brownies for us to try, but they gave us samples of their extraordinary pickled items. Ever had pickled kale before? Me neither, and it was GOOD!

IMG_3818

And that was it, the last booth of the Expo. As proud as I was of myself after Day One for not being so stuffed that I couldn’t eat on Day Two, I was proud after Day Two that while my stomach was stuffed, my brain still had enough space left to think about one more thing: Girl Scout Cookies! You see, the Girl Scout cookies sold in L.A. County are not vegan, because they come from Little Brownie Bakers, which puts milk in all their cookies, BOO! However, the Girl Scouts of Orange County get their cookies from the other bakery that makes cookies for the Girl Scouts, ABC Bakers. And a mere four blocks from the convention center, outside a supermarket in a non-descript shopping center, we made one final score.

Vegan I tells ya, VEGAN!!!

Vegan I tells ya, VEGAN!!!

THE END. (Until about an hour after I got home, when I ate some of the cookies.)

Whole Foods botches its new vegan/vegetarian labels

22 Feb

How hard was this. Really. You’re Whole Foods. Shouldn’t you know the difference between vegan and vegetarian? I’m not talking about the employees — oh wait, sorry, “team members” — who can vary from super knowledgeable to super ignorant. I’m talking about the people whose job it was to come up with new labeling for Whole Foods pre-packaged foods. And yet they completely screwed it up. In their attempt to use symbols to let people know which items are vegan and which are vegetarian, they’ve actually made things worse.

VEG

VEG

The initial problem is the symbols themselves. Here’s the first one: VEG. That’s right, they decided the best way to distinguish between a vegan item and a vegetarian one was to use the three letters that begin both words. But I suppose, whichever one this might be, the other one will be clear, and that by process of elimination I’ll realize which one VEG stands for. So the other symbol they’re using is… VN. Yup, the first and last letters of each word.

VN

VN

But it gets worse. (You know I don’t tell stories unless they have a but it gets worse part.) And the way it gets worse is that NEITHER OF THESE ITEMS IS VEGAN:

The VN orzo "contains milk" so "VEG" can't mean vegan.

The VN orzo “contains milk” so “VN” can’t mean vegan.

And…

The "VEG" dip contains eggs AND milk (AND honey) so "VEG" can't mean vegan.

The VEG dip contains eggs AND milk so “VEG” can’t mean vegan.

Could I have been mistaken in my assumption that at least one of these abbreviations was supposed to mean “vegan”? Is it possible that VN stands for Gluten-Free? Or that VEG means there’s no nuts? Because how else to explain this?

And did you ever try to contact Whole Foods to tell them about a problem? Ha! Their website is set up so that you can only send your complaint/compliment to a local store. You can’t send a complaint to a national customer service center, even though one exists, at their corporate headquarters in Austin. The problem though, is that the local stores NEVER respond to your email. Not unless you sleuth out the number for the corporate headquarters, get the switchboard to transfer you to their customer service center, and then mention that the local store never responded. Then about an hour later you get an email from the local store manager — sorry, “team leader” — pretending that they just got your email a minute ago and answered it rather than a week ago and ignored it.

And certainly don’t bother sending an email to the head honcho John Mackey. “Mr. Mackey automatically forwards any emails he receives to customer service.” Well, of course. Why would he ever read an email from a customer let alone respond to one. Only an idiot like Steve Jobs would have done something like that!

But maybe I’ll try to contact them anyway, because I’ve got a solution. Stick a “T” in your vegetarian abbreviation, like VGT, or VTN, you know, BECAUSE THERE’S NO “T” IN VEGAN. That way people can tell the two apart, you know, ASSUMING WHOLE FOODS TAKES THE MILK OUT OF THE ONE THAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE VEGAN.

Not that the person who came up with this new secret code will do anything about it. Because I’m starting to think VEG stands for VEGETATIVE STATE.

Vegan Girl Scout Cookies!!!!!!!!!

8 Feb

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Girl Scout Cookies

I wrote up most of what I know about how to get vegan Girl Scout cookies in this big blog post a year ago, but I just wanted to do a quick update to let you know that if you’re lucky enough to live near a Girl Scout council that buys their cookies from ABC Bakers instead of Little Brownie Bakers (because Little Brownie puts dairy in all their flavors, boooo!) then you have the opportunity to get your hands on some vegan Girl Scout Cookies! And whereas last year I declared certain ABC cookies to be vegan by simple deduction, this year,  for the first time ever, ABC Bakers has labeled some of their cookies as “vegan” right on their website!!!  (See the picture above.)

Progress, folks, real progress!

For those of you in the L.A. area like me, be aware that the Girl Scout Cookies sold in L.A. are NOT vegan because they come from Little Brownie. The closest place to get the vegan ones is Orange County. Here’s a link to the Girls Scouts of Orange County cookie finder, which will tell you the time and location of their booth sales which are running from now through March 10th. Just plug in a zip code for a town close to L.A. like Seal Beach (90740) or Westminster (92683) and you’ll be on your way.

Oh, and if you can figure out why the new ABC “Mango Cremes with Nutrifusion” aren’t labeled vegan, please let me know, because I don’t see anything suspect in the ingredients list.

Happy Cookieing!

11 best vegan things i 8 in ’12

30 Dec

Ten

Last year I did the “10 best vegan things i 8 in ’11” so this year I thought I’d bump everything up one (except I didn’t make it the 11 best things i 9 in 12 because I’m not a silly person, silly). So here they are, in a particular order. Oh, and I didn’t include anything that made last year’s list, but that doesn’t mean everything on this year’s list is better than everything on last year’s list even if I ate some of the things from last year’s list again this year. Got it? Let’s go:

Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce Taco at Whole Foods

Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce Taco at Whole Foods

11. The Beyond Meat Tomatillo Taco I had at the Whole Foods in West LA. If you follow me here or on Instagram you know about my frustration with Beyond Meat. I think it’s not only overhyped but also overrated. It absolutely RUINED one of my daily staples, the Vegan Curry Chicken Salad at Whole Foods, which went from great when it was made with Gardein to good when it was made with Eco-Cusine to inedible now that it’s made with Beyond Meat. Inedible! It tastes like rubber. It’s downright nasty, and I can’t believe they haven’t gone back to a non-BM version. That said, I’ve had some good things with Beyond Meat, particularly some salads from the Whole Foods in El Segundo, where Beyond Meat held it’s SoCal launch party, and so I guess the kitchen there knows how to use it. Because that seems to be a huge problem with Beyond Meat. According to Chef Jenny Bradley, a Vegansaurus blogger and the pastry chef at Source in San Francisco, it’s all in the preparation, and apparently a lot of people have no idea how to use the stuff. For example, I got a terrific Beyond Meat Sesame Chicken Salad from the Whole Foods on West 3rd & Fairfax, but when I went back a week later and got more of the exact same thing it was awful. Ditto when I gave it another chance a month later. It seems like some chefs are good with it and some are not. All of that said, the very first time I tried Beyond Meat, in a tomatillo sauce preparation from the taco bar at the Whole Foods in West LA, it was AMAZING. Really, really good. AND THEY HAVE NEVER HAD IT AGAIN. AT ANY WHOLE FOODS WHERE I’VE SEARCHED. AND I’VE SEARCHED MANY. AND I’M USING TOO MANY CAPS.

Spicy Chick pizza at Purgatory Pizza

Spicy Chick pizza at Purgatory Pizza

10. The Spicy Chick Pizza at Purgatory Pizza. Today is the six month anniversary of Vegan Pizza Day, which was on June 30. So where did I decide to go for Vegan Pizza Day? Pizzanista! I’d seen on their Twitter or on Quarrygirl or on somewhere that they were having a special for Vegan Pizza Day with their Seitan Meets Jesus pizza: a variety of  Upton’s Naturals Seitans on a Daiya pie! It sounded so good that I decided to overlook the Seitan/Satan pun which I think we can all agree WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF. So I headed down to Pizzanista on that beautiful Saturday afternoon (I don’t really remember how the weather was that day) and… they were closed! They don’t open on Saturday and Sunday till 5! What?!?! Not even on Vegan Pizza Day?! Vegan Bummer! So I quickly started thinking where else I could get pizza in Downtown L.A. and I remembered Purgatory, which I’d never been to and always wanted to try. And which was actually serving vegan pizza for lunch on Vegan Pizza Day. So I drove over and got their Spicy Chick Pizza which is Gardein chicken, green pepper, onion, garlic and El Diablo sauce. Now I know that hearing El Diablo Sauce makes you think this pie could out-firebreathe a dragon but nope, it merely had a nice kick to it. And it was great. I loved it. However… I could not get the thought of that Seitan Meats Jesus pie out of my head so for dinner, I actually drove back downtown and picked one up. And then promptly pulled my car over on some deserted downtown side street and wolfed down a slice at the wheel. And it was good. Really good. But not as good as the Purgatory. (And odd that the JESUS pie was not at the PURGATORY place but file under whatevs.) And you know what else while we’re speakin o’ pizza? A few days later I tried Cruzer for the first time and had their Hawaiian pizza, which wasn’t as good as either of the other two. But I digest. Back to the list!

"Fairy Fudge Sundae" (add raspberry!) at Leaf

“Fairy Fudge Sundae” (add raspberry!) at Leaf

9. The dessert thing I had at Leaf. What? I thought you didn’t like Leaf, Insufferable Vegan! Well, I don’t. There’s something about the place I didn’t like at all. First of all, the space is weird. Second, the staff was weird. They were non-existent. And I don’t mean non-existent in the sense that when I needed something they were nowhere to be seen. I mean that they were nowhere to be seen AT ALL. I walked in on a Saturday night and nobody was there. I saw one couple eating at a table and they were the only humans I saw. For a while. I stood there for a couple of minutes. I could hear voices in the kitchen. But it took a while for a woman to emerge and seat me. Then she disappeared. And nobody was around. For quite a while more. Until a different server emerged and approached me. And he was a very nice guy, and helpful, and he took my order and then yup, went in the back and disappeared. And I could hear a bunch of staffers in the back laughing and having a good old time. I might even think they were doing things that are legal in Colorado now. Who knows. They sure were enjoying their disappearance quite a bit though. And then my server brought my food. And it wasn’t very good. It was some kind of fake chicken wrap. Which the server had recommended because he said some of the other sandwiches were messy and hard to hold. Except that the wrap he gave me had sauce all over the top. Which he didn’t mention. And which prevented anyone from holding it. So I fork and knived it but eh, nothing special. And then for some reason I decided to try a dessert. I think it’s because while I was eating my wrap someone came in just to get some ice cream to go (which they got only after waiting a few minutes for a human to emerge to serve it to them). There were three kinds of sundaes on the menu and I wanted one. Well, I wanted all three but I was only going to get one. And so I asked the server for a recommendation and he suggested the Righteously Raspberry Sundae. Now I like raspberry stuff. A lot. But I was in the mood for something chocolatey and the raspberry sundae only came with vanilla ice cream. So I got the Fairy Fudge Sundae, which has both chocolate and vanilla soft serve, and I asked if he could throw some raspberry sauce in there too, and he obliged. And since I didn’t like the place, and didn’t like my food, I didn’t want to like the dessert either. And I didn’t like it all the way to the bottom of the giant glass in about eight seconds. It was sooooooo good. I mean soooooooooooooo good. Just go there and get the damn thing already!

THE PRETZEL at Golden Road Brewing

THE PRETZEL at Golden Road Brewing

8. The pretzel at Golden Road. Yes, that one. THEEE PRETZEL. I know you already know about the pretzel. I know you’ve already eaten the pretzel. And if you haven’t I know you think shut up it’s only a pretzel, but that only means you haven’t had THE PRETZEL. What can I say. I never thought I’d be purchasing yet alone recommending yet alone raving about a seven dollar pretzel. But believe me, you spend worse seven dollarses all the time. If you’ve never had it, go and get it. If you’ve already had it, stop nodding.

Meatball Sub at Cruzer Pizza

Meatball Sub at Cruzer Pizza

7. The Meatball Sub at Cruzer Pizza. Hey, look at that — I mentioned Cruzer earlier and kinda dissed or at least meh’d their pizza, and I didn’t tip my hand that I loved their meatball sub so much that it was going to make my list. But here it is cuz it was goooooood. Man did I like this. I know — meatless meatballs and fake cheese on a roll. How tough is that to do. We could make it at home no problem. But nope. There was something about the stuff they used and the way it came together that made me think if I lived on that side of town instead of the eight miles away that feel farther than San Diego I would eat this every single night. Or at least once a week. Or maybe a few times a week. And I want one right now. And they need to move near me. Or open a second store in the Winchell’s Donuts with the This Space Available sign on it for three weeks even though it’s still serving donuts.

Craig's

Craig’s

6. Craig’s. Wait, that’s not a thing that’s a place. Yeah, I know. I’m cheating. Because I had such a good meal at Craig’s but can’t point to any one thing as the thing for the thing list. I went with my vegan friend who’s the vegan managing editor at the vegan website SuperVegan. (I’m vegan name-dropping.) And we did the thing we sometimes do which is ordertoomuchfood. That’s a verb, btw, and it’s also a misnomer, because it always works out to be just the right amount of food. Even if afterwards we’re ancient Romans in need of a feather. And so we got four things for two people. The Vegan Sausage Pizza, the Stuffed Peppers, the Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken (which they said is made with agave not honey for the vegan version) and the Vegan Chicken Parmigiana. And they were ALL really good. Like so good I’m remembering how good they were as I sit here and type they were good. It was impressive to see what this kitchen could do with some Gardein and Follow Your Heart cheese. And btw, this is a nice jernt. It’s not a vegan place by any means. It’s a place to bring your steak-eatin’ family or business colleague or date. While you get to feel like you’re out at a nice place for a nice dinner and ordering from the menu with ease and not having to ask a million questions and beg for a million modifications. Yup, a fancy place with a vegan section on the menu. Progress! And oh, we got dessert too.

Amy E's Peanut Brittle

Amy E’s Peanut Brittle

5.The Peanut Brittle from Amy E’s Bakery. Do you like peanut brittle? Doesn’t matter, listen up. Amy E’s is a bakery in Moscow, Idaho. That’s far away from anybody reading this blog. Or using the Internet even. But the peanut brittle that Amy E makes in Moscow I is not to be believed. Now that’s a stupid expression to use about peanut brittle. And I’m just going to say it’s not true. It is to be believed. It’s not like I told you I ran a two-minute mile. It’s just peanut brittle. But most peanut brittle has dairy in it. But Amy’s does not. It’s vegan. And it’s more than vegan, it’s vegan crack. I had to stop buying it, really, because I couldn’t stop putting pieces of it in my mouth and crunching them up with my teeth. It is crazy, crazy good. And now some help: You can find it in L.A. at the Co-opportunity in Santa Monica, at Erewhon, and at Lassen’s markets. There is no chance you buy this and don’t name your kid Insufferable in appreciation.

Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Jamaica's Cakes

Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Jamaica’s Cakes

4. The Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Jamaica’s Cakes. I stick vegan in the title because they also have a non-vegan Velvet Cake. Which they tell me isn’t as good. Which I wouldn’t know yet completely believe because this is the best vegan cake I have ever had. And it’s so good that I don’t even need to include vegan in that sentence — it is one of the best cakes I have ever had. AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE RED VELVET CAKE. Now they don’t have this every day at Jamaica’s. But sometimes they do. Or you could order it. Or if you get lucky, they’re selling single slices of it the day you arrive. Which has happened to me a few times. But if you arrive and they’ve got other flavors of vegan cake by the slice but not the red velvet, then by all means try one of the others, they’re all good. And some are very good. And some are excellent. But the red velvet is better than excellent. Oh, and those sprinkles on top? Vegan. I asked.

SAGE BISTRO! Top Row: Bistro Po' Boy with German Potato Salad, Close up of the Po' Boy, Close up of the Potato Salad. Middle Row: Root Vegetable Tacos, Mac and Cheese Ball, Quinoa Corn Cake. Bottom Row: Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich, Close up of the sandwich, Mashed Potatoes.  Photo credit: SuperVegan. Photo by: Andrea Wachner.

SAGE BISTRO! Top Row: Bistro Po’ Boy with German Potato Salad, Close up of the Po’ Boy, Close up of the Potato Salad. Middle Row: Root Vegetable Tacos, Mac and Cheese Ball, Quinoa Corn Cake. Bottom Row: Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich, Close up of the sandwich, Mashed Potatoes. Photo credit: SuperVegan. Photo by: Andrea Wachner.

3. Sage Bistro. Yup, I’m cheating again. I’m doing a meal instead of a thing. But with this one I could do a thing. And the thing would be their Bistro Po’Boy, a seitany stack that I loved. But it was a close call over their Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich which I also loved. And it’s possible I liked the Po’Boy better because it was the first thing I put in my mouth of the again too many things that I had with my MEVF. (Managing Editor Vegan Friend.) We got so many things and they were so many good. You can read her post about it. I’m getting too full just remembering.

"The Vegan Chili" from Hot Knives

“The Vegan Chili” from Hot Knives

2. The chili from Hot Knives at Tony’s Darts Away‘s Vegan Chili Cook-off. Now before I go any further I want to say that this could have easily been number one. It was a close call. And so its second place finish takes nothing away from this being the best chili I have ever had. That’s right. Ever. Like as in those almost half a hundred non-vegan years too. This was insanely good food. In fact, it’s so good, I’m going to abandon the stupid writing for a moment and try to actually describe what was so good about it:  It was complex. Like the way an amazing piece of art or an amazing piece of writing or an amazing piece of music or an amazing wine is complex. It makes all kinds of parts of your brain work at once and the work they all do occurs in a synchronized reaction that sets off neurons or other brain-part-things that create a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction that might as well be some kind of crazy drug you shoot in your arm but instead is just chili. And thank god, cuz I’m afraid of needles.

Pho Ga at Au Lac

Pho Ga at Au Lac

1. The Pho Ga at Au Lac. Okay, can you imagine how good this fake chicken pho must have been to surpass that chili description above? And like I said, it was close. This could have been two and two could have been one. And I had to really concentrate to remember my remembrance, and think about the reactions I had and think which was better if one could even be said to be better. And somehow, the pho edged it out. It wasn’t about the stuff that was in the pho, like the fake chicken or the other stuff they give you to add to your bowl, it was about the soup itself. It had a stunning perfection to it that floored me. A completeness. That rare feeling you get with anything that this is as good as this could be. That to imagine this being any better might as well be trying to imagine another color that you have never seen. Oh, and I don’t even really like soup.

And that’s my list. Did you have some vegan food this year that was so good you had to shake your head in amazement? I’d love to hear about it, especially if it’s within driving distance of my driveway.

Chego’s attitude toward vegans: Why won’t Chego away

1 Dec

Chego
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles CA 90034
310.287.0337

Chego

Sometimes it’s hard to have a conversation in 140 character segments. So rather than keep tweeting back and forth with Chef Roy Choi, founder of the Kogi food trucks that started a craze in, well, food trucks, I decided to write a longer post.

I’ve been vegan for over two years now, and my experience this week at Chego was one of if not my worst vegan restaurant experience. And it was particularly frustrating for a number of reasons. First off, back in May, Chef Choi tweeted that he quit eating meat. Oh, and by the way, that link I just provided about Chef Choi not eating meat anymore? It’s from The New Yorker. Seriously, this was deemed such a momentous event that the New Yorker covered it. Then a couple of weeks later he was saying that just because he might give up meat for a while doesn’t mean he’s a vegetarian or vegan, but that he feels for us.

So about a month ago I tweeted him asking if there was anything for vegans to eat at his restaurant Chego on Overland at Palms. My tweet: “Hi chef! Is anything @EatChego vegan or easily veganizable? Thnx!” His reply: “Many things for you to eat. We got you.”

Great, right? Sure, it was all great until I actually decided to try to go and eat there. Then it was a completely different story. I went in for lunch and the woman taking orders couldn’t have been more friendly. I told her about my exchange with Chef Roy and she seemed to want to help. However, she didn’t have a very good grasp of the ingredients that were in each item.

So she went in the back and brought out a gentleman who I presume to be the manager. He sure acted like a manager. And I explained to him about the tweets I exchanged with Chef Roy. And… he could not have cared less. Seriously, if I had an employee who didn’t seem to care about what I, the owner, had told a customer, that employee would not be around much longer.

But when I tweeted Chef Roy about his manager’s bizarre behavior, which pretty much included a refusal to speak to me directly even though he was standing right in front of me, instead choosing to relay all messages through the woman who was taking orders as if some scene from a sitcom where the parents or siblings are fighting, Chef Roy wrote back pretty quickly to tell me this manager “did what he could.” What?! Did Chef Roy really check with his manager that quickly and not only take the manager at his word but then just turn around and tell me his manager’s response? Or, as I suspect, did Chef Roy just automatically decide to stand by his manager’s completely unacceptable and customer-unfriendly behavior without even asking the manager about it.

And let me tell you, I could not have been more nice about the whole thing. I never go to a non-vegan restaurant and expect to be fed as if it’s my right. Sometimes if I’m in a pinch somewhere, or wind up at a place where a group of friends are meeting, I will explain myself to the server and ask if they’re able to help. And they’re often as nice as can be.

But this was the opposite situation. Here I was, going to a restaurant where the owner himself had told me “Many things for you to eat. We got you” and yet the manager couldn’t give a rat’s ass and was not in the least bit interested in making this work for me. And not only that, the menu has been updated at Chego recently as reflected on the website. However, the restaurant itself has made the decision not to print new menus, instead sticking with outdated laminated sheets and instead using white stickers to cover up and block out the items that are no longer on the menu like you’d see at some down-on-its-luck hardscrabble coffee shop. I kid you not, these are the menus that customers are left to use.

Making matters worse, I was told that some of the items contained things like fish sauce that weren’t in the ingredients listed for each item on the menu. So how am I supposed to know what to order without help from the people who work there? Again, after I was told by the owner “Many things for you to eat. We got you” and after I told the manager that the owner had told me this. I know I’m repeating myself but I still find it shocking.

None of the items on the menu are labeled vegetarian, yet alone vegan, so it wasn’t like I had that going for me to provide some assistance. I was completely at the mercy of the staff and they were of no help whatsoever.

So what finally wound up happening? Well, the manager deigned to tell the woman taking orders that I could get the “Sour Cream Hen House: marinated grilled chicken rice bowl w/fried egg, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, Thai basil, sesame and red jalapeño” and hold the sour cream, chicken, and fried egg. So I said sure. Like a friend of mine always says, “I’m not picky, just vegan.”

Then the woman told me that if I ordered the “Beehive Brussels Sprouts: caramelized and deglazed w/ soy vinaigrette over yogurt curd and honeycomb, crowned w/ salsa ensalada, fried shallots and sesame” without the honeycomb I’d be fine, so I said great to this, too. Now I know you’re saying, “But it has yogurt.” However, this was apparently one of their new items and it is not on the old weatherbeaten menus they have at the restaurant, so I had no idea what the ingredients were other than the honeycomb, which I guessed at given the “Beehive” in the name. And even though I’d already explained a few times to the woman taking orders that vegan meant no meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs — she still told me I’d be fine with an item that came on a bed of yogurt. So when the item arrived, yup, it was on a bed of yogurt. AND, the sour cream bowl hold the sour cream came with, you guessed it, a big dollop of sour cream on it.

Beehive Brussels sprouts hold the honeycomb but oops, they gave it to me on a bed of yogurt.

Beehive Brussels sprouts hold the honeycomb but oops, it’s on a bed of yogurt!

And yet when I tweeted to Chef Roy that my experience at Chego had been rough, he replied “Don’t know why it was rough.” Really?!

I have to wonder just how detached Chef Roy is at this point from his restaurants. Why would he tell me there were many things to eat there without getting specific, leaving me with the impression that, well, there’d be many things for me to eat there, when that couldn’t have been further from the situation, at least not with the help of his staff, which was either unable or, remarkably, UNWILLING to help me.

So after my lunch I asked him what were these “many things” he’d told me awaited me. And he replies: “Leafy T.” Okay, well, they did not tell me about this option at the restaurant. Perhaps because the item as listed on the menu contains a “fried egg” — though they did not offer me the option of getting the Leafy T and holding the egg. I then asked him whether the “Smashed Kabocha Cup: roasted kabocha and sweet potato puree w/ soy glaze, bread crumbs, herbs and seasonal veggies” or the “Fancy Guac Salad: w/ fresh orange slices, fennel, pickled red onion and a chipotle dressing” contained any egg or dairy, and he never answered my question. Instead he simply sent me another tweet saying “You live up to your name.”

Now granted, I CAN be insufferable, as any of you who are regular readers (love ya!) know. And that’s partly the whole point. BUT I can also be friendly, polite, understanding, and VERY appreciative of any non-vegan place that’s trying to accommodate me. AND I can totally get it when a clearly non-vegan place can’t or won’t accommodate me. But when the owner of a restaurant tells me “Many things for you to eat. We got you” and then acts like I’m the one who’s being unreasonable for complaining that they didn’t got me even a little, then I think it’s the other party who’s clearly insufferable. And if you say it sounds more like he’s being Too Cool for School than insufferable, then I’m standing here touching the tip of my nose with my finger. And did I mention that this owner’s manager didn’t want to help at all to the point of rudeness, and that this owner talked earlier this year about not eating meat himself?

So what did I do after my twitter exchange with THE GREAT CHEF ROY ‘PAPI’ CHOI? I went back to Chego that very same night for dinner. That’s right. I went back and ordered the Leafy T bowl hold the fried egg. And at night, the guy taking the orders was much more knowledgable about ingredients than the woman at lunch, and seemed very certain that the Fancy Guac Salad did not contain any egg or dairy, so I got that too.

"Fancy Guac Salad" This was very good.

“Fancy Guac Salad”
This was very good.

And? Well, the Fancy Guac Salad was very good, although one of the two big chips they gave me with it was soggy. But I did not like the Leafy T at all. Maybe the fried egg brings the whole thing together, I don’t know. But I can tell you that it wasn’t nearly as good as the parts of the Brussels sprouts or the Sour Cream, Chicken and Egg Bowl hold the Sour Cream, Chicken and Egg that I picked at where they seemed not to touch the dairy that I’d asked them unsuccessfully to leave out.

And there, that’s my Chego story. I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe you’ll have a better sense than I will. It sounds like an owner who really doesn’t have much of a clue what’s going on at his own restaurant, but maybe that’s not the case at all. Maybe he just wants to sound accommodating to everyone, or progressive, without really giving any thought to what that actually entails for someone who takes him at his word and shows up to eat the things he tells them they’ll be able to eat.

I hope THE GREAT CHEF ROY ‘PAPI’ CHOI will see that he’s the one who was being insufferable here, or at least that we both were, although I will only admit to being insufferable in this instance AFTER my visit, not before or during. And I hope this opens his eyes to the problem, and that when he finally decides to spend a little money and print new menus instead of covering up old items with white stickers (seriously, how much could some new menus cost, we’re not talking fancy menus here, we’re talking one 8.5″ X 11″ page) that maybe he’ll even think about putting some kind of symbol for vegetarian or vegan or can-be-made-vegan-on-request on the menu, like MANY restaurants in Los Angeles do these days. You know, the kind who really ARE trying to accommodate people who are doing the thing that Chef Roy mused to The New Yorker that he was thinking about doing.

I will end by saying one thing: Chef Roy is really talented. Some of the food I picked at around the edges was really, really good. If he would make more of an effort for us — and it would only take a little bit of effort — he could easily come up with a way for almost all diners to enjoy his talent. I really hope he will read this and do that, so that I’m not the only one in this back and forth who’s living up to their tweets.

Ellen no longer all in

27 Nov

Ellen Pompeo and Ellen DeGeneres

Since we’re all talking about Ellen today, it must be important to us. I watched the video of her conversation. Here’s what she says: “We have neighbors that have chickens. We get our eggs from those chickens ’cause they’re happy, they’re really happy chickens.”

She never says, “I eat eggs now.” But it sure does sound like it. So what does it mean? I think it means that she’s no longer vegan. Which means we’ve lost perhaps the biggest advocate for veganism. It seemed to me that she or Bill Clinton was the public face of veganism, to the extent it had a public face, and not just a generic hippie or hipster face.

When I first heard the news today I thought wow, I need to write a big post about this. But then when I started reading through the comments on the vegansaurus post my stomach started turning. True, that happens with almost any Internet comments, but it was just plain depressing. Ditto the handful of comments on SuperVegan.

Look, the point of reading Internet comments is to see how stupid our fellow Americans are. And so it’s really not surprising that vegans can be idiots, too. Nor is it surprising when people think people who disagree with them are idiots. (Guilty!)

But what does it really mean if Ellen’s not vegan anymore. I’m guessing it means she won’t talk about it so much anymore, especially when she gets wind of all the vegans trashing her. And I’m guessing that over the years she’s exposed a lot of people to the concept of veganism, and convinced a lot of people to give veganing a try. So to the extent she won’t be doing that anymore, what a drag.

It also seems likely to make some people throw up their hands and start eating eggs again, or dairy, or meat. But hey, those people are adults and we can’t really blame Ellen for that. But it’s kind of depressing that even if she remains an advocate for animal welfare and a critic of factory farming, she’s now moving toward a less restrictive position, in other words, moving in the WRONG direction.

Look, she can do what she wants. And she obviously does. Remember when she took the dog from the rescue agency and then clearly broke their rules by giving it to someone else? And then she went on her show and cried about it? Clearly, the woman is a gigantic asshole. But given that she has been an asshole who has done a tremendous amount for gay rights and veganism, that’s way better than the typical Hollywood asshole who is an asshole about things like blocking access to a public beach.

I know someone in Santa Monica with hens in her backyard. Friend of a friend. This person can not tell you enough times on Facebook how wonderful it is to have these happy chickens in her yard. And yes, if this person is going to eat eggs anyway, this is a way better way to do it than buying them at a supermarket that gets them from a factory farm. But this friend of a friend was never vegan. Ellen was. And now she’s eating eggs again.

I don’t know about you, but if I got some eggs from “happy” chickens (and this HAPPY bullshit is a whole other discussion) and started eating eggs again, then the next time I went to a restaurant where there was nothing at all on the menu for me, BUT there was some pasta that was made with egg, or a veggie burger bun made with egg, well, I know it would be a lot harder for me to be strong if I’ve been eating eggs every day for breakfast.

Since we, the remaining vegans in this world, don’t eat animal products for a reason, a reason we believe strongly in, we obviously want other people to do what we’re doing, so even less pain will come to the animals that provide so much of people’s food. So to the extent Ellen’s action reverses whatever trend there might be, that’s the fear. That Ellen’s move is a step in the wrong direction, IN THE REVERSE DIRECTION. A step that I think can do nothing but lead to MORE animal pain not less.

And that’s why it hurts. That’s why we’re all reacting so strongly to the news today. Because we realize it’s a setback. A huge setback. Our movement, to the extent that it’s a movement, depends on people knowing someone who’s vegan. On being exposed to the concept and the reasons for it. It’s word of mouth not to put this in our mouth. And we lost our most public mouth today.

 

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?

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!

Beyond Meat responds

18 Oct

Beyond Meat Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce taco

Yesterday I wrote about how excited I was to hear that Beyond Meat was finally launching in Southern California. But although the company tweeted that their product was now available here, at the two Whole Foods I went to there was much confusion. Some employees knew what it was and some did not. Both stores said it had been there for two weeks but that it wasn’t in the prepared foods case that day at either — which is where the company’s tweets and emails said it could be found. Even more troubling, at one store the identification card called it simply “Vegan Chicken” while at the other store it was labeled “Gardein Chicken”! From the point of view of Beyond Meat, could things have possibly gone worse?

Perhaps the problems lay with Whole Foods not Beyond Meat, but it seemed at a minimum that Beyond Meat had not coordinated with Whole Foods in the region to make sure that their stores were aware that yesterday was the big rollout day and to even make sure to have enough on hand and to have it be represented in the prepared foods case, which is where Beyond Meat was telling its enthusiastic customers to look for it. Not at the hot food bar  in sorry steam table preparations like this:

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Beyond Meat is billing itself as the best fake meat yet. And I have to say that the texture is better than Gardein, at least for some purposes. If it’s replacing diced or sliced chicken, then Beyond Meat has more of the “give” that real chicken does. Although in something like a chicken parmigiana that calls for a chicken breast, the Gardein might still be the better option. Regardless, it’s always good to have more options, especially if it’s an option that encourages carnivores to try substituting it for real animals.

Today Beyond Meat responded to my blog post and I appreciate how attentive they were. They are looking into it and hopefully that will mean that before long Beyond Meat will truly be available in various preparations at Whole Foods stores throughout Southern California. In the meantime, if your local Whole Foods has a taco bar and has the “Vegan Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce” and it has the more layery look that gives it away as Beyond Meat not Gardein, then by all means get yourself a taco or burrito of it. It was delicious!

Beyond Meat botches its Southern California rollout

17 Oct

I was all excited. After months of anticipation, and then jealousy as Beyond Meat went from Northern California to the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountain, Beyond Meat was finally coming to Southern California, or so said all their PR.

This morning I got a mass email from Beyond Meat’s founder and CEO Ethan Brown stating the following:

“I’m thrilled to announce that today, Beyond Meat makes its debut in delicious recipes in the prepared foods case of another Whole Foods region.”  Then I saw the following tweet: “Have you heard the news on our new regional rollout? Find Beyond Meat in recipes at SoCal @WholeFoods stores” with a link to their website.

On the website there’s a huge splash at the top stating “BEYOND MEAT LAUNCHES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA” with a link to where you can find it. The Whole Foods that I usually go to in West LA was not listed but the one in Westwood Village was so I went there to get me some. AND NOBODY KNEW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT.

First I went to the prepared foods counter since that’s where the email/tweet/website says it will be. Nope. They didn’t know what I was talking about. So I went to the sandwich counter since I remember people saying that in the Bay Area they got it in sandwiches at Whole Foods. The woman didn’t know what Beyond Meat was. When I explained that it was a type of fake meat she said, “Oh yes” and went into the refrigerator. She came out with a boxed package of seitan. Strike two.

Then I happened to see the store manager walking around so I told him that I saw on Beyond Meat’s website that it’s launching today and that his store was one of the ones that was supposed to have it. He knew what Beyond Meat was! So I was getting closer. He took me over to one of the prepared foods employees to ask where the Beyond Meat items were. Of course the employee didn’t know what Beyond Meat was but when he explained that it was fake meat the employee took us over and pointed out a tray in the hot food bar. Yes, the manager said, this is it.

What was it? A very sad looking item, as you can see from the photo. It was some Beyond Meat chicken that was boiled and/or steamed with some zucchini slices. This is the way that Beyond Meat is showcasing how much its new product is like chicken? By featuring it in a recipe that would turn off just about anyone, from devout vegan to devout carnivore? And here’s the best part: the sign above the item said: “Gardein Chicken”!

Well, the manager assured me that this was not Gardein but was in fact Beyond Meat, and that it was currently the only Beyond Meat item in the store. HOWEVER, he said, it was featured in some tasty salads the other day because they have been selling Beyond Meat for two weeks already!

So I bought a small amount of the boiled/steamed Beyond Meat in zucchini and water and left the store very disappointed. I really wanted some Beyond Meat! If only the bigger Whole Foods in West LA had it, but alas, it wasn’t one of the ones on the list. But hey, if Beyond Meat botched things so bad in Westwood, I wondered if it’s possible that the West LA store would have it anyway, so off I went.

My first stop was the hot food bar and the woman working there said there were no fake meat items in the hot bar and she sent me to the prepared foods case at the other end of the store. Well, they didn’t have anything with Beyond Meat, even though the email/tweet/website directs customers to the prepared foods case.

So I went back to the other end of the store to the sandwich counter. There I asked the employee if he had any Beyond Meat items. He looked at me and said something like, “You’re about the twentieth person to ask me that today! What gives?” Keep in mind it was not even noon at this point. I told him that Beyond Meat was mounting a big launch today of their product at Whole Foods in Southern California. He seemed exasperated and said, “Well nobody told me. It would have been nice to know. We’ve had Beyond Meat items for the last two weeks here but today we don’t have any.” Then he suggested I try the prepared foods case where I told him I’d already been. But I was lucky in that this gentleman was the very helpful type and he did not give up so easily. He took me over to the pizza area because he said they have been using it on pizzas. But unfortunately, the pizza maker said they didn’t have any of it today. Then he got a look in his eye and told me to try the taco bar, where he said there still might be some Beyond Meat left over from yesterday. So I went to the taco bar and sure enough, there in one of the bins, with a card that merely read Vegan Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce, I found it.

Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce

I got a sample and it was good, very good, so I got a pint and I also got a taco. And I have to tell you, it’s tasty. I only wish Beyond Meat were as good with logistics as they are in the kitchen, but I guess if they had to only be competent at one thing, it’s better that it’s at making a tasty product than rolling it out into stores.

Beyond Meat in tomatillo sauce taco. Good!

So if you’re reading this, Mr. Brown, I really think you need to fire your regional manager in charge of your Southern California rollout today, because it appears to be an unmitigated disaster.

Mac and Cheese for the win!

13 Oct

Doomie dishes out his mac and cheese that would fool any omni.

Before I was vegan I never much liked mac and cheese. I still don’t.

I don’t think it’s ‘cuz when we were po I ate it a lot, of the grimy then-25¢ a box Kraft kind. I think I just don’t like it.

Doomie’s Mac and Cheese

But what I DO like is a good old-fashioned vegan food bare-knuckled throwdown. And that’s what I got today.

Sun Cafe’s mac and cheese

Chicavegan, the manger of the M Cafe De Chaya on Melrose, was a judge at this summer’s Vegan Burger Smackdown at Mohawk Bend, and today she threw her own event: L.A.’s Best Vegan Mac & Cheese Showdown. And it was great. Five restaurants showed up at Space 15 Twenty on Cahuenga and offered up their take on vegan mac and cheese. The five battlers were Doomie’s, Hugo’s, Sun Cafe, M Cafe, and Southern Fried Vegan.

Southern Fried Vegan’s version

For five bucks you got five good-sized servings. Plus, Amanda’s Bakery & Cafe  was selling some good desserts to boot.

Treats from Amanda’s Bakery

I went with the head of Supervegan’s L.A. office and she liked Doomie’s the best. And I have to say, Doomie’s was good and it did taste the most like traditional mac and cheese. But my favorite was from Hugo’s, and the judges thought so too, since they crowned it the champ.

Hugo’s Winning Recipe

I forgot to take a photo of Hugo’s mac and cheese because I was too busy woofing it down, but If you’re curious, there’s a lot more photos on Supervegan’s instagram @wearesupervegan

Can you buy meat and be vegan?

12 Oct

This is not me.

There’s plenty of feuds on the Internet about who is vegan and who is not. It can get ugly. I’m vegan because I don’t eat honey and you do. You’re not vegan because you wear leather and I don’t. And on and on. To the point that it’s tedious. To the point that I start to feel it does more harm than good because you risk scaring off people who are just trying it out. Who maybe have started eating vegan but still wear leather. While I agree that people who call themselves vegan but then post pictures of fast food veggie burgers that are widely known to be non-vegan on their Instagrams are annoying, I also tend to think that anyone who calls themselves vegan IS, within reason.

But then there’s another issue, and it’s one that bothers me, and like most things that bother me, I’ve managed to successfully push it to the back of my mind and not think about it. Until today. Because this god damn Vegan MoFo commitment means I need to write twenty posts this month!

This is not me either.

So here goes. I’m vegan. I don’t eat honey. I don’t eat bug stuff. I don’t wear leather. Or silk. BUT… I still buy meat for my family. Okay, well not actually meat. I’ve had some effect on my family and they’ve pretty much stopped eating what is usually called meat — beef, chicken, etc. However, they still eat fish. And eggs. And ice cream. And worse, sometimes when I go to the supermarket, I buy it for them. So am I still vegan?

I will say that since I went vegan for myself, I now spend the extra couple of bucks a dozen to get the eggs that are “pasture-raised” in the hope (perhaps naive) that these animals, while still probably leading an awful existence, are at least leading a better awful existence than the ones laying cheaper eggs. Again, I realize that I very well might be kidding myself. But I also buy sushi. And milk. And cheese. And I buy it for my family at restaurants, too. So am I still vegan?

Still not me.

I certainly think of myself as vegan now. And other people think I am because of what I won’t eat. But I’m still buying it. I’m still supporting it by buying it. I’m still sending money that props up the animals-for-food industry.

But that leads to another discussion, one I’ll save for another post, if only because of that dreaded twenty. Which is: how far do I push the rest of my family to change their ways?

Like taking candy from an omni

12 Oct

Most vegans quickly find out which candy and cookies they can eat. Of course there’s stuff you can find that proudly promotes itself as vegan, like the GoMax candy bars for example, which are hard to resist. And then there’s the stuff that’s “accidentally vegan” — things which just happen to be vegan, through no intent of the manufacturer. Things like Sour Patch Kids and Oreos.

And then there’s a category that is kind of in-between. They’re not mass-market items that you can find in any supermarket or 7-Eleven, but accidental items that are either regional or throwbacks. And those are the things that get me excited.

Vegan!

They used to be hard to find. For example, it took me a while to learn that Rite-Aid drug stores sold Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, which are vegan  (the Original dark chocolate ones, of course). And they’re also available at places like Cracker Barrel. But then I found out about Rocket Fizz.

Vegan!

Rocket Fizz is a chain of candy and soda stores. You can find them in various parts of the country, and people keep opening new franchises all the time. And they stock a lot of non-mainstream products that happen to be vegan. Like the Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Like Chick-O-Sticks. Not to mention many different flavors of Sour Patch Kids, and, my favorite, Zotz.

Vegan!

Zotz were a fond part of my childhood. Hard candies with some kind of chemical in the middle that fizzes up in your mouth. I hadn’t seen them in decades until I found them at Rocket Fizz. And I was psyched to see that they’re vegan. Now they’re kind of my go-to junkfood snack, and while they might eventually kill me, at least they’re not killing any animals. And that’s sweet.

Promoting veganism. What’s veganism?

12 Oct

The New York Times recently ran this article about how omni restaurants in Los Angeles are now catering to vegans. I was going to say yes and no, but really, it’s still more no, don’t you think? I can find something at most places but often — very often — I still feel I’m not wanted. That I’m a nuisance and they wish I’d go away. (As opposed to the people who get to know me before thinking that.) And being made to feel a nuisance seems pretty much the opposite of being catered to.

I was so excited when I first saw this article, but I think it’s overstated. I will admit that while I’d heard that a former Dan Tana’s fixture had opened a competing joint named Craig’s down the block, I was unaware they were offering a whole vegan section on their menu. Boo-ya! (or whatever the correct sound effect for excitement is.) But the rest of the article goes a little too far.

One of the high-end restaurants they mention as catering to vegans is Hatfield’s. I was surprised to read that Hatfield’s, one of the hot restaurants in the city, was doing this. And it turns out I had reason to be skeptical. I called Hatfield’s and spoke to a very nice woman there. She told me that the vegetarian prix fixe menu was not suitable for vegans but that there were some vegan options available. Great, I said, can you tell me about them? Well, she said, You can get the arugula and roasted fig salad with jamon (ham) and manchego (cheese) without the jamon and manchego. Or, she said, You can get the watermelon, avocado and burrata salad without the burrata. Or, you can get the wild mushroom and buckwheat crepe without the crepe. And that’s about it.

Really? It’s not her fault, or the fault of Hatfield’s, but why the hell is The New York Times choosing this as one of the high-end restaurants that cater to vegans when they don’t cater to vegans at all? When the only three choices for us are three things sans the main components of the things? Is The New York Times really writing an article about vegan dining when they don’t really understand the difference between vegans and vegetarians? Yup, it seems like they are.

Another place they mention is n/naka. This is a traditional kaiseki restaurant. They have a vegetarian prix fixe menu, which costs a steep $110 per person, but some of the courses looked like they contained dairy, so I called. Again, they were very nice, and they told me that when making your reservation you can request that the vegetarian prix fixe be made vegan and they will happily do it. I thought that was great, but I still found it odd that the article did not mention this, but rather left the reader with the impression that there was a vegan prix fixe available as part of their regular offerings.

I guess I kid myself that in 2012 people understand what veganism is, even people writing articles about it for prominent publications. It’s apparently still to much to ask. But I still think any seemingly positive coverage, even if ignorant and inaccurate, is better than none. I just wish that these publications would write these vegan articles with an eye toward vegans, rather than merely trying to let omnifolk know about the supposedly changing dining world.

Lemonade, very pretty

9 Oct

Lemonade
Multiple locations throughout L.A.

I tend to make lists. Lists of vegan restaurants to try. Lists of places that have vegan options for when I need to meet up with omnifolk. Lists of places in Orange County for when I’m down that way. Lists, lists, lists.

And Lemonade was on one of my lists because I once saw something online touting its vegan options. So I tried their Venice location on Abbot Kinney near Venice Blvd.

And there are plenty of vegan options. Lemonade is cafeteria style — you grab a tray and push your way along. And the first station is a display of probably twenty or more salads, and they all look pretty good, and even more impressive, there is a key code that tells you whether a given item is vegan or not. You can buy these salads in combos, and three of them cost $11.75. But even better, you are allowed to split an item, meaning I was able to try six different vegan salads for $11.75. But did they really have six different salads that were vegan? Yes, in fact they had eight!

So you can imagine how happy I was as I picked six of these eight and watched them fill up my tray with a rainbowotic assortment of foodbeauty. No bread though, because I was told that none of the four types of bread were vegan. Boo! But hey, who needs bread with this much salad, right? So that mitigates the boo a bit.

And here are my salads. I’ll try to run them down in clockwise order starting with those beets at the top left. Those are roasted beets with pickled red onion and toasted hazelnuts. To the right of that is roasted heirloom carrots with crushed basil and herbs. The next salad is white corn, jicama, cashews, radicchio and ginger. Then comes Chinese long beans with pluots and plums. The red mass is red quinoa with cherry tomatoes, basil and sun-dried tomato dressing. And then finally, sweet potato with white peach and ancho chili vinaigrette.

So I sat down to eat my Lemonade very pretty salads and… they weren’t very good. Rarely have I experienced this big a disconnect between the appearance of food and its taste. Whoever is designing these things has an eye but no mouth. They were just one failure after another. So much so that I would not even recommend this place to you, not even given the high number of choices for us veganers, and not even given their growing number of locations around the city. Find someplace else for lunch is what I’d say. Well, not what I’d say, what I AM saying. (Except for LAX, where they have a location, and where I can’t imagine you’d find better.)

Ginger snap cookie sans snap.

However, there was one silver lining. Or actually a ginger lining. Because the one vegan dessert they have out of what seems like a billion desserts is a ginger snap cookie and… it’s really tasty! In fact, it was by far the tastiest thing I ate there. Mind you, this ginger snap is a soft cookie, so the snap is non-existent, but it’s yums, as someone other than I would say.

So there, I managed to end on a positive note, because when life brings you Lemonade…

Kung Pao Feastro

8 Oct

Kung Pao Bistro 
7853 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood CA 90046
323.848.9888

Not only are you getting 20 posts from me this month but you’re getting 20 awful headlines. But we did have a feast at Kung Pao Bistro.

I had never been there before but have heard a lot about it for a while. It’s a meat-serving place but they have a whole vegan page on their menu. Overall, I’d say it was a mixed bag but I’d certainly be willing to go back and try more things.

Vegan Chicken and Spinach Wonton Soup

My favorite item by far was the vegan chicken and spinach wonton soup. The soup was delicious and so were the dumplings. And we got it at a happy hour discount price to boot. (4pm to 7pm).

Vegan Beef and Broccoli

The beef and broccoli had what tasted like VegeUSA fake beef. It was a little too sweet for me but the broccoli was very good.

Vegan Chicken Lo Mein

The vegan chicken lo mein wasn’t that great. The fake chicken was these weird crescent-shaped slices, and the noodles weren’t that great either.

Sauteed Garlic String Beans

The sauteed garlic string beans were very good. I will definitely be back to continue working my way through their vegan menu.

You’re giving me vegan food?

5 Oct

Okay, nobody ever really said that to me. But here’s what I was thinking: Let’s say you get invited over to somebody’s place. Maybe it’s their birthday. Maybe they’re having some friends over for dinner or a barbecue. Maybe it’s a party.

Now if you went to the supermarket and bought a dozen cheap cupcakes from the supermarket bakery in one of those clear plastic snap-cases and then scraped off the price with your fingernail, the recipient might think you were cheap or might be very happy with them but they probably would not think you were being selfish.

But what if you went to a vegan bakery or even a non-vegan bakery that has vegan options, and you bought a dozen cupcakes that are both vegan AND way better than the cupcakes from the supermarket. And what if you’ve only been vegan a couple of years so you remember quite well what supermarket cupcakes taste like and even what good non-vegan cupcakes taste like and you know with an amazing degree of certainty that the vegan cupcakes you are bringing are way better than either.

So you show up with your nice box of cupcakes and maybe they’re vegan cupcakes from the non-vegan fancy bakery and your host is happy to see them and thanks you sincerely and then everyone starts enjoying them until your host or another guest notices that you are eating one too.

Now what?

Something would happen like this: You’d see their brains trying to piece it all together and then someone would say: “So… these are vegan?” And you’d say “Yeah” or maybe even “Yeah, they’re good aren’t they?” and your host and their guests would probably say, “Uh, yeah, yeah they are.” AND THEN THEY WOULD ALL HATE YOU.

Am I wrong about this? Wouldn’t they think: How rude! This is really a gift for themselves, not for me! And why are they trying to force their agenda on me? After all, it’s not MY agenda. What kind of gift is it for me if they go and get something that THEY like and can eat?!

And are they right? Because what’s the comparison? Is it to the crappy supermarket cupcakes? Or is their attitude that if you went to a fancy bakery for vegan cupcakes you could have — and should have — gone to a fancy non-vegan bakery and brought me some fancy non-vegan cupcakes.

What I’m getting at is, it’s not really about the taste of the item, is it? It’s about people’s notions of agenda, and gift-giving, and defensiveness. And I can partly understand this. I can understand why the recipient would think the gift should be about them and not the giver. HOWEVER, if the giver was non-vegan and gave a box of fancy non-vegan cupcakes from a bakery they absolutely love and ate one or even two of them themselves, then I think the recipient would not have a problem with that whatsoever. And why?

Is it because they’re in the same club? They both identify as non-vegan. They’re on the same eating team. So it’s viewed as someone sharing something they like with someone they like. And again, for all of this, my premise is that the vegan cupcakes that were brought to the friend’s place are really, really good. The kind that would easily fool non-vegans.

These are the kind of things I spend my time thinking about. And I don’t even like cupcakes!

Mas Only Okay

4 Oct

Mas Malo
515 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles CA 90014
213.985.4332

Mas Malo is a downtown Los Angeles outpost of Malo in Silver Lake. I saw some photos on Instagram which led me to their website where I saw they had a number of vegan and veganizable dishes, and not the usual ones you might see at a Mexican place.

Vegan Menudo

They have a vegan menudo, and a mock ground beef and pickle taco! So when a vegan friend and I were trying to find a place to have lunch I suggested it and we went.

Mock Ground Beef & Pickle Taco (no cheese)

And we were both disappointed. Not by the space, which is an old jewelry store from the 1920s, located directly below the bar Seven Grand. And not by the free chips and salsa, which were very good. But the food just didn’t kill. I’m hesitant to say this since I think it’s great that they have a bunch of vegan options. I don’t want restaurateurs to think vegans are nothing but insufferable complainers (oops!) so what’s the point of trying to make them happy.

Zucchini Blossom Taco (hold the cheese)

But the thing we were most excited about, the vegan menduo, seemed more like a bowl of Thai tofu soup than a vegan version of a Mexican version of anything. And the zucchini blossom (hold the cheese) taco wasn’t nearly as exciting as its name.

Soyrizo, Spinach, and Corn Chimichanga

I did like the Soyrizo, spinach & corn chimichanga though my friend found it a bit too spicy, and we both liked the mock ground beef and pickle hard shell taco, but we both agreed that it wasn’t anywhere we needed to go back to, although if you’re looking for a place downtown to meet omnifolk within walking distance of Staples Center it’s not a bad choice.

So good even a meat-eater would hate it

3 Oct

In my review of Sage Vegan Bistro yesterday I mentioned that the food there is so delicious that even a meat-eater would love it. Then I quickly caught myself and realized who was I kidding? Because my experience has been that the only kind of meat-eaters who can like vegan food are the ones who already like it. In other words, I have learned after two years that I am not going to convince any meat eaters that this food is delicious, yet alone comparable to a meat meal or even merely “good.”

Unless a carny is already predisposed to work some vegan meals into their diet for health reasons, then their attitude is: Even if it’s good, why would I eat it when I could eat meat which I know would taste better.  Again, this isn’t all carnys. When I go to Native Foods or Veggie Grill, with their lines that are often out the door, I can see that most of their customers are not vegan or even vegetarian. Okay, I can’t really “see” that but I’ve asked muckety-mucks at both companies and have been told that something like 70 percent of their customers are not vegan nor vegetarian. I feel like once I was even told 90 percent. And that sounds right, especially because most of the people I see on line there are young. (Okay, young to me.) And by young I mean in their 20’s or early 30’s.

And I think this is a generational thing. People that age probably know someone who is vegan, and if not they certainly know what the word means. As opposed to people over 50 who mostly go “Huh? WHAT kind of diet are you on? Never heard of it.”

But I’m not talking about the meaters who are eating at Veggie Grill or Native Foods from time to time. I kind of put them in the “health reason” eaters I mentioned before. I’m talking about people who feel that vegan eating has nothing to offer them. Who feels it’s “all vegetables.” And who quite possibly are scared of vegetables, or who see them as something to eat on the side for nutritional reasons, but who never would see them as something capable of comprising a meal that would be fulfilling in the way a meat meal could be. Or as delicious.

Add to that group a subset who DON’T WANT a non-meat meal to be as good. Because then they’d really have to think about why they’re eating meat, when they know it’s not healthy for themselves nor good for the animals. And I guess at that point it’s back to what seems to be the basic purpose that vegans serve, which is to make people feel threatened. Okay, that’s not fair. They feel threatened AND guilty. Not that they’d ever admit that. They see it as we’re pushing an agenda on them.

If an animal-eater got invited to a pot luck and brought a fish dish, and a carny who hated fish saw the fish dish on the table, and asked what it was, and was told by the person who brought it that it’s a fish dish and the bringer went on and on about how much they love fish, the fish-hater would just be like: I don’t like fish and move on to something they liked. They wouldn’t feel threatened by it. They wouldn’t feel that the fish bringer was trying to push an agenda on them. Which makes me think that part of the problem is that people are afraid.

Afraid to confront what they’re doing, every day, a few times a day, and also afraid that if some vegan food was not only edible but even good or god forbid delicious, then they’d lose one of the main things they need to justify their behavior to themselves.

It’s kind of like the much-discussed “Yeah but I love cheese too much” crowd. How can vegetarians say that to vegans but then not understand the meaters who say “Yeah but I love meat too much.”

I have a friend who has been just fine about me becoming vegan. We still meet up at the places where we both can find something satisfying to eat. But at one point early in my veganism, before I knew how to deal with my carny friends now that I’d gone to the dark side, I suggested a vegetarian Mexican place near his house. This place is not vegan, mind you, it’s veg. You could still get cheese enchiladas, bean and cheese burritos, etc. Well, when I suggested it he got a pained look on his face and said, “I’ve been there before. There’s nothing for me to eat there.” Really? I go to your places all the time and find something I can eat. Can’t it work the other way around even once? What are you afraid of? I know you love pizza. I know you love Mexican food. Do you really need a piece of beef or pork or chicken in every single thing that you eat?

I think, though, that even more than being afraid they would find a vegan meal to be delicious is that they’re afraid it would be disgusting. They feel it would be so gross or so bland or so other that it would make them turn blue and puke. That it would be so vile as to not ever be worth taking a chance and uttering those words that I’m curious if other vegans ever hear from their carny friends: “Hey, let’s go to one of YOUR places! Take me to a vegan place that you love! Show me some vegan food that you think is great — I’m happy to give it a try!”

Now don’t get me wrong. I know some carnys who WILL happily go to a vegan place for a meal. And they are mostly women. The guy meaters I know, some of whom are VERY concerned with eating healthy, still want their plain piece of chicken, preferably grilled with the sauce on the side. It’s funny how many guys I know who, when I was a carny, would not want to go to certain restaurants with me because they’d given up red meat, only to be surprised that I leap-frogged past them into veganism, and now they don’t want to try a vegetarian place because it lacks their white-colored meat. They’ve gone from seeing themselves as a healthy eater and me as unhealthy, to seeing themselves as healthy and me as extreme.

Is this just MY sub-set of friends? Do people have very different experiences with the meaters in their lives? As Cafe Gratitude would say: I Am Curious.

It’s Sage Thyme

2 Oct

Sage Organic Vegan Bistro
1700 West Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90026
213.989.1718


It’s a lame headline. I know. And what’s worse is that a great restaurant like Sage deserves something better. Oh, well. They’ll have to settle for a rave review instead. I’ve been to Sage twice now. The first time was with the head of Supervegan’s L.A. office. We went crazy and ordered way too much food. Also known as just the right amount. And we loved almost all of it and wondered how neither of us had been there before. Then I went back this week with Ms. Insufferable and she loved it, too.

This place is crazy good. Is it the best vegan restaurant I’ve ever been to? Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been anywhere better. I’d put it right up there with Fatty’s Cafe, the Cinnamon Snail truck, and Au Lac as my favorites. I like to think it’d be the kind of place that meat eaters would try and love, but by now I know better than that. Hey, that could be its own post! And in fact, it just might be tomorrow’s! I mean, hey, if I have to do this 20 times I’m gonna need things to write about.

What I do know is that before I went vegan, back when I was eating meat, if I had been brought here I would have loved it. And I love it that they are expanding to Culver City in the spring, complete with pizza and a beer garden, and they intend to stay open till 2 a.m.!

Classic Tempeh Burger

Okay, if you don’t live in SoCal you might not care about all that, but maybe you will care about the food. So let’s get to it! Ms. Insufferable and I split two burgers, and they were both good. One was their “Classic Tempeh Burger” which as you can see comes with a HUGE block of tempeh. This seems like maybe the equivalent of five or six of the tempeh patties they give you on a Native Foods Scorpion Burger! Just massive. And it had a bright, citrusy taste to it even though the menu description of lettuce, tomato, avocado, mayo, mustard and onion didn’t lead me to expect that type of taste.

Jamaican Jerk Burger

As good as this was, we both thought the “Jamaican Jerk Burger” was better. This was a soft-to-the-point-of-flimsy black bean and walnut burger, with “jerked portabella and leeks,” sliced mango, caramelized onions, and mango saffron aioli.

Buffalo Croquettes

We also got an appetizer, the “Buffalo Croquettes” — three falafel balls tossed in buffalo sauce atop sage polenta, crispy onions, arugula and creamy horseradish sauce. Of all the big ticket items I tried in my two visits to Sage, this might have been the item I liked least. Their falafel was a bit on the dry side and wasn’t nearly as good as Sunnin or Habayit, and I didn’t love the combination of the dry falafel with the dry polenta. But hey, at a place as good as Sage, I’m determined to eventually try everything.

And as good as the burgers were, I didn’t like them as much as some of the items I got on my first visit to sage, like the “Bistro Po’Boy Sandwich” or the “Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich” which were really terrific.

All in all, if you’re a SoCal vegan and have never been, I’d say it’s a must, and if you’re a non-SoCal vegan who ever swings through L.A., it should be high on the top of your hit list.

Fatty’s & Whoa!

8 Jul

Fatty’s & Co
1627 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock CA 90041
323.254.8804

You can find full-on shots of Fatty’s on Google, or you can simply enjoy my I don’t feel like walking across the street shot.

I am very proud of this headline because it is one of my worst ones yet. The name of this establishment is Fatty’s & Co, but it’s up for sale and I fear might close one day so I thought of calling this Fatty’s & Woe, but it is actually still open for the time being and I ate there for the second time and it was still so impressive I  went with Whoa!

I didn’t write about Fatty’s the first time because I hadn’t started my blog yet (you should check out my blog sometime) but I did include Fatty’s in my 10 best things I 8 in 11 list. And I probably will again for this year if I decide to do another trite list and since I’m pretty trite (and trite pretty, too) I probably will.

Now I know I recently said I was moving most of my restauranting onto Instagram, and it’s true I have (I’m like the Mapplethorpe of vegan food, except mine are in color and not good: @insufferablevegan) but I thought Fatty’s deserved its own post. So here goes, in yes particular order:

“Flaps”

The first thing we ordered was the “Flaps,” which are described on the menu as “super thin fries shaped like dachshund puppy ears served with a parsley and scallion remoulade dip.”  The first thing you might notice is that these aren’t “fries” — they are chips. Now in England chips are fries but in Los Angeles fries are not chips. So no matter how good they were — they were okay — they weren’t fries. It’s crazy enough to spend seven dollars on fries but I certainly wouldn’t have spent it on chips, even though the dip was impressive in its dairylikeness.

“Far East Rolls”

Up next were the Far East Rolls, and from here on out the food was tough to beat, so I’ll take the seven bucks I spent on potato chips and add one dollar in my mind to the cost of each of the next seven items instead. Yup, I said seven items. The Far East Rolls are really good if a bit on the greasy side, but hey, spring rolls are like that. I don’t mean to suggest they were soggy, they weren’t, in fact they were crisperfect, but they left your fingertips with enough oil to fuel a Phish-following microbus. They’re filled with spicy ginger seitan (let’s start a pool to guess the year that seitan is welcomed into the world of spellchecks) cabbage and carrots, and are served with a mango dipping sauce. And they are equally good with the sauce or without.

“The Special”

The next item isn’t one that I ordered. At first. But as I saw it make its way to other tables I realized the error of my non-ways to mine and made it come this way. Good call by me, as people said in the previous century. Do you have the slightest idea what you are looking at in the photo above? Avocado, check. Tomatoes, check, and an extra half-point if you said heirloom tomatoes, which to be frank I’ll be very disappointed if that’s what my grandfather passes down to me, but WHAT’S IN THOSE AVOCADOS? Keep guessing. Okay, time’s up. The answer is: sorbet. Okay, resume guessing. Tomato sorbet. Tomato sorbet made from those same heirloom tomatoes. Tomato sorbet made from those same heirloom tomatoes with Campari! And it worked. The very cold tomatoey taste with the somewhat cold avocado with the aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil it sat on made for the kind of new taste you think you’re all out of in life. It might have been more interesting than good, but that’s only because of how interesting it was. (Interesting is not a very interesting word.)

“Corn Tortilla Soup”

Then came soup and salad. We ordered two entrées, which each come with either soup or salad, so we got one of each. The soup was good but I only had a spoonful before it was stolen away from me by someone at the table who pulled it close and disappeared it.

“House Salad”

The salad, described on the menu as “House Salad,” was anything but. I mean, anything but what you’d think of as a restaurant’s “house salad.” It was a Frank Lloyd Wright salad as far as I was concerned. “A slaw of raw beets and apples tossed in balsamic and red onion vinaigrette with endive and pistachio garnish.”  So. So. Good.

“Corn Risoles”

Entrée time! By now it was getting dark, which is the Kryptonite of the iPhone 3G-S cam, so just picture these last few pictures looking brighter. First was the Corn Risoles, which are kind of like empanadas to a Philistine mind like my own, and they were sitting on a bed of pesto, which I hear is rough on the back although delicious, and stuffed with a tomato and multi-colored pepper salpicon, which was the second word in one menu item that I had to look up, and which basically means stuffing, and not something you’d better not step on barefoot, which is what I was picturing when I first saw the word. (I didn’t feel all that bad about my ignorance, because my friend-blogger SuperVegan, who started me down the Veganbrick Road (73-year-old reference that was old 71 years ago), and who knows way more about food than I will ever know, and who even makes some of it by herself (!), didn’t know either of these words either.) And it was delicious!

“Tri-colored Lentils”

The other entrée we got was the Tri-colored Lentils. This was my favorite item the previous time I went to Fatty’s. This was the item that earned the number two spot on my 10 best things I 8 in 11 list. And how did it fare against the memory of itself? Not bad. Memories are hard to compete against — they’re almost as hard to compete against as things that are way better than you. And memory can be forgetful, and not very remembering at all. And this might have been one of those unremembery memories because I remembered this dish looking nothing like this. In my mind it was not stacked cake-like, but rather spread out. And the lentils earned the tri-color title much more the previous time, with a vast display of bright orange lentils spread across the bowl. But like I said I could be misremembering this memory because I didn’t remember to ask our server if it had changed. Either way, it was still very good. And still served with a delicious Meyer lemon sauce. I just don’t remember if it was the same Tri-Colored Lentil spectacular I ate last year.

“Cotton Candy”

Dessert! You didn’t think I was done, did you? The cotton candy at Fatty’s is a ten dollar sky high Matterhorn of spun-to-order pure Vermont maple sugar. I know so because it says this on the menu. And it was pretty good. And I don’t like cotton candy. Because it sticks to your fingers. But this cotton candy did not stick to the fingers!!! And so I learned that the sticking-to-the-fingers part is not the only thing I don’t like about cotton candy. But the person who disappeared the soup disappeared half the Matterhorn pretty darn fast and loved it pretty darn much.

“Top Crust Apple Pie with Soy Cream”

I have only been vegan for 22 months and I remember pie. Was pie my favoritest thing in the world? Nope, but I did enjoy it from time to time. This apple pie was good on the inside (organic Fuji apples) but the pie part just wasn’t up to snuff. It was kinda cakey. Not cakey like you’d describe a cake, but cakey like you’d describe something that caked up. But the soy ice cream was good. Really, really good. Which brings us to the final item of the night.

“Organic Peanut Butter Gelato”

This was the organic peanut butter gelato with chocolate brandy sauce, and it was my favorite item. It came with half a strawberry (as did the pie) and some fresh peanuts on top, and the chocolate brandy sauce. For my money (not yours) I could have done with some more of the chocolate brandy sauce. But either way, this was really good. Did it knock you onto the floor and make you have to stand back up and re-seat yourself? No. But it was pretty much perfect in and of itself. I can’t imagine how it could have been better. (Except for a bit more of the chocolate sauce.)

And there you have it, a meal at Fatty’s & Co, the best vegan fine-dining experience in the greater Los Angeles area. I should mention here that Fatty’s is not 100 percent vegan. Some items are vegetarian. But what’s nice is that all items are vegan unless marked vegetarian, and not the other way around. I also feel that calling it the best vegan fine-dining experience in L.A. will immediately make people think of Madeleine Bistro. And Madeleine Bistro is great. I just don’t think it’s quite this good. And you simply cannot compare Madeleine Bistro’s space, which I find to be dingy and shopworn, to the light airy wonderful space that is Fatty’s.

So if you’ve never been to Fatty’s — go! If you wait too long it might not be there anymore. But if we hope too long maybe it will stay around forever. Or at least until I die. Because then you’re on your own.

Changes Afoot at Yard House

29 May

You may remember a while back that a PR flack for Yard House made the boneheaded move of inviting Quarrygirl to come dine on some non-vegan items. The flack would up taking a lot of, um, yeah. Well, Yard House wasn’t too happy about that and is now getting the word out about some changes they’ve made to their menu resulting in a few new products that are actually vegan.

Someone I know got an email from them and forwarded it around. Maybe you’ve seen it already. Basically, they are trying out a new menu at two of their locations: Pasadena and Costa Mesa. The menu is now using a V for items that are vegetarian. There is no marking for vegan, or even use of the word. Apparently they are afraid to use the word for fear of lawsuits. How an item marked “vegan” that gets cross-contaminated with dairy or egg is any worse than an item marked “vegetarian” that gets contaminated with meat is beyond me. Maybe the truth is that Yard House is afraid to use the word vegan because they think it’ll turn off non-vegans or non-vegetarians who might try a Gardein item for a change of pace. Don’t know.

Either way, the important part is that there are now some vegan options at Yard House. The two main ones are the Gardein Chicken Rice Bowl and the Gardein Orange Peel Chicken. Previously we needed to stay away from anything battered at Yard House because all battered items had egg, but now they say they are using an eggless rice flour batter on all their Gardein items. There are also two salads that are vegan: the Summer Salad and the Citrus Soy Salad, plus two appetizers: the hummus and edamame.

It’s not a ton but it’s something, and as I’ve said to many a server: I don’t need a lot of options, I just need one.

The Vegan Pretzel Train

17 May

Golden Road Brewing
5410 West San Fernando Rd
Los Angeles, CA 90039
212.373.4677

Are you old enough to remember that show with the two sisters playing guitars and coaxing children to join them on the Vegan Pretzel Train? It’s somewhere there in the recesses of my memory. Maybe they weren’t sisters, just actresses. Maybe the train wasn’t vegan, just kind. Maybe it was all just a dream, about a dream.

And yet when I look at my smartphone there are photos. I see a big pretzel. I see vegan food. I see a veranda. I don’t see any girls barefootin along. I don’t see a train. But I know I saw a train. I still can hear the train. Where was I? What happened?

Best I can tell I went to a place that was in Los Angeles. It wasn’t exactly on San Fernando Road it was on West San Fernando Road, which ran parallel to San Fernando Road. And strange things can happen when we enter a parallel San Fernando Road. Like menus where almost half the selections are vegan. Like crowded places in the middle of nowheres that aren’t named Coachella and aren’t two hours away and aren’t muddy. Like restaurants that feel like Cancun if Cancun were 1978 and vegan was a world you could live in with a breeze blowing through. Like freshly brewed beer that tastes much much better than when those same beers come out of a can. And that train…

Someone, I don’t know who, must live walking distance from Golden Road Brewing. They might have to walk across the 5 to get there (I’m not advocating this) or they might have to live at the Gentlemen’s Club down the road (even worse) or they might be the night watchman with a company-provided apartment at the adjacent medical supply/ mechanical pencil/ granite countertop factory. And if they are able to walk there, and walk home, then I envy them, in my brain.

Golden Road is a brewery and brewpub and gastropub and other things that come from the ownership of Tony’s Darts Away and Mohawk Bend. I have been to Tony’s Darts Away. I have not been to Mohawk Bend yet. But neither is next to a train track yet alone a train track that is not trainless, so who cares?

Why do I feel like I am talking to myself because you’ve already heard as much as you needed to hear and are on your way to Golden Road?

If you are, get the pretzel. The pretzel. I never thought I would be advocating for a seven dollar pretzel. Not outside of hyperinflation and that’s a different hyperworld I hope to never be able to write about. Pretend it’s a car. Seven dollars is cheap for a car, right? You will like this pretzel as much. It’s big and warm. It comes with a mustard that to me is Chinese mustard. It’s got a small kick and it’s good with that pretzel. Since you’re already in seven dollars on a pretzel spend one more for the vegan pimento cheese to accompany it. A dollar to dip your pretzel into a goop that feels cheesey. A goop of an uncheesey color, a semi-cheesey texture, a who cares whether it’s cheesey taste. I’m dipping again, I’m eating the pretzel again, I’m watching the train go by…

There were so many choices. So many things for us to eat. I got the “Meatballs: Hold the Meat” “snack” “with tomato sauce served with spicy vegan cornbread.” That was tomato sauce? The cornbread was spicy? Those were vegan meatballs? They were round things. There was sauce. I ate cornbread. Good cornbread. I ate the round things that were firmer than any meatless meatballs I’m familiar with. I sopped them up in some kind of thick brown liquid heading toward solid.

I got the Fritter #2 too. “Wild Mushroom Risotto with Vegan Pimento Cheese” — the same vegan pimento cheese that comes with the pretzel, that I ate near the train. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. I did a little googling. I’d never heard of Pimento Cheese. I learned a bit about it. I ate a vegan version. I should have looked up “Fritter” too. I thought it was an omelette thing. But this is more a fishstick thing. Or a tater tot thing. A tater tot thumb stick thing. That I guess was made of mushrooms and risotto. That I dipped in the vegan pimento cheese. This all really happened. I’m looking back and thinking this all really happened.

I got the flight of beers. Four beers made on premises. Or at least next door. In the red building not the yellow one. They have bright buildings. They have five beers they make but one is not allowed on the flight. It is on the no-flight list. But you can have a sample. In a flight glass. It is close to flight size. It is pretty much a fifth for your flight. It is stout and good. As are the others. Two of which I’ve had in cans in words, but not in reality, not in reality with a pretzel next to a train.

Happy Family = Happy Me

28 Apr

Happy Family
500 N Atlantic Blvd
Ste 171
Monterey Park, CA 91754
626.282.8986

A week ago, the LA Weekly ran a piece about the “10 Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in L.A.” Number nine was “Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant.” Good timing, since I had plans to go there two days later. The article says, “Eggs may pop up here and there, so it’s advisable to check with the staff before ordering.” Because of that I checked with the staff, who told me there is no egg in anything. So apparently it’s really “Happy Family Vegan Restaurant” — but why scare people even more, I suppose.

Happy Family is in a crazy mall called Atlantic Times Square that is kind of like The Grove on ginseng. It’s a mix of commercial and residential space and it’s got one of the crappier underground parking garages I’ve ever been in. Snap a pic to remember where you parked. Trust me. And I’m not a get lost in a parking garage person.

Then when you come upstairs from the parking lot you have to walk to Atlantic Boulevard because the entrance to Happy Family is on the street. I guess Atlantic Boulevard must be why they call the place Atlantic Times Square but isn’t Atlantic Times Square kind of redundant since the real Times Square IS on the Atlantic? Calling it Pacific Times Square would make more sense but not if it’s on Atlantic Blvd I guess.  But since it really isn’t anything like Times Square maybe the best thing to call it would be Westfield Times Square or China Grove.*

Happy Family offers an All You Can Eat menu. It’s $13.95 for adults and $8.95 for kids. You get one spring roll and one “Minced Squab in Lettuce” and then a crazy amount of food. The spring roll is tasty and the Minced Squab — which is pretty much a PF Changy lettuce cup — is very tasty. As for the rest of the food, I took a lot of pictures so I’ll just roll through them and tell you what I thought of these dishes.

“Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli”

The “Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli” was the best dish I had. I don’t know why this is considered pork with broccoli and not the more common beef with broccoli, especially since the soy in this dish seems more intended to mimic beef not pork, and does an impressive job of it. The fake beef, sorry pork, has a pretty similar texture to the real thing and perfectly takes on the taste of the sauce. I’m not saying I need my soy to act like it’s meat, but since that seems to be the goal of this restaurant, they succeed as far as this dish goes.

“Vegetarian Chicken with Cashew Nuts (Wheat Gluten)”

The fake chicken with cashew nuts was good, too, though not as good as the fake beef with broccoli. And now that I see the menu says the fake diced chicken here is wheat gluten, I suppose it’s possible the fake beef in the fake sliced pork with broccoli is also made of wheat gluten. But it didn’t say, so I don’t know. The fake chicken in this dish was a little bit rubbery but I liked it, and I don’t usually like rubbery food, at least not as far as I know. Maybe it’s fake rubber.

“Vegetarian Rib (Taro) with Sweet & Sour Sauce”

The “Vegetarian Rib (Taro) with Sweet & Sour Sauce” wasn’t so good. It was basically a soft, gushy mess that was more zeppole than rib.

“Vegetarian Deep Fried House Chicken with Sesame (Mushroom)”

The fake sesame chicken also suffered from zeppoleosis. In fact, I didn’t realize it was made of mushroom until I looked at the menu. It was soft and doughy inside, and when food is like that, it seems more like dessert to me than a main course.

Shredded pork with…

I’m not sure which dish this is. I asked the waitress what her favorite dish on the menu is and she said “shredded pork” and brought me this and it was good. But when I look at the menu I can’t figure out which one it is. Maybe shredded pork with bean curd? Whatever it is, it tastes better than it looks.

“House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce”

The “House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce” was one of my favorite items. Part of what I liked was that it wasn’t trying to be a fake meat, though don’t get me wrong I can enjoy fake meats with the best of ‘em. Sometimes tofu like this can be limp or soggy but this was just the right amount of softness without falling apart when you picked it up. Oh, and it was tasty.

“Stir Fry Spinach”

Not too much to say about the “Stir Fry Spinach” except that it was simple and very good.

“Fried Bread”

I saw some people at another table eating this and I asked the waitress what it was. She said, “I’ll bring you some.”

Fried Bread minus mouthful.

When it arrived, she said it was “fried bread.” Okay, those are two good words to put together, right? But when I took a bite, well, yup, it tasted like a zeppole. Which wasn’t so bad since I’m guessing it’s supposed to taste like a zeppole. In fact, zeppoles are definitely in the fried bread frylum. But there’s only so much fried bread someone needs. Especially in a Chinese restaurant.

Tiramisu cake

For dessert I had the tiramisu cake. There was a big problem with this. No, it didn’t taste like a zeppole. But when it was first served it was clear it had just come out of the freezer. It had the crystally texture that an old container of ice cream can get. Or an old container of Almond Dream. (One of the great things about going vegan is that you don’t have to give up that awful crystally freezer taste.) Once the tiramisu cake hit room temp it wasn’t bad but by then it was kinda ruined for me, like a movie after a cellphone ring. Oh well.

All in all I’d say that if you’re vegan or vegetarian and like Chinese food and ampersands,  this is the place for you. Just leave a trail of (fried) bread crumbs so you can find your car afterwards.

*Linking to a Doobie Brothers video does not imply approval.

Native Foods Westwood you try a little harder?

18 Apr

Papered-over front window in Westwood.

I love Native Foods.

Wait, I should clarify. I love their food. And the people who work in their stores. And the fact that they’ve caught on with a non-vegan and non-vegetarian crowd and are showing people that vegan food can not only taste good but great.

Now the part I don’t love: this company has perhaps the worst customer service I have ever encountered from a business. Not at the stores. There the people are, for the most part, super friendly and helpful.

But have you ever tried to email them a question or concern? Quite possibly you just answered yes. Did you ever get a response to your email? Quite likely you just answered no.

What is with a company that puts an email address for customer service questions on their website and then doesn’t reply? Bizarre.

One manager told me that the company is only willing to pay one person to handle all the emails and that it’s too much for one person. Another manager at a different store told me the owner is very controlling and all emails are routed straight to him. Who knows? All I know is that the second I mentioned the word “email” to both of these managers their eyes rolled up in a way that let me know they’re well aware of the company’s huge customer service problem and have to listen to complaints about it from customers all day long. They both told me the same thing, which was basically: If you ever have a problem at a Native Foods please don’t try to email just come into the store and ask for a manager and we’ll try to make it right for you. Good advice.

And what does all this have to do with their Westwood location? Well, first of all, I’ve found that location to be the best run, have the friendliest staff, and be super-well managed.  Wish I could say the same for Culver City. *sigh*

So yesterday, wanting a Chicago Dip sandwich because I fear it might be gone come next week when I believe the new menu is set to debut, I drove over to Westwood Village. I then did the mandatory 15 minutes of circling before finding a spot. But hey, it’s worth it, because I love that sandwich!

I get out of my car, put my coins in the meter, and then start walking down the block. Step + anticipation, step + anticipation, step + anticipation. I’m almost there. Step + salivating anticipation. I’m there! I put my hand on the door handle and pull.

The door does not move.

It’s 6pm. I look around. My brain tells me to admit it to myself: they are closed.

Now a normal business would have a sign up on the door or window telling you why they’re closed during normal business hours, right? Especially a business that has a signholder attached to the wall right next to its front door. But that’s empty. Empty as in, someone took the time to remove the large menu that’s usually in said signholder but did not replace it with a sign of explanation. This is a bad sign.

Note the empty signholder to the right. The lack of a sign is not a good sign.

I try calling. You know, since a normal business would have an outgoing message telling you what’s going on. Ring Ring Ring. Hope fades to acceptance. Ring Ring Ring ring ring…

While I’m standing out front, for about two minutes, six — that’s right — six separate parties come by, try the door, look at each other surprised, look at me, exchange shrugs, and walk off.

Now if you patronize that location, you know they’ve been going through some changes. They’ve been renovating the space next door to become their new restaurant, and during this renovation they’ve stayed open, but have forced any diners wanting to eat there to consume their meal straight from a cardboard box. You can’t imagine how awkward and unpleasant it is to eat a hot meal from a cardboard box until you try it. It basically interferes with every biological pleasure receptor designed to make you enjoy a meal. With most companies I’d assume they’re forced to do it this way because of some arcane zoning rule or something. But with Native Foods you never know. Might just be a clueless owner or something.

The last time I ate there  — a couple of weeks ago — it looked like renovations for the new location were getting toward done. I was psyched. But mind you, still no signs up announcing an opening date, and of course nothing letting you know they’re going to shut down the existing restaurant for a period of time before the new one next door opens.  Yesterday I peeked through a hole in the plastic sheeting covering the inside of the window and it looks really close to done. Signs are up and everything. I even took a photo. It looks nice. With an upstairs dining area and all. Can’t wait. Really.

Through the looking glass.

So when I got home I checked their Twitter to see if there was any information on the Westwood location closing or opening. You know, because any normal company with a Twitter would use it for exactly that purpose. To let their customers know what’s going on. I searched back a month. Nothing.

Then I went to their website’s blog. Again, searched back a month. Nothing.

Finally, I looked at their “locations” page and lo and behold there it was: Currently Closed for Expansion/Remodel Re-opening May 1st

Perfect! Because that’s exactly where customers who have been to that store a hundred times would look for information for that store: at the place that tells them where the place they’ve been to a hundred times is located.

This is also a company that, keep in mind, asks for your email address in order to give you one of their Rewards Cards. And then you use your email to log into their website and check your points and rewards totals. But does this company ever then use your address to send  you updates and information about the company, you know, the way every other company in America does? Nope. And by the way, there’s even a box on the website that says: “Sign up for the newsletter” — I’ve entered my email address into that box a number of different times, even though they already had my email address. Did I ever once get a newsletter  — or ANY piece of email from them? Nope. *sigh*

Native Foods owner: you’ve got lightning in your hands. Your chain is expanding, thriving. Loosen the reins a little bit. Delegate more. Hire additional people to help you out. Do whatever you need to do in order to keep your customer service problems from cutting against the good will generated by your food and your staffers. Because most people only put up with bad customer service for so long before they go elsewhere. And these days, there are a lot more elsewheres opening up.

Eat peace.

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.

Tub’s Chili y’all. Or pardner. Or whatever cowboys say in Culver City.

20 Feb

UPDATE: I received an email from the owners of Tub’s letting me know that they have changed bread suppliers and that the Toasted Bread Tub I ate is no longer vegan because it contains dairy. They said however that the corkscrew pasta contains no egg so you can still get your chili over pasta or brown rice. 

Tub’s Chili
4263 Overland Avenue
Culver City, CA 90230
310.559.8827

One of the great things about being vegan for the past 17 months is that it’s been a whole new source of procrastination. And one day as I was making my way through the vegosphere I came across a website called veggie101.com that had a review for a place I’d been to in my meat-eating days (daze), and they said that one of their choices was vegan. Who knew?!

So I beat it on over to Tub’s to check it out. Sure enough, it turns out that the “Cattleman’s Pass” chili is vegan. It comes over brown rice, or something they call a Toasted Bread Tub that seems an awful lot like pita. They told me that both these options are vegan. (They also offer it over “corkscrew pasta” but I forgot to ask if the pasta had egg in it because I didn’t want my chili over pasta.) They also have their own round corn chips you can buy to go with it, but I went for the bag of genuine Fritos option that was only, I think, 65 cents. (These are the traditional Fritos, not the chili scoopin’ shape, but hey, they were cheap and good.)

"Stili Life with Fritos" (Bread now has dairy!)

The way it works is that a 6 ounce portion of chili costs $4.99 and then you can add as many additional ounces as you want for 60 cents an ounce.  I wasn’t all that hungry at the time so what you see in the photo is 6 ounces over the Toasted Bread Tub aka pita. And it was good. Very good even. Certainly worth the reasonable price they were charging for it.

Tub’s is in a little strip mall and it’s not huge and it’s not fancy but that’s okay and they have plenty of seating for a small place and the staff couldn’t have been nicer or more patient about all of my questions. It’s not that far south of the Sony lot if you know where that is. (It’s also not that far south of the Sony lot if you don’t know where that is.)

Goodbye.

Animal Acres is the place to be

14 Feb
Animal Acres 
5200 Escondido Canyon Road
Acton, CA 93510
661.269.5404

I went for a tour at Animal Acres. You can do that on a Sunday. At 11 and 1. And Sunday’s the perfect day to go, because it’s only a 40 minute or so drive from LA. And you get to see animals, and dirt .

Animal Acres is now part of Farm Sanctuary. It’s their third location, after the granddaddy in Watkins Glen, NY and another in Northern California.  And their mission is to rescue farm animals, or take in rescued farm animals, or “farmed animals” as they called them, or something. I’m close at least to their mission. I bet it’s on their website.

Anyway, they’ve got turkeys and ducks and roosters and hens and goats and sheep and pigs and calves and cows and steers and bulls and horses and nice staffers who give good tours. They’re kind of gentle on the whole factory farming thing in their docent-speak, or maybe I just know a docent amount about that already so it didn’t surprise me, or maybe they keep it toned down for the kids. Though I did hear someone say they used to show a video with some factory farm abuse in it and that they might resume showing the videos as part of the tour again.

Which made me wonder about the best way to go about introducing this concept to people who might not be familiar with it, particularly if there are kids around. Do you shock them, or go easy? There’s something to be said for shocking. If people eat this stuff, they should know how it’s made, and how the animals are treated. But maybe they already know. And maybe shocking them pushes them away. And maybe shocking is like shaming, and people don’t want to be shamed, so it doesn’t work. Not sure. Is it better to plant a seed about plant-based food, and what it prevents, and hope it takes root. (Smack me, please.)

And what about the kids? Now kids to me, are often the ones who get it. As Jonathan Safran Foer says, kids see that chicken is chicken. It’s as we get older, and realize that society excuses the abuses we recognize as children, that we shrug and think: well, my parents are eating animal stuff, and my teachers are, and my (other important “moral” and “ethical” and “good” people in my life) are so it can’t be so bad for me to do this also, right?

Indifference is learned. Repression is learned. Denial is learned. (And I was nothing if not a quick learner.) So what’s the best approach to unlearning folks? It seems like getting up close to these animals, even petting a pig or a calf, is supposed to help. And maybe it does. Maybe the combination of being with these animals, and hearing how they’re treated, is enough. I don’t know. I didn’t ask any other visitors on the tour if they eat meat and if they’ll give it a second thought now. I hope so, of course. But I’m not sure.

I’ll say one thing about the experience though (even though I already said one thing about it) it was nice to be around so many vegans. It seemed like most everyone working there was vegan, and that was a kind of cool feeling. (If you don’t know what “cool” means, ask your mom.) I don’t tend to have a lot of like-mindedness on this topic in my life. Pretty much none. However, the people who work there have plenty of like-mindedness, and didn’t need more of it from me, much as I was enjoying it from them. But they were great about answering questions, and explaining how the animals came to be there.

Some of the animals like pigs came from things like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, where kids raised pigs and then didn’t want to see them prematurely killed for food so they called up Animal Acres and asked them to save them. Some of the animals come from local humane societies, including a goat that the cops found in a bag in the backseat of a car whose drivers were on the way to conduct an animal sacrifice. And there were a couple of horses that were once thoroughbred racers, and some calves that were taken in after “a girl tried to rescue them from a veal truck.”

If you don’t know this, and I didn’t, pigs are big. You see one walking around, it might as well be a hippo. And you can’t imagine this thing in front of you, this giant living thing, having to spend its life in a metal cage unable to even turn around. That message was there, but they didn’t rub it in your face. There wasn’t a lot of, “So don’t eat ham” or “Bacon is torture.”

But they did explain how there wouldn’t be a veal industry if there wasn’t a dairy industry that threw off male calves as a byproduct of milk production. And they did explain how a dairy cow will usually live to be 20 if left unkilled or even as old as 40, not the ripe young age of 5 or 6 that they’re usually killed at now. So I did learn stuff. Particularly that weather and whether have a secret brother: wether — a neutered male goat or sheep. Did you know that word already? I didn’t. And I am going to kick some mean ass the next time I play Boggle.

All in all it was well worth the drive, and might be an especially good — and gentle — way to make some non-vegan friends or family re-think what they eat. And like I said, it’s a quick drive on a Sunday and it’s right off the 14. So go have yourself a nice day up in Acton. Wether permitting.

I won’t mints words: Girl Scout Cookies are within your reach!

1 Feb

This mint is thin. Like I won't be.

Part of what we do as vegans is to deprive ourselves for a cause. Another part of what we do is act like we’re not depriving ourselves so as not to scare off potential newbies. I almost never feel deprived. I’m used to it after almost 17 months and hardly miss anything I can no longer eat. But I do recall looking in the freezer last year and seeing a box of Thin Mints, then reaching my hand in and removing said box, and then examining the ingredients to find that, not surprisingly, there was something in them I no longer eat. That being milk.

But before I recalled that, I forgot it. You see, when I saw a billboard or whatever it was a few weeks ago that reminded me it’s almost Girl Scout Cookie time, I couldn’t remember whether they were vegan or not. So I did a little research on the computerkabob and found out that SOME Girl Scout Cookies seem to be… calm down… vegan.

It was a bit confusing at first. When you go the cookie website of the national Girl Scouts there’s a link for ingredients. And when you click it you get an odd colorful graphic. 16 different Nutrition Facts/Ingredients labels pop up. Eight are little, EIGHT ARE BIG. It took me a bit of thunkin’ and some further research to figure out what was going on. Turns out, the Girl Scouts get their cookies from two different bakers. You can read all about it on Wikipedia. One is Little Brownie Bakers, which is part of Keebler, which is part of Kellogg’s. The other is ABC Bakers, which is part of Interbake Foods, which is part of the Canadian company George Weston Limited. Capiche?

Odd colorful graphic.

Well, you don’t really need to capiche, because here’s all you need to know: All eight types of Little Brownie cookies (the ones with the small labels in the graphic) have milk. HOWEVER, only three of the eight ABC types (the big labels) have milk. That’s right: five of the eight ABC kinds ARE VEGAN! Now keep in mind, when I say vegan, I’m only saying they ain’t got milk, or anything else on the label that seems WFU (wrong for us). BUT the problem for me was that I’ve only ever seen Little Brownie ones.

So I made some calls. And here’s what I learned. The Girl Scouts are divided up into councils. Some councils comprise one county, like the Los Angeles council, while other councils are made up of two or more counties. Each council makes their own decision as to which of the two bakers they will buy from.

Now this is where I go all SoCal on you. If you’re not in SoCal, call, email or tweet your local council to find out which baker they use. The Los Angeles Council buys their cookies from Little Brownie Bakers so they’re no good for us. However, the Girl Scouts of Orange County buys its cookies from ABC so five of the eight types, including Thin Mints, are okay! The other types we can eat are Shout Outs, Peanut Butter Patties, Lemonades, and Thanks-A-Lots.  (The Caramel deLites, Shortbreads and Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies contain milk and are nicht gut.)

The Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council, which comprises San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, also buy from ABC and are thus also good for those same five types. Ventura County is part of the Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast Council which also includes Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo and on up to Monterey and Santa Cruz. They buy from Little Brownie so forget ‘em. The Girl Scouts of San Diego also buys from Little Brownie so they’re out, too.

The Girl Scouts of Orange County begin their booth sales on February 17 and end on March 11. You can plug in a zip code for a town close to L.A. like Seal Beach (90740) or Westminster (92683) into the handy Find Cookies box on girlscoutcookies.org and it will tell you the time and place where you can find Girl Scouts set up in front of the nearest supermarket, bank, or big box store selling cookies. Maybe you can combine it with that trip to the Seabirds Truck that you’ve been thinking about taking forever. UPDATE: There is a new Orange County Cookie Finder website.

If Riverside or San Bernardino Counties are more  your thing, they already started their booth sales a couple of days ago and will continue theirs all the way through March 28. Again, you can use the Cookie Finder box on girlscoutcookies.org to find the best spot for buyin’.

There’s even a Cookie Finder app available for iPhone but it’s made by Kellogg’s (Little Brownie) so I’m not sure if it taps into the entire database the website does or if it only tells you where to find Little Brownie (verboten) ones.

Now all that’s left to do is to figure out how to persuade the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles to change bakers for next year. We’ve got 11 months to do that so let’s get crackin’!

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