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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.

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.

IMG_7571

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’!

10 best vegan things i 8 in ’11

29 Dec

I love being vegan and I hate 10 best lists so I’m combining the two. Actually, I like 10 best lists but they’re trite. Oh well, I’m trite, so here goes.

This was my first full year being vegan. Woo-hoo, special me! I should start a blog so I can tell the whole world how great I am!

In no particular order, except that I’m starting with the tenth best and working my way in order to my favorite, here goes:

Doomie's pulled pork sandwich. (photo: toliveandeatinla.com)

10. Doomie’s pulled pork sandwich.  I went into Doomie’s for the first time late one night and asked the woman at the counter what to get. She said, “Ask him,” and pointed to Doomie. Without hesitating he said, “The pulled pork sandwich” and smiled an evil smile. It was great.

9. Clementine’s cous cous with roasted squash, dried cranberries, pistachios, scallions and lemon vinaigrette AND their beluga lentils with flame raisins, mizuna and toasted pepitas. I’m a little reluctant to include Clementine on here given that it’s not only a meat-heavy place but also the Worldwide Grilled Cheese Headquarters. But they have a salad case with a bunch of really fresh salads that rotate on a seasonal basis. You can get a three-salad combo for $11.95 and usually there are at least three that are vegan. I recently had the two above-mentioned salads along with some roasted beets, and while the beets were good the two other salads were UNBELIEVABLY good. Eat a forkful and put your fork down and say to yourself was that just as good as I thought it was good. The current menu will be around until late January. Go.

The Bigger Mack. (photo credit: http://www.huggerfood.com)

8. The Bigger Mack at Madeleine Bistro. Sure I could go with their famous Red Beet Tartare, which is great. Or the chicken and waffles, which I enjoyed. But dammit if Chef Dave doesn’t 100 percent nail the Big Mac taste. Not that it’s the greatest taste in the world. But it’s a very specific taste. And he did it. And not that I ever needed to eat another Big Mac after consuming way too many of them for way too many years. But when you think you’ll never get to taste a specific taste again, and then you do, it’s weird and impressive and satisfying.

7. The Wasabi Bean Burger at Native Foods Café. Don’t drop your iPad on the floor and run out the door to get one because they’re gone. This is an item that was on their menu earlier in the year and then, much to my dismay, disappeared. How come the world doesn’t do exactly what I want at all times?

6. A Dillo. A DingDillo to be specific. A cold DingDillo to be specificer. What are these? They’re vegan Chocodiles from Salt Lake City, what else did you think they were? I got mine at the Viva La Vegan grocery store in Rancho Cucamonga. But you can get em other places, too. I’m all out right now. And Rancho Cucamonga’s an hour away with no traffic. But I want one! Runners up in the dessert competition would have to be the Apple-Cranberry Toastie at Babycakes and the Blueberry Pomegranate ice cream I had one day at Scoops (the flavors change daily, as if you didn’t know).

5. The stuff I ate at  Stuff I Eat. I’d been meaning to go here for so long and finally made it. And it was great. I got some kind of eggplant lasagna. I’m not a big eggplant person but they offered a sample that was so good I had to order it, and I loved it. The person suffering through lunch with me got the “Sumthin-Sumthin” plate and we also split a side of jerk grilled tofu and we both looked at each other in amazement at how good it all was. I will keep returning till I’ve tried everything.
 

Mandoline Grill's tofu banh mi. (Photo credit: veggie101.com)

4. Mandoline Grill‘s tofu banh mi. This has gotten a little confusing in the past month or so. There’s some extra charges associated with it now that I can’t quite figure out. Like an extra 50 cents for Vegenaise (the spelling of which always bugs me). There’s also some confusing new thing about a “vegan baguette.” Does that mean she now has NON-vegan baguettes on the truck, too? Were there always two kinds of baguettes on the truck? Or are vegans paying a surcharge for the same baguette that everyone else gets without paying the surcharge? Like I said, I’m confused. I tried to ask about it but the conversation went nowhere. That said, I like Mong. She’s super friendly and serves great vegan food and if she needs to charge a little extra for it I don’t mind.

3. The Gardein Steak Sandwich at Green Peas. As you might have heard, right here in fact, Green Peas is now closed for re-modeling. But the owner told me that all the menu items are returning when they re-open, plus more, hopefully within a couple of months. I eat here a lot. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff from their vegan menu. The vegan chicken picatta sandwich is pretty dang tasty and could have easily made the list. But the Gardein Steak Sandwich is my favorite. (Not the “Rolling Gardein Steak Sandwich” — the stationary one.)
 
 
2. The Tri-Colored Lentils at Fatty’s & Co in Eagle Rock.  Me and Mrs. Insufferable (actually she prefers Ms) hit up Fatty’s one Saturday evening for a date night and were floored. We ordered four items and they were all really good but the one I’m still remembering months later is the lentils. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. A perfect combination of flavors.

All must bow to the ACSB. (photo: candypenny.blogspot.com)

1. The Ancho Chili Seitan Burger from the Cinnamon Snail.  Hate to do this to you LA but the ACSB from the NYNJ food truck was incredibly, incredibly good. An even more perfecter combination of flavors than Fatty’s lentils, and believe me that’s saying something. I WANT THIS TRUCK TO LIVE NEAR ME.

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.

The wool suit, the leather shoes, and the animal-free White Castle jacket

14 Dec

If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you know that I used to have good titles for my posts. What happened?!

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with a vegan issue and I’m curious what other people think.

When I went vegan 15 months ago it was all about the food. Then two weeks after that it was all about the animals. But about a month in I started thinking about the clothes. You see, some of my clothes were made of animals!

And my wallet was, too. And it was old. And falling apart. I needed a new one. So this was a no-brainer. I went to Amazon and looked up “vegan wallets” and ordered one from an Amazon seller called Alternative Outfitters.

And I liked it. It looked good. The functionality was good. And I almost immediately realized that it also made me feel good. Hey, look at me, I didn’t only give up food, I got a vegan wallet, too!

Well, it wasn’t long before I went back on Amazon and bought a vegan belt. It’s made of something called pleather. Because as I soon learned, veganism is full of portmanteaus. In fact, I bet before Mr. Watson settled on the term “vegan” he first proposed a portmanteau combining vegetables and diners, but for some reason decided that “veginers” was the wrong way to go.

So now I had a wallet AND a belt. Which meant the next obvious thing was staring me in the face (if I looked down) — shoes!

I usually wear sneakers. And some of them, I was pretty sure, had some leather. Especially the leather ones. And as for my shoes, well, all of them were leather. But although it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to buy any more leather shoes or sneakers, the question became: was it okay to keep wearing what I already owned?

I struggled with this for a while. I mean, isn’t it wasteful to throw them away? I could give them to charity, but if it was wrong for me to continue to wear them then wasn’t it wrong for someone else to continue to wear them? Or was it okay for someone else to wear them since that person was probably eating meat, too?

And as I pondered these questions, I kept wearing my shoes as need be. But whenever I did, I felt bad. Like I was tacitly supporting the notion that it was okay to use animals like this. So I decided I needed to stop. The sneaker part was easy. You can find no-animal sneakers at lots of places. Heck, some of the ones I already owned weren’t even made of animals. But shoes were different.

So I decided to make a pilgrimage to Alternative Outfitters. You see, when I ordered that wallet on Amazon, it came really fast. Why? Because it turned out that Alternative Outfitters was only an hour or so away from me, in Pasadena.

 
Alternative Outfitters, I imagine, does most of their business over the Internet, and the store isn’t what I was expecting. I almost drove past it. It’s kind of at the corner of an office park, with only a small retail space, though they’ve got a lot crammed in there. Ninety percent of which was for women. But they have a pretty good selection of shoes. And unlike ersatz meat products, ersatz leather shoes are actually cheaper than the thing you’re ersatzing them for.

But I didn’t write this post to tell you about my trip to buy shoes. I wrote it because of the conversation I had with the friendly vegan who was working there that day. As I blabbed on and on about buying my first pair of vegan shoes (I’m insufferable) we got into an interesting discussion about whether or not it’s okay to keep wearing the animal clothing you already own since those animals are already dead and the items are already made.

She took the position that if you’re giving up animal-based foods because you think it’s wrong to use animals that way, why would you want to keep wearing their skin on your body? She said she remembered the day she made the decision to stop wearing a leather coat that she had.

And that got me thinking. Certainly, nobody would wear a pair of shoes made from human skin, no matter that the person was already dead. They would find the idea disgusting, repulsive, it would make their, yup, skin crawl. But why didn’t leather shoes make me feel that way? I guess because we’re so accustomed to it, same as eating meat. And because evolution has done something to make the idea of using humans this way feel repugnant to us.

So since our use of animal products is so everyday, we need to LEARN to find it repulsive. We need to EDUCATE OURSELVES on the matter to the point that we find it repulsive. Which brings me to my wool suit. I wear a suit even less often than I wear shoes. Do I want to go buy a new suit made of, let’s say, cotton? Nope. And so I wore my wool suit to my niece’s wedding last month.

But then I started wondering: is wool worse than leather? I think it depends on how poorly the sheep are treated. I keep reading that egg-laying hens and dairy cows have worse lives than the chickens and cattle raised for meat. And if I’ve given up eggs and dairy because of the way those animals are treated, then is wool any different because it’s worn not eaten? And while I wouldn’t buy any new wool suits or sweaters, should I stop wearing that damn wool suit of mine pronto?

And then there’s this:

My White Castle jacket. 100 percent polyester. But do I need to give this up, too? I’ve still been wearing it. It keeps me warm. But I could buy one that doesn’t have a message pretty easily. Is it wrong for me to keep offering up what seems to be (or is) tacit approval? To keep wearing something that might (or does) increase people’s appetite for meat?  Or what if I just stop wearing it in public? Is that enough? Or is it even wrong to wear it when I’m home alone and cold?

An all-vegan grocery store! Near L.A.! (well, kinda near)

7 Dec

Viva La Vegan Grocery
9456 Roberds Street
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
909.941.4495

I have seen the future and it’s behind a 7-Eleven. Well, kinda behind. Kinda off to the side. Kinda just over th– no, you drove right past it!

Okay, the place isn’t easy to find, but find it you must. Because it’s an amazing feeling. And I’d been vegan less than a year the first time I stepped into this non-descript paradise so I can’t imagine how blown away you longtime veganers will be by it.

Are you like me? (I hope not for your sake.) Is your life filled with flipping over containers to find the ingredients list? Well, I started reading the label on the first thing that caught my eye in Viva La Vegan — a can of some kind of fake meat patties — and then it hit me: I don’t have to read the labels in here? I don’t have to read the labels in here! Then my brain did a doubletake. Aha, I knew I’d find a reason for concern. “Excuse me,” I called to the gentleman at the register, “Does anything in here have honey in it?”  “Nope, no honey. We’re honey-free.”

Cans. Vegan cans.

And then it struck me. (I get struck a lot.) This is what it must feel like to that Kosher guy from Sioux Falls the first time he walks into a Kosher supermarket in Brooklyn. (I’m pretty sure there’s a charity that sends Kosher guys from South Dakota to Brooklyn for the summer. Or maybe that should be guy singular.)

And I have to tell you: it is a liberating feeling. An entire store where you can buy anything you want without having to think about it. And it’s not just food — they’ve also got clothing, handbags, shoes, sundries and more. ALL VEGAN.

Shoes. Vegan shoes.

But I’ve been holding out on you. Because the best part is, over in their refrigerated area, they’ve got… THESE.  Fresh from the vegan capital of the world, Salt Lake City, it’s DILLOS!!!  What are Dillos? They’re fake Chocodiles. And they kill. Especially cold. Especially the all-chocolate ones called DingDillos. They rule our vegan planet, and show mercy on us humble subjects. They are two bucks a piece and worth every two bucks of it.

Paradise. Vegan paradise.

There’s also a bunch of other great stuff. All kinds of frozen items and fake meats and the kind of stuff you probably haven’t seen anywhere else. And did I mention that the people who work there are nice? (I know I didn’t yet, but I am now.) They’re nice!

And they are showing us what the future looks like.

P.S. — Why not make a road trip out of it and hit up Vince’s Spaghetti for lunch or dinner. They’ve got a “vegetarian marinara” and the spaghetti has no egg; I asked. But maybe Vince’s should be its own post. Yeah, I think so.

Babycakes LA… rchmont

4 Dec

Babycakes NYC
130 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
213.623.5555

At almost half a hundred years of age I should be better with change. Because it’s probably something you can learn to deal with over time, right? It’s not genetic, is it? Yet it often throws me.

Today I went to Babycakes downtown. What a nice drive I had, no traffic on the 5, over the 4th street bridge, okay I had to circle the block for a meter, and then okay the meter was $3.00 an hour (which doesn’t sound nearly as bad as the TWENTY-FIVE CENTS FOR FIVE MINUTES that it works out to) but still. Things were going well.

Then I opened the door to Babycakes. Was I in the wrong place? Did I step into something next door by mistake — you know, like the way I walked into the coffee house next to Scoops once and asked for some ice cream. (I’m scoopid like that.) But nope, I was in the right place, it was the world that had gone wrong.

Step through the door of Babycakes now and you are greeted by… another door. A drab, hastily erected in a hastily erected wall, door. And, it’s maybe ten feet from the front door. Huh?

See that sculpture on the wall of the birds or whatever? Now scroll to the first photo up top and you'll see those birds through the window.

A look to the left revealed a tiny counter, with a small display case of items. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

As the friendly person behind the counter explained to me, “I just came into work one day and this wall was there.”  Turns out, Babycakes is opening up in Larchmont Village, which they’ve already tweeted about, and as a result they have more or less turned their charming, inviting, makes-you-feel-good-to-be-a-vegan location downtown into what now has all the warmth of a check-cashing joint.

Oh, and they’ve also chopped the hours. It’s now only open to 7pm, and 9 on the weekends, whereas they used to be open till 11 some nights!

Look, it’s a business, I get it. They decided they’d probably do better in Larchmont and so they’re turning their downtown spot into a baking operation with a tiny space for some retail sales. Or at least that’s my guess about what they’ve decided. There’s still one table for two inside, but seriously, you feel like you’re sitting at a table in the lobby of an industrial printing plant.  Ugh. (There’s also one table outside.)

The food, I should mention, is still really good. Doughnuts, toasties, crumb cakes — I serve these things to non-vegans and they love it and have no clue. Then they realize I’m eating it too and say, “This is vegan? Really?”  Because, you know, all vegan food contains feces, right?

I actually didn’t like Babycakes the first time I tried it, which was at the old M Cafe in Culver City. And I gave it a chance, too. Tried a few different things. Then one time I was downtown and decided to stop by their charming (I’m starting to cry again) shop. Holy crap, was it good! Maybe I didn’t try the right things at M Cafe, maybe it wasn’t as fresh, maybe M Cafe didn’t carry some of the stuff I was trying downtown, but man, it was all very good and some of it great.

Anyway, the food is still just as good. And I guess it’ll be nice to have them in Larchmont (also known as the most inconvenient part of the city to get to from my home) but if the momma store had to (almost) die to birth this baby, I’m not sure the doctors made the right decision.

Anyway, I was told they plan to open in Larchmont in the second half of December or early January. And I wish them the best, I really do. In fact, maybe they’ll do so well in Larchmont they can open a third location, and then a fourth, and then need a bigger bakery in a commercial space and reconstitute the downtown shop!

Yeah, and I suppose journalism will return to the world, too.

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