Tag Archives: vegan

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.

Part three: The Green Truck has egg on its face

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

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

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

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

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

Part two: The Green Trucks give me the blues

4 Oct

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

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

Green Truck comment

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

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

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

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

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

Green Truck menu

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

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

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

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

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

@greentruck_SD tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Oct

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

Green Truck

UPDATE: 

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

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

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

My Original Post:

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

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

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

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger at LA Vegan Beer Fest.

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger at LA Vegan Beer Fest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is unacceptable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 May

IMG_7547

The Field Roast booth with the giant Field Roast sign.

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

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

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

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

ORIGINAL POST:

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

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

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

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

IMG_7559

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

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

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.

IMG_6181

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.

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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!

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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.)

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

8 Feb

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Girl Scout Cookies

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

Progress, folks, real progress!

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

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

Happy Cookieing!

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

1 Dec

Chego
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles CA 90034
310.287.0337

Chego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fancy Guac Salad" This was very good.

“Fancy Guac Salad”
This was very good.

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

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

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

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

The Bubble

26 Oct

Art credit: onegreenplanet.org

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So be it.

My love-mildannoyance relationship with Native Foods

21 Oct


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

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

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

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

And then.

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

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

Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig’s Lust

20 Oct

Craig’s
8826 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood CA 90069
310.276.1900

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we get? We have photographs!

Vegan Sausage Pizza

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

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

Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken

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

Stuffed Peppers

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

Vegan Chicken Parmigiana

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

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

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

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Crunch Ice Cream

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

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

Can you buy meat and be vegan?

12 Oct

This is not me.

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

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

This is not me either.

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

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

Still not me.

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

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

Like taking candy from an omni

12 Oct

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

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

Vegan!

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

Vegan!

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

Vegan!

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

Promoting veganism. What’s veganism?

12 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kung Pao Feastro

8 Oct

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

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

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

Vegan Chicken and Spinach Wonton Soup

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

Vegan Beef and Broccoli

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

Vegan Chicken Lo Mein

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

Sauteed Garlic String Beans

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

You’re giving me vegan food?

5 Oct

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

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

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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mas Only Okay

4 Oct

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

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

Vegan Menudo

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

Mock Ground Beef & Pickle Taco (no cheese)

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

Zucchini Blossom Taco (hold the cheese)

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

Soyrizo, Spinach, and Corn Chimichanga

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

So good even a meat-eater would hate it

3 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Sage Thyme

2 Oct

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


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

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

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

Classic Tempeh Burger

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

Jamaican Jerk Burger

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

Buffalo Croquettes

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

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

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

Insufferable MoFo

1 Oct

Vegan MoFo month has come along at just about the perfect time for me. As you can see, I haven’t done any blogging lately, so having to blog 20 times this month will surely get me back into the habit. And also, I recently celebrated my two year veganiversary, so veganing has been on my mind.

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, it’s been mostly a mix of restaurant reviews and what I like to call my pseudo-philosophy, which is more or less my thoughts on being vegan. When I first started veganing, it changed my perspective on the world like few things have ever done. Lil ol’ meat-eating me didn’t realize how much the use of animals to provide things for humans was ingrained into the global society of peoples. You can meet someone from just about anywhere on the planet and you automatically have something in common: you both eat and use animal products. And I didn’t see this until I stepped outside it.

Even though I haven’t been blogging much lately, I’ve been posting a lot of vegan phoodographs on Instagram @insufferablevegan and I also tweet @InsufferableV

Part of the reason for my slowdown in blogging was that I Settled In and got used to being vegan. And people got used to me being vegan. So the culture clashes slowed down. Like most things, you get accustomed to it. One of the other things that’s happened in the last two years is that veganism seems to have caught fire. Do I only see it this way because I’m vegan, or do the NVA (Non-Vegans of America) also see it this way? I bet they do. It feels like it’s hard to avoid.

I wrote up a whole page when I started my blog about why I went vegan, and I also have an FAQ you can read, but I’ll give you the basics of vegan me if you care. I’m almost half a hundred years old and ate meat and plenty of it for my first 47 years. I didn’t love the way I ate and mostly thought about losing some weight rather than what I was eating. I could lose 10 to 15 pounds in a month or so with some effort, but over the next six months it would find its way back. This happened a few times. Then I met a friend of a friend who is vegan. She seemed so normal, and cool, so why the hell was she doing this weird vegan thing? To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure what the word meant, though I had a pretty good idea. “Are you new-agey?” I asked her, even though she didn’t seem it. “Uh, no” or so came the response. So it got me thinking. Why would a non new-agey person do this? What could possibly be the reason? As I said, I wanted to lose some weight anyway, so I figured I’d try it and see what it was like. I was curious to see the perspective.

And then after about two weeks of this, and eating weird foods, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book and I knew that I couldn’t go back. And it really made me question myself for not figuring it out decades earlier. After all, my friend-of-a-friend-now-my-friend figured it out in college or so, so why was my head in the sand? Or wherever it was. It didn’t speak well of me. Oh, well.

So here I am two years later and, for those of you who might not be vegan but are considering it, let me tell you, it is easy. I mean it. At this point, I feel like I am not really lacking for anything. Plus, being vegan has one of the greatest fringe benefits you could possibly imagine: when you realize there’s something stuck in your teeth, you know it’s not a dead animal!

I’d like to thank a couple of people in addition to the friend who started it all. There are two people whose early support of my blog made me feel I wasn’t just typing to an empty room, and who encouraged me to keep going. They are myvegancookbook.com and @10ftdoll — thanks so much to both of you!

And thanks to those of you finding your way here via MoFo. I hope it’s a fun month!

Fatty’s & Whoa!

8 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

“Flaps”

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

“Far East Rolls”

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

“The Special”

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

“Corn Tortilla Soup”

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

“House Salad”

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

“Corn Risoles”

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

“Tri-colored Lentils”

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

“Cotton Candy”

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

“Top Crust Apple Pie with Soy Cream”

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

“Organic Peanut Butter Gelato”

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

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

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

Settling In

30 May

I’m a couple of weeks away from 21 months vegan and I feel like I’ve hit an equilibrium. I’m used to it. I’m not saying it was hard at first and then I gradually got accustomed to the change. Nope, it was surprisingly, I’d even say shockingly, easy from the beginning. I quickly found enough stuff that I liked to eat and then it became a matter of just filling it in at the edges. In fact, when this former meat lover recently walked into a Mexican restaurant, he was talking about himself in the third person. I mean, he smelled a few dozen strips of steak on the grill and almost gagged. Weird. I guess my body has made some changes, had some pathways re-wired perhaps.

I started this blog because when I stopped eating animal stuff my head was full of thoughts on the matter. I think I’ve now written about most of them. As a result, unintentionally, I see that I’ve been mostly writing about restaurants lately. Maybe this is useful to people in the greater Los Angeles area but is it interesting to those of you in other parts of America or around the world? Should I go back to my pseudo-philosophical essays? Should I keep it a mix of the two?

I also started putting some photos up on Instagram @insufferablevegan — different products I use, meals I cook, lunches I grab here and there that don’t warrant a full “review” or are from places I imagine you already know of and don’t need to read about at length. But I do get a little worried about food-porning it. Yeah this is good for the animals (I think and hope) but to start posting photos of glorious food for worship seems to be rubbing something in the face of people who can’t afford glorious food, whose lives don’t include the possibility of glorious food, who can’t even imagine that there are idiots out there using terms like glorious food, or who have no food at all (and presumably then no Internet).

I’m curious if other people felt a settling in at some point, if you started to feel that this is what you do now, whose friends started to all finally get it that this is what you do now and that it’s not a lark or a diet. And if so, at least for the people who have started this in the last year or two or three, do you think it’s about people getting used to it, or more about the vegan slow train coming? When I started this almost two years ago, when I met a certain supervegan and wasn’t even sure what the word meant, there probably wasn’t too much that could have been more alien to me than changing one of the basic activities of life. When I asked this person who had obviously thought through their connection to the planet way more than I ever had if they were “New Agey” I did it with zero awareness of  how I was the exact idiot who crosses my path every few months and asks me if I’m doing it “for spiritual reasons.”

But what feels most significant is that 21 months ago nobody was using the V word and now everyone seems to be and I think it’s for more than the way that when you learn a new word you suddenly start seeing it everywhere. I think there really is an eruption if not an explosion of vegan awareness, at least in what passes for educated, informed and aware society. There seems to be an interest level in the population that far exceeds the number of people who are actually vegan or vegetarian. People sit across the table from me chewing their chickens and telling me how they admire it or need to try it or are “getting there.”

I think this is a good sign. It’s probably a great sign. I’m old enough to remember when I told people that gays should be allowed to marry and they thought I was institution-worthy nuts. But as the older generations return to the earth and the pushmower of life brings up new ones, the attitudes have changed, and so with this too. (I’m comparing, not equating. Please don’t go ape-shit Mr. Animal Eater when I mention slavery, Nazis, suffrage or gulags. Please don’t ask me why I like animals better than humans. Does it really mean it’s open season on animal torture until the last starving child is fed?)

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading, following, commenting and retweeting.

Hopefully we’ll get to the point where a consensus is reached on the barbarism. And hopefully eating this way will let me live long enough to see it.

Changes Afoot at Yard House

29 May

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

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

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

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

The Vegan Pretzel Train

17 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Family = Happy Me

28 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

“Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli”

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

“Vegetarian Chicken with Cashew Nuts (Wheat Gluten)”

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

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

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

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

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

Shredded pork with…

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

“House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce”

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

“Stir Fry Spinach”

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

“Fried Bread”

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

Fried Bread minus mouthful.

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

Tiramisu cake

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

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

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

Native Foods Westwood you try a little harder?

18 Apr

Papered-over front window in Westwood.

I love Native Foods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door does not move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the looking glass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat peace.

Native Foods Cafe: Preview or trainee view?

29 Mar

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

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

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

I’m onto something here, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love ya, NFC!

Won’t you take you to… Figueroa Produce

16 Mar

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

Such photography!

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

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

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

I got this from the frozen foods case.

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

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

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

Won't you take me to... Tofutown

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

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

Not The End, I hope.

The OCV: Seabirds and Girl Scouts.

8 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beer Battered Avocado Taco

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

Jackie-ie Chan Tacos

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

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

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

Fried Rice W/ Tanaka Veggies

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

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

Kale and Pear Salad

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

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

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

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

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

A case! A case I tells ya!

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

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

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

Just don’t take the 10 back.

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

20 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye.

Animal Acres is the place to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Feb

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

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

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

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

Odd colorful graphic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

31 Jan

In keeping with my tradition of discussing books years after they’ve been published, I bring you “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. There’s a few things I want to get out of the way before I tell you how much Pollan annoyed me with his attitude toward animals and how it reached a point where I couldn’t believe the things this jackass was saying and doing. The things I want to get out of the way are: this is a great book, he is a great writer, and if you haven’t read it you should and almost must.

There. I feel better. Now on with the dissection.

Pollan’s book is divided into three parts. He visits a corn farmer in Iowa who grows for big ag, he visits a small farmer in Virginia whose farm is self-sustaining and designed to follow the natural order of animal and plant life, and then in the last part of the book he hunts and gathers.

Along the way he gives a pretty detailed description of the factory farm system, the big ag system, and the big organic system. And he eats a lot of meat.

He eats at McDonald’s, he kills and cooks a chicken from the small farm, and he hunts down a wild pig which, with the help of a friend, he butchers and then cooks and eats.

He leaves no doubt that he’s horrified by the treatment of animals in the factory farming system, and he throws off information I’d never heard before despite reading a lot on this topic. (He says that McDonald’s tolerates a five percent error rate when it comes to cows still being conscious as they’re cut apart on the assembly line. Almost 70 head of cattle move down one of these assembly lines PER MINUTE, and according to Pollan, McDonald’s permits 1 in 20 of them – we’re talking THREE PER MINUTE – to still be conscious when the chain saws start their work.)

In a chapter entitled “The Ethics of Eating Animals” he speaks to Temple Grandin, famous for designing the ramps and other parts of the slaughtering process, who tells him that when it comes to slaughtering cattle “there is the pre-McDonald’s era and the post-McDonald’s era – it’s night and day.” Pollan then says, “We can only imagine what night must have been like.”

And yet despite this information, Pollan says, “In the end each of us has to decide for himself whether eating animals that have died in this manner is okay. For my part, I can’t be sure, because I haven’t been able to see for myself.” HUH? You just heard about the process from the woman who designed it – do you think conditions might actually be BETTER than what she’s telling you? If not, what difference does it make if you see it for yourself or not, except for the obvious difference which is that you don’t have the image of live cows being chain-sawed to make you think twice before cutting into your next steak at The Palm.

He then goes on to compare the industrial slaughterhouse to the small family farm where he personally slit the throats of some chickens, and says it makes him realize why the small farm’s accessible-to-customers slaughtering area “is such a morally powerful idea.” And this reveals perhaps Pollan’s greatest weakness. Whenever he does something that I imagine most vegans would believe is immoral, he brings up the issue of morality to justify his actions.

How is being able to watch your chicken-provider slaughter your chicken a morally powerful idea? What he really means every time he says “moral” is “guilt-assuaging.” But his powers of denial don’t let him see it that way. To him, being able to see HOW the chicken is killed also provides the reason WHY it’s okay to kill it. But there’s really two separate things going on here. One is the issue of humane slaughter. To the extent that the chicken-farmer’s method is relatively quick and complete, then yes, it’s better than a method that leads to a drawn-out, excruciatingly painful life and death. But a painless death doesn’t equal a morally acceptable death. (And I’m not willing to concede that these deaths are painless or even near-painless.) Without explicitly saying so – since it’s probably hard for him to let his thoughts and conscience focus on this too clearly – he conveys that it’s acceptable to take this life because it’ll taste good when he eats it. The animal’s right to be free from such a killing doesn’t enter into it, yet alone a human’s right to kill another animal for this purpose. The deeper, more difficult and vexing questions aren’t even considered here.

Peter Singer and other living thing.

Not that the rights of animals are never discussed. Far from it. He conducts his argument against veganism by attacking the animal rights thinkers, particularly Peter Singer. He accuses Singer and others of  “argument from marginal cases.” But what’s so striking is that he’s plainly guilty of doing that very same thing.

He says that the creatures on the small farm he stayed at for a week are clearly happy, while admitting that this is “but a speck on the monolith of modern agriculture.” Yet he goes on to use this small farm as evidence that “animal rightists betray a deep ignorance about the workings of nature.”  Who’s arguing from the marginal case now?

He goes on to say, “The surest way to achieve the extinction of the species would be to grant chickens a right to life.” Again, he is arguing from the margins. Let’s get to the point where the factory farms and their billions of tortured chickens are gone and every chicken is raised the way they are on the bucolic farm he visited and then we can have this conversation.

He adds that, “Predation is deeply woven into the fabric of nature, and that fabric would quickly unravel if it somehow ended, if humans somehow managed to ‘do something about it.’”  But is factory-farming part of the fabric of nature? Is it natural predation that maintains a healthy eco-system? It is the opposite. And let’s not cite bison hunting as an excuse to eat meat when if I’m not mistaken that’s not how most meat is currently obtained.

I suppose you could say that I too am guilty of arguing from marginal cases, by constantly returning to the factory farm, and wanting to continue to use that as the basis by which meat-eating is judged, and I guess that’s true, if 99 percent of something is considered the margin.

He refuses to allow that the animal rights movement has developed and grown specifically IN RESPONSE to the factory farm. Thus it is intellectual fraud to keep returning to ancient predation and tiny pastoral farms to find examples to refute the “animal rightists.” His romantic notion of food is a relic, and it’s built upon a sea of horror, which while he acknowledges, he refuses to connect to his foodieism and his defensiveness of his continued consumption of animal products.

He insists on seeing animal rights as absolutist, because of course it’s easier to argue from there. But take Freedom of Speech, which the Bill of Rights says, “shall not be abridged.” But of course the Supreme Court has carved out numerous exceptions to these unabridgeable rights because society needs to be able to function without — to use a trite example — screams of fire in a movie house.

If a pitbull grabs your toddler in its jaws, Pollan would practically have you believe that animal rights advocates would insist you simply shrug and start preparing funeral arrangements.  Or that you couldn’t swat that mosquito before it took your blood and left you a souvenir welt. I know I’m repeating myself but it’s flat-out stunning how he mocks arguing from marginal cases and then proceeds to do it for the entire chapter without even a hint of self-awareness. “Animal rights’ exclusive concern with the individual might make sense given its roots in a culture of liberal individualism, but how much sense does it make in nature?” By now, even though he would deny it as a complete bastardization of his thinking, one can only draw one conclusion, which is that he regards factory farming as “nature” and intends to defend his continued consumption of animal products on that basis.

He says that animal rights “could only thrive in a world where people have lost contact with the natural world.” Well, people HAVE lost touch with the natural world and that’s why animal rights IS thriving. There was no Underground Railroad without slavery!

It seems to me that until we are in a situation where the small-farm meat that Pollan saw and produced himself when he personally slit chicken’s throats is widely available we don’t need to have this argument. A conversation in 1943 about whether the statement “Jews are good at business” is a compliment to Jews or an example of anti-Semitism would certainly not have been an excuse to let the Holocaust rage on. Pollan recognizes factory farm conditions for the nadir of humanity that they are, yet he still eats at McDonald’s in the book. And while I’m sure that’s not his usual favorite dining spot, how often does he know the providence of the eggs used in the gourmet items I’m sure he consumes at fine restaurants on a regular basis. Same for the items he makes or consumes when he’s home.

I’ve no doubt someone like him, a foodie, especially one with an open eye to factory farm conditions, goes out of his way when he can to buy from small farms where he thinks and hopes the conditions didn’t veer into evil. But what’s the percentage of his eggs, dairy and meat that’s produced that way?

If he’s made a total commitment to ONLY eat eggs, meat and dairy whose sourcing he’s certain of, then I don’t have nearly as big of a problem with what he’s doing. At that point, he’s doing much more than most people alive today will ever do. But I find it hard to believe that’s the case.

The final part of the book is about “hunting and gathering.” He gathers mushrooms and he hunts a wild pig, which I found confusing given his earlier statement about the potential extinction of chickens.

He bases his whole justification for eating meat on the domestication of the animals and the fact that the chickens on the bucolic farm wouldn’t have gotten the chance to live what he believes to be a good life if not for their being raised for food, and then he goes out and shoots a wild pig. And he says the pigs seem to roam in a group of six, with maybe three such groups in the forest. So thinning the herd can’t be a justification.

So then what’s the justification for killing one of these pigs, which he’s already described as more intelligent than dogs? What’s the justification for the sorrow that might come to the mother or baby of the pig he killed? The justifications he offered for eating meat aren’t even recalled and then tossed aside – they’re long forgotten.

He stretches to justify his hunting of pigs by saying, “They rip up great swaths of land with their rooting, exposing it to erosion and invasive weeds.” This is exactly the kind of natural process he glorifies earlier in the book, but now, needing to feel better about shooting an intelligent animal in the face, he grasps for pejoratives like “erosion” and “invasive.”

Later, while butchering and eating the pig with his friend, he says, “Eating it at Angelo’s kitchen table, even amid the raw cuts of meat arrayed on the counters around us, I suddenly felt perfectly okay about my pig—indeed, abut the whole transaction between me and this animal that I’d killed two weeks earlier.” Well I’m glad you felt okay about “your” pig — and what exactly was this transaction between you and “your” animal? That you get to eat it and in exchange it gets to be killed?

He adds, “Now it was all a matter of doing well by the animal, which meant making the best use of its meat by preparing it thoughtfully and feeding it to people who would appreciate it.” How does this do well by the animal? Once the animal is dead, it doesn’t give a shit if it gets eaten or tossed into a Dumpster or thrown into the sea. What you really mean is that it was a matter of doing right by you, or more specifically, you’re conscience, by not feeling that you wasted its life since you were the one to take that life away from it.

This whole chapter is a serious of ridiculous statements. He goes to such great lengths to justify and rationalize his consumption of meat and other animal products that you feel like you’re his shrink sitting there while he prattles on and on in a manner that you can’t imagine even he finds convincing.

–  “Another thing cooking is, or can be, is a way to honor the things we’re eating.” Please, don’t anyone ever honor me this way, okay?

–  “But cooking doesn’t only distance us from our destructiveness, turning the pile of blood and guts into a savory salami, it also symbolically redeems it, making good our karmic debts: Look what good, what beauty can come of this!” So killing someone would be okay if we made a beautiful painting with their blood?

– “…it was cheering to realize just how little this preindustrial and mostly preagricultural meal had diminished the world. My pig’s place would soon be taken by another pig.”  This is pig as commodity, as widget. Otherwise you can say the same about human life. I killed this baby, but another baby will be along soon enough.

– “Under the pressure of the hunt, anthropologists tell us, the human brain grew in size and complexity.” How is this an argument for meat-eating? Certainly nowadays it’s much harder to hunt down a vegan meal than to find a meat one, no?

WHAT HE NEVER COMES OUT AND EXPLICITLY SAYS IS: I KNOW IT’S WRONG AND I DO IT ANYWAY.

Instead it’s page after page of convoluted rationalizations not worthy of the intelligent person who wrote the rest of this book.  But hey, that’s easy for me to say, I don’t eat animals anymore. And it’s also “easy for me to say” in the sarcastic way because I did the exact same thing he did, for almost half a hundred years.

I think Pollan’s problem, which goes completely unacknowledged by him, is that as a foodie he wants to hang with a certain crowd. He’s a celebrity in that crowd, and he enjoys that status, I’m sure. He’s not about to invite the disdain and wrath of that crowd and risk exclusion by turning down much of what they offer, or eating side dishes when joining them at “fine” restaurants, or, god forbid, pointing out to them as they raise the fois gras to their lips that they really shouldn’t be doing that. That it’s MORALLY WRONG to be doing that. And that they all need to think twice about making any dish that requires cracking a few thoughtlessly acquired eggs.

Which raises the question of whether Pollan, someone whose eyes are no longer averted, someone aware of the full horrors of how, in his own words, all but a speck of current food is produced by a system that regularly, intrinsically inflicts brutal torture on the animal lives used to produce it, is worse than someone who either doesn’t know or more likely sort of knows or has a pretty good sense of it, but shuts themselves off from further consideration of the matter.

Eat your meat and shut up.

13 Jan

Can you look me in the eye and say that?

Whether it’s on big blogs like elephantjournal or sites like YouTube, I keep seeing a ton of things with titles like, “Why I’m eating meat again in 2012!”  Each one features an incredibly defensive former vegan offering a million reasons why they’re sick of vegans and how it’s impossible to satisfy the extremist rules of the vegan police and how for health reasons it’s become crystal clear they need to resume their meat consumption.

Maybe there are some people who have started eating sheep again sheepishly, but what I’ve seen have been big loud boasts. I don’t get it.

I mean, I get it that people might want to start eating meat again. There’s sacrifice involved in being vegan. For some people, it’s the taste of meggairy (meat, eggs and dairy) that they miss. For others it’s the social cost. Or maybe it’s the nuisance factor, or the feeling of being constrained by rules.

I’m not bothered by any of those but the social, which I’ve written about already. But what strikes me about these people who are returning to meggairy is that most of them use the language of people who would never go vegan and who revel in heaping disdain upon us.

Self-righteous assholes is one of the ways we’re described. Hey, I can be a self-righteous asshole, both before I was vegan and now, but where is the anger coming from? They also attack us for our rigidity and go to great lengths to let us know that veganism simply isn’t the right choice for everybody.

My guess is that these are personalities that need to try something new every few years. That need to change. That enjoy the feeling of doing something different. Because how hard is it to really go vegan in the first place? It wasn’t all that hard for me – someone who ate meat for almost half a hundred years, someone who didn’t really like vegetables all that much, someone who will oddly refer to themselves in the third person all of a sudden.

But here’s what I really don’t get: If you were vegan, or even vegetarian, for a long time, as many of these reverts seem to have been, then I can’t imagine you aren’t aware of the horrors of industrial animal production. Yet what’s missing from the rants that I’ve seen is any kind of acknowledgment along the lines of, “But I will only eat animals I feel were raised as cruelty-free as possible,” or “I will never eat fast food or any other meat whose origins I can’t ascertain,” or “I still will only eat animal products occasionally.”

It’s quite the opposite. It’s not only an explanation of why it’s no longer something they want to do, but rather it’s an indictment of anyone who continues to do it. We’re all just a bunch of hypocrites. Being vegan doesn’t work. We should worry about ourselves and stop judging others.

I imagine there’s a number of reasons why people go vegan in the first place, and a number of reasons why they go back, I just thought the reverts would go back to animals with their tails between their legs, not with their claws out and teeth bared.

But while I recognize that people go vegan for a number of reasons, I feel that people stay vegan for one reason: what they’ve learned about the lives of these animals makes them feel they simply can’t go back. And I wonder if the people who go back to meat ever watched any of the movies like “Earthlings” or read any of the books like “Eating Animals” or if instead being vegan was just another fad to them – a way to lose some weight or boost their heart health. Hey, that was me once, but then I read the books. Until I did I didn’t know if I could keep it up but after I did I knew I could never go back.

Eating animal products is far from illegal in this country, in fact it usually feels like it’s the opposite: it’s what our country wants us to do, not what it doesn’t want us to do. What I’m getting at is that these reverts can do what they want. If they learned enough about animal treatment to avoid animals that are victims of the industry’s worst horrors, then in a way they have returned to the carny world as better people.

Maybe it’s a good sign that they feel the need to lash out as they exit. Maybe it means they realize the enormity of what they’ve chosen to once again do. And that’s still a realization that almost everyone you know doesn’t realize.

So go ahead, reverts. Unleash your diatribes about how your body needs meat to function well. How it’s not a matter of eating wisely or supplementation but rather how there’s an optimal level of wellness for your body that simply can’t be achieved without meat. I’m not a doctor; maybe you’re right. Only you know how hard you tried to make it work for you.

Do what you want and eat what you want. But please, for just a minute, try to remember how you felt when you were on the receiving end of these attacks. Think about how disturbed it is for you to now be launching the same vicious criticisms that once made you question what you were doing or made what you were trying to do more difficult.. Try to remember how when you heard these criticisms, they rang like a bell of defensiveness and ignorance and self-righteous cruelty. Because that’s exactly what you’re doing now.

800 Degrees got 99 Problems (but the food ain’t one)

9 Jan

800 Degrees Pizza
10889 Lindbrook Drive
Los Angeles CA 90024
424.239.5010
Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.!

The L.A. vegan webiverse has been buzzing about a new pizzeria in Westwood Village called 800 Degrees and the fact that they offer Daiya. So how could I not try it?

Do you want the good news (the food) or the bad news (everything else) first?

I think I’ll give you the good news first in order to cut them some slack, since they’ve only been open a week: the pizza is very good. And well-priced. And it’s ready super-fast.

Pizza Marinara plus arugula, pine nuts and mushrooms.

I got two pies. One was the Pizza Marinara, a cheeseless pie with crushed tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil. To it I added arugula, pine nuts and mushrooms. It was good. The toppings were super fresh. The only problem was… okay, I’ll save the problem for later. While the cheeseless pie was good, the Daiya pie was better. This was their Pizza Margherita, which comes with crushed tomato, olive oil and basil, and I subbed Daiya for the mozzarella and “parmigiano reggiano.”

The Daiya pie looked so much like a real cheese pie that when the guy at the counter where you pick it up slid it over to me, I thought he’d made a mistake. He double-checked and said it was definitely the Daiya one. And when I looked at the real cheese pizzas which other people were getting, which looked nothing like what I had, I realized he must be right.

Pizza Margherita with Daiya.

I’ve had plenty of Daiya pizza in my 16 vegan months but none looked like this. The cheese was so… melted. I know Daiya melts, but usually you can see its shreddiness, or at least the fact that it was once shredded, but not here. Maybe that’s a testament to how much Daiya they give you for what I think was a $2 substitution charge  (receipts are vague) or maybe it’s a testament to the heat of their oven (though my buddy with a pizza oven says his is 800 also) but this thing not only looked like a regular cheese pizza, and had the consistency of regular cheese, I swear it tasted more like regular cheese than any other vegan pizza I’ve had. That feeling of when your teeth cut into the cheese on the first bite is one that I never thought I’d experience again, which is a treat in and of itself, and then the fact that the taste is there too really makes you (or at least me) feel like I’m eating “real” pizza again.

The Daiya was also nice and warm all the way through, in contrast to an early complaint I’d seen online about the Daiya pie being warm on the edges but cold in the middle. But that does bring up one thing I should mention, which is that, perhaps due to the thinness of the crust (which I really liked) the pies do cool down faster than a typical pizza. Maybe I’d have been better off getting one pizza, having some, and then going back up for another, but there seems to be no way to get any kind of pass to cut the line for second-timers (but I’ll get to the issues with the line later).

Next Big Coke

I also want to tell you about beverages because, to my surprise and delight, they have one of the space-age Coca-Cola Freestyle machines! Okay, the Space Age was 50 years ago, we don’t even have Space Shuttles anymore, so I guess I should say they have one of the Pinterest-age Coca-Cola Freestyle machines! I’m not a big soda drinker, but I first read about these from one of my favorite food bloggers a couple of years ago and I’ve really wanted to try one since since I like me new things. New music, new restaurants, new news, I’m always hoping to find the next big thing. And there it was. And drinks comes with refills so you can try a bunch of the different flavors this thing can create. Turns out most of them were meh, and the Fanta Raspberry was so grossly medicinal I’d rate it a feh, but I did find one winning combo: Raspberry Coke.

If there’s a problem with the machine (besides Fanta Pukeberry) it’s that people haven’t seen one before and don’t know how to use it. And while by the second or third time I had the hang of it, at first it’s a big “What do I do?” which means that after waiting in a long line for pizza you now have to stand there behind a machine that turns even gadget-savvy hipsters into grandmas using checks at the supermarket. And yes, the guy in front of me did have a fedora.

But a slow soda line is the least of the bad news. And although the good news about the bad news is that it’s early and hopefully these are kinks that will be ironed out (I haven’t ironed any kinks since the Space Age, have you?) it still put a damper on this being a great experience.

Bad News Thing number one: There is nobody busing tables. The way this place works is you order, it’s ready as soon as you’re done paying, and you sit down. There’s no waiters on the floor. THERE’S NO NO ONE ON THE FLOOR. When I got there, the place had a line going already, and was pretty crowded, with three or four unoccupied tables. But all the tables still had the previous eaters’ dirty plates, cups and napkins all over them. After ten minutes of waiting in line, paying, and getting my food, still nobody had come out to clean these tables. Seriously. It was disgusting. Finally, after this was pointed out to the man in chef’s whites, he went and told someone who came out.

An unbussed table here, and there, and over there...

But did that person go to the customer the chef pointed to as having asked? Nope, he went and cleaned the table closest to him instead. *sigh* And not to pick on the guy who busses tables, the bigger problem is that to the extent there’s any of the supposedly professional owners of this place around — and you’d think they’d be around during their first weekend in business — they didn’t seem to notice or care that their dining room was a pig sty. In fact, it was so crazy I decided to take some photos of it, because by the time I finished eating there were six, seriously, six tables sitting uncleaned in the dining room. I don’t think anyone had come out to clean tables the entire time I was eating. And they use real plates, which is nice, but since they’re not set up for you to bus your own table, they need to have someone out there full time.

And while I’m on the subject of plates, that reminds me about the forks. The first two forks I took from the bin next to the cash register had food on them, as in the food of the previous person who used that fork. That is bad, bad, bad. (Or gross, gross, gross — you can decide.)

But I’m still not at the worst kink in need of an iron. You see, the way this place works is via the assembly line system. In fact, this place is more defined by lines than the Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire. In fact, I had tried to have dinner here the previous day, but the line was so far out the door and down the street that I gave up. This time I was luckier and although there was a line, it wasn’t yet out the door.

“So that’s the worst part, I.V.? The line?” Nope. The worst part is the employees working the line. Now look, I don’t want to be too harsh. And so far I’ve been generous given the number of bugs that need to be kinked out. Or ironed out. Or worked out. Whatever. And I can be very forgiving of the first guy in the line that you talk to, the one who takes your order, the one who, when I asked, “Can you get a topping on just half your pie?” said, “Uh, I don’t know, I’m usually working in the back.” After all, he was being honest, which I appreciated, and he was friendly, which goes a long way with me. He said I should ask the guy further down the line.

So I moved down the line — which is basically cafeteria-style except you don’t have a tray and they’re the ones moving your food along on the other side of the counter — and when I got to the next stop on the local, which was Toppings, the guy looked at me and was like, “Where’s your pizza? What did you order?” And not friendly either. Hostile. Very hostile. Bizarrely hostile. So I said, “I couldn’t order one because the first guy couldn’t answer my question and he told me to ask you,” and Mr. Hostile Black T-shirt gave me a look like, “Are you expletive kidding me you lying sack of expletive?” And then he looked over at the first guy behind the counter who said, “Yeah, I told him to ask you because I didn’t know.” This should have been as much of an explanation as Mr. Black Shirt needed, and I thought we’d start from scratch at this point, but nope. The hostility did not abate. And keep in mind, I hadn’t even mentioned the words “vegan” “Daiya” “fake” or “I don’t eat X” yet.

I think the problem was that their system allows for zero margin of error. Zero. So by inexplicably having the first guy who starts their process not know what he was doing, it turned the 800 Degree pizza line into the Lucy candy factory line. And whatever Mr. Black Shirt’s MBTI profile was, it was clearly the least-suited one for standing behind a counter and interacting with a long line of people. So after answering my question (yes, you can get a topping on half the pie but you still pay the full topping price) I began to order my toppings. Now I’m not a dawdling type. I knew what I wanted and I ordered it quickly. But apparently not quickly enough to satisfy this guy who maybe is like this at home too or maybe was overtaxed by the sight of the line which was almost to the door at this point.

The good part of this was that the Daiya substitution request was met with no additional disdain and no look of puzzlement (as opposed to other experiences in the restaurant’s first few days that I’d read about online). He quickly reached down and pulled out a tub of shredded Daiya and put a good amount on my pie and then sent me on my way. The bright side? The cashier I dealt with at the end of the line couldn’t have been friendlier. And just so you don’t think this guy was only like that to me, which is exactly what I thought, I actually watched him while I was eating, and he was hostile and curt with everyone!

So there. That’s my 800 degree barn burner. (Wow, that’s an even worse sentence than my hacky Lucy candy reference.) I would say go there for the food, which is already good, and hope that everything else will work itself out shortly and rise above its current level of sucks.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the prices are very good for what this is. Five bucks for the cheeseless marinara pie (or fi dolla if you’re from Bayonne) and six bucks for the margherita pizza plus whatever toppings you want, which are all a buck apiece except for some of the carcass selections. And it’s open till 2 a.m.!

Meating of the minds

31 Dec

I went to a dinner party last night. Maybe a dozen people. All very nice. I knew about half of them previously. I was the only vegan. And the hostess, a friend of a friend more than a friend, and a lovely person, went out of her way to make, in addition to chicken, a wonderful vegan Moroccan Stew (from the “New Recipes from  Moosewood Restaurant” cookbook) as well as some vegan couscous.

And as I sat around the table listening to everyone talk, including three guests born in Europe but living in LA for more than a decade, and watching them enjoying themselves and the chicken, ice cream, cake, etc., I had a thought: What the world has in common is meat.

You can be from just about any part of the world, speak just about any language, and what you instantly share with pretty much any other human being you might encounter in a social, business or random setting is that you both enjoy eating animals. It’s so unquestioned, so unremarked upon as to be remarkable, but only to someone who doesn’t do it. Otherwise, it doesn’t even crack the plane of thought. It’s assumed. Why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t?

Longtime vegans are thinking: duh, you’re just noticing this now? Well, yeah. I’m 15 months in, and while being vegan doesn’t feel new anymore, there are still new things that strike me about it. And this hit me right between the eyes (though not as hard of a shot between the eyes as one from a bolt gun designed to stun me so someone could cut me up with a chainsaw).

It barely even came up that I don’t do this thing that’s so normal to do.

As I passed the chicken without taking a piece someone asked, “Oh, are you vegetarian?” I just said yes, without saying, “No, I’m vegan.” Because people don’t want to hear it. They’re having a good time. And their good time is being supported by the back office, where, 50, 100, 500 miles away, animals are being mistreated and tortured to facilitate this pleasant interaction.

And I started thinking, at a meal like this, where I was enjoying some very good vegan food made by my very thoughtful carny host, could I really have a good time? Could it really be a pleasant experience for me? And the answer was: not like it used to be. Without a doubt, it took some of the fun of a dinner party away. A type of social interaction that I’ve enjoyed for decades felt a little off, like there was an elephant in the dining room (the elephant being a chicken). But much like the talking frog, it was an elephant-chicken that only I could see.

I guess I’m a coward for not saying, “No, I’m vegan” and possibly precipitating a conversation of unknown duration on the topic. But they were being nice by accommodating me, right? To talk about certain things at their meat party is impolite, unpleasant. In the nearly half a hundred years I’ve walked this planet, I don’t think I’ve come across a subject that people don’t want to talk about as much as this one. Meat facilitates easy conversation, veganism kills it, because there’s nothing that can ruin a meat-facilitated conversation like discussion of the meat itself.

And then it hit me: if strangers are going to get together and eat animals — strangers of different backgrounds, different viewpoints, different political parties, different religions —  at least let it be an out-in-the-open source of unity, an acknowledged bit of common ground. Maybe it could end the troubles in the Middle East and around the world. You’re a Muslim, you’re a Christian and you’re a Jew, but we all eat meat. Let’s build on this thing we all share and love so much! You’re a leftist Democrat and your father-in-law’s a right-wing Republican but you both love some barbecue spare ribs. Instead of ignoring that you’re eating an animal that was tortured to provide you with a few minutes of pleasure, embrace it! We have our differences, sure, but we both don’t want to think about the source of our food or the pain that it felt or the immorality of our actions, and that’s a huge thing that we share!

Once meat-eaters begin this conversation can world peace (for humans) be that far off?

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.

Is “almost vegan” almost as good?

25 Dec

I know someone who was a carnivore until recently but now describes herself as “almost vegan.” It’s a term I’ve seen all over the Internet. And I’m wondering, if your life is 99 percent free of animal products, is that 99 percent as good as being 100 percent free?

I think I can see the arguments lining up. To what I’ll call “hardcore vegans” the answer is no. If you eat a bit of fish now and then, an egg once in a while, some dairy not to make a fuss at someone else’s house, you’re complicit. You don’t get to pick and choose and only do it when it’s most convenient. You’re either in or you’re out and if you’re out you don’t get to call yourself vegan.

On the other side, if the point of going vegan (or the main point, or even a point) is to eliminate animal suffering, then the answer is a resounding yes. For if everyone, or even half or a quarter or a hundredth of everyone, eliminated most animal products from their life, it would greatly diminish the number of animals moving through the gulag. (Isn’t that the hope of Meatless Monday? And is Meatless Monday a bad idea if it just lets people who eat meat the other six days feel better about themselves and less guilty?)

So it becomes a matter of ideology vs practicality. And it’s hard to get righteous about practicality. You also see a lot on the Internet about “abolitionist vegan” being the only acceptable position. For example, I’ve seen Rutgers law professor Gary L. Francione criticize the Humane Society and Peter Singer and others for their “animal welfare” approach, saying it’s not morally justifiable to simply improve the conditions of the animals being killed.

Gary L. Francione

I agree with Francione that we have to stop and that anything short of stopping is immoral — which I guess makes me an “abolitionist vegan” — but I also feel that it’s going to take a long time till we get to that point, and that in the meantime, it’s better if any type of reduction in animal suffering can occur. So am I on both sides then? Am I being a coward and not really choosing either side?

Maybe the idea is that if those on the regulation/Humane Society side came over to the abolitionist side, that animal use would end more quickly. But would it mean that until the day it ended, animals would suffer more than they would without the improvements the regulation side brings about, even if these improvements, when seen on the whole, are small?

I think that ultimately, I am of the belief that both sides can exist. (And of course both sides DO exist.) For example, I don’t agree with everything the ACLU does, but I’m glad they’re around. Similarly, I am glad someone like Francione exists to press his arguments, which I believe in, but I’m also glad for those who can improve the conditions of animals until Francione’s position can win the day. But here’s the hard part: I don’t want to say, “EVEN IF THAT MEANS SLOWING DOWN THE DAY THAT FRANCIONE’S POSITION PREVAILS.” And that’s the rub, right? Justice delayed is justice denied, or something like that?

So I think it ultimately comes down to people who are realists vs the kind of people who wind up changing the world, who are not “realists” because if they were realists they would see others’ reality and not their own and perhaps their own is more real than the realists’. Just because I think that the abandonment of animals as a common food source will take a hundred if not hundreds of years, maybe it will only take twenty years and would never happen at all without people like Francione to push it through. Someone born in 1885 was 19 when the Wright Brothers flew their airplane and 84 when humans reached the moon. One lifetime. Things can happen fast. Opinion is generational and can change suddenly. Most people in their 20s probably know a vegan while most people in their 70s have probably never even heard the word (at least if they never watched Oprah). Who’s to say what can and can’t happen?

The Lunar Module and the Wright military plane being prepared to be moved out of the Arts and Industries Building, August 1975. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

I guess I’m giving Francione more than the moral position here, I’m also saying he might have the boots on the ground realistic factual position too, more so than the realists who, if realizing they might not have the moral high ground, certainly feel they are the more realistic of the two sides. Compromise may be simply slowing down the arrival of a time when opinion shifts on this issue. And the tidal wave won’t come without people like Francione anchoring that position, to knot some nautical metaphors.

In other words, maybe practicality is impractical. Maybe incremental improvements make improvements incremental.

And yet I’d still rather someone be “almost vegan” than full-on carny. So is 99 percent vegan — assuming there could even ever be agreement on what 100 percent vegan even is, though for these purposes it’s enough that most of us probably agree what it is not, which is someone who eats meat, fish, dairy or eggs — but is it 99 percent as good, or 20 percent as good, or 99.999 percent as good, and is that last hurdle into 100 percentness all the difference in the world, and representative of the only morally acceptable position, or is it merely one small step away? Is it Manhattan surrounded by water, or Los Angeles where you can simply walk right in with a series of gradual steps (if anyone here walked)?

I’ve now managed to confuse myself, yet again. Though the one thing I feel pretty confident of is that an Almost Vegan is better than me, a full-on vegan who ate meat for almost half a hundred years. Or is it better than I? Sometimes the right things just don’t sound right.

Green Peas pause

22 Dec

Green Peas
4437 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, 90230
310.397.9815

I never bothered to write about Green Peas, one of my favorite places, because I figured most LA vegans already knew about it and others had already written about it, and like I said when I started this blog, I think my time is better spent writing about restaurants that LAVs are less likely to be familiar with.  But while having dinner there last night the owner, Jose, was taping up a sign on the front window. When I finished eating I walked outside and took a look. It said they were closing for remodeling! I went back in and asked Jose when they were closing. He said immediately, for six to eight weeks (another exclamation point).

The idea, he said, is to keep the current menu but also add dinner items like vegan ravioli, vegan risotto and vegan meatloaf. Sounds good to me (insert yet one more). But he said to do this he needs to expand his kitchen which entails moving things around a bit. Hopefully it’ll really all be done in six to eight weeks and I can go back to my Gardein Steak Sandwich and the best split pea soup of all time. (And I don’t even like split pea soup, but trust me, theirs crushes.)

Confession: I’ve been eating at Green Peas since before my salad days, I mean, my vegan days, so I can vouch for their omni food too, and it’s a great place to know about when you’re trying to plan a good casual meal with an omni. And by the way, I think we should stop calling people who eat meat “omnis” and start calling them “carnies.” I think it might boost the conversion rate, because who wants to be called a carny? But that’s a post for another day.

Unfigedible

20 Dec

To me, this is what a fig looks like in its natural state:

I don’t really eat them any other way. And I don’t think about them much. In fact, never. Not even when I’m buying the vegan (dairy-free) Fig Newmans. And eating the whole tray in a day. Two if I’m lucky.

But yesterday I saw a tweet from my favorite 3,000-mile-away food truck, The Cinnamon Snail, that made me go: Huh?  Seems that TCS had gotten into a twitter exchange with someone who was inquiring about their use of figs in their pancakes, and whether or not figs were vegan. In the thirty years that I have been vegan (okay, 15 months) I have never seen anything calling into question the veganticity of a fig. So I clicked my way into the heart of their exchange and found this link the challenger had thrown down:

http://www.veganfitness.net/viewtopic.php?t=7052

And there, spread across four pages, fifty-nine posts, and three years, you will find a discussion of whether or not figs are vegan. I won’t get into the whole thing because you can read it for yourself, but the basics go something like this: Figs are pollinated by wasps that climb into one end of the fig, deposit their children, sperm and luggage there, then die and leave their corpses to be devoured by fig-eating humans and other animals.

So basically, the argument goes, if you eat a fig, you’ve got dead wasps, wasp parts, or wasp secretions entering your up-until-now vegan body.

Well, here’s what I think. The problem with eating dead animals is that they are raised to be killed to be food for us. Or if hunted or caught wild, they at least are killed to be food for us. These insects are apparently dead inside the figs already. And if I’m following the story right, only some figs are even pollinated this way. So sometimes when you eat a fig, depending on the type, you may be getting dosed with bug parts. Is it icky? Sure. But where’s the problem?

Is it in the exploitation of the wasps? The (natural) death of the wasps in the (natural) production of a food item? Or is it the ingestion of the wasps or wasp parts or wasp jizz? (Remember those Budweiser commercials? Waspjizzzz!)

When bees make honey from the nectar of flowers, they do so to create a storable source of food for themselves. Beekeepers get them to overproduce honey so they can take some for the species Beekeeperus. (Okay, I might have misquoted Wikipedia here, but I can only stay on the page for so long without being overcome by guilt from those fundraising pleas.)

So with bees and honey, I can understand the exploitation. They get the bees to do extra work to make food for humans. Does this affect the bees? Are they aware of it? Do they mind? Does it lead to injuries and deaths and pain? I don’t eat honey for this and other reasons, but I don’t have a problem with people who eat honey and still call themselves vegan. (Isn’t that nice of me? Me who ate meat for almost half a hundred years.)

But this fig thing seems different. Humans aren’t making this happen. The wasps would do it in the absence of humans. It doesn’t even seem to be live wasps that are getting eaten. But I guess the idea here is that it’s wrong to eat something that once was alive. On principle, I suppose. Because what’s the difference between eating a dead wasp in a fig or eating a deer that was hit by a car and left dead on the side of the road. I wouldn’t eat that deer even if it were safe for me to consume because, well, I don’t eat animals. So does that apply here? Or is a wasp not an animal?

It’s at this point, when we’re out on what feels to me like the fringes having these kinds of discussions, that this might as well be a religion. But I suppose there are discussions at the edges in all kinds of secular areas, be they science or philosophy.

But isn’t it worse to think that The Cinnamon Snail Truck, as it heads home from dinner each night in the dark, is plowing into thousands of little flying things as it makes its way down the Garden State Parkway? Things that weren’t dead until they got hit by a truck. Or is the problem not the killing but the eating, even if the death of the thing being eaten wasn’t caused by humans at all? While it may not be clear to me whether a wasp is capable of feeling pain, I feel pretty certain that a dead wasp is not. So it’s not about the pain, which is the primary reason for my veganing in the first place. Sure I think that animals, even insects, have just as much right to exist as I do, but do I feel bad about the tiny things I may be hitting with my Honda or stepping on with my Soft Stags? A little bit, but I shrug it off pretty easily.

I hope this doesn’t make TCS change its ways or even feel bad for a second. What they and other providers of incredibly good-tasting vegan food are doing is showing that vegan food doesn’t have to be the feces-laden sawdust that so many meat-eaters imagine it to be. They show that an alternative exists that isn’t devoid of taste. That is in fact delicious. They are showing the way. And that’s a start. A very important start.

Vegan the religion

9 Dec

I didn’t call people to tell them I’d gone vegan. I didn’t make it my Facebook status. But it seems like one of the ways that people tend to socialize is over food. So before long they either figure it out, or you kind of need to let them know you’d rather go someplace other than Sizzler.

And as I went through that process of people finding out about this change, and me taking in their wide range of reactions to it, more than one person (two) told me that I had “found religion.” And they didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Of course I understood what they meant right away, and I’m pretty sure I could even see it from their perspective: I’d suddenly decided to change my life, to do something because of a newfound belief, and to accept certain limitations on my behavior and make certain sacrifices as a result. In other words, I went off the deep end.

I also imagine that, like someone who just found religion, they thought I was acting morally superior and as if I had “seen the light.” And if they did think that, they weren’t wrong. But I tried – and try – very hard not to act that way, not to criticize, not to proselytize, and not to even talk about it. Unless I’m asked. And people don’t ask. (Unless it’s with the hope of getting the answer: “I did it for health reasons.” Because if you did it for the chickens, they do not want to know.)

But even if I am guilty of feeling superior to non-vegans on this issue, isn’t the bigger issue that I’m morally superior to pre-vegan me of almost half a hundred years? And what does that say about the kind of person I am that I managed to ignore the “open secret” of what’s being done to these animals? It speaks poorly of me that I repressed what I knew for so long and didn’t make the effort to find out more until so much of my life had gone by.

Oh crap, does that mean I feel guilty? That I feel like I was a sinner before? Religion again! (I actually don’t believe in the concept of sin, which feels like it’s imposed from without, though I do still believe there can be right and wrong, which I delude myself into thinking comes from common sense and a John Stuart Mill-type perspective, not from “without.”)

This is John Stuart Mill. (His real name was John Stuart Leibowitz Mill.)

Also like religion, people think that I must have felt “lost” to go and do something like this. Had I gone and joined a cult, I doubt their reaction would be all that different. And if it were a meat-eating cult, they might mind the change less. To them, I’m now the friend that does this odd – and inconvenient – thing.

Most people I know don’t want rules in their life, whether it’s religious rules, or rules about what to eat. They don’t want limitations. People will often offer me an item of food and ask, “Can you eat this?” If it’s not vegan, my answer is always, “I can, but I don’t want to.” Is that how religious people think, too? I don’t know, not being religious, but I’d guess they’re more likely to think that they “can’t” have this or that, especially if they were raised since childhood with those rules and taught that it’s the only acceptable way to act. (And maybe for those reasons they don’t “want” it either.)

But once you accept rules, you step out of the rule-free world, and in that sense it’s again similar to religion. Because once you start to put limitations on yourself, you see that you can take this idea of limitation as far as you want. Some people eat honey and call themselves vegan, some wear leather and call themselves vegan. I don’t do either but others go further than I do. No refined sugar, let’s say. And I bet some vegans don’t think vegans like me who eat refined sugar are vegans at all. Not to mention the vegans concerned about isinglass who think that if you don’t check your vino you’re VINO.

Now it really sounds like religion, with the more-observant people feeling they’re more Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/Vegan than the less-observant ones, or that they’re a REAL Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/Vegan while the others are merely pretenders. In this way, vegans can feel morally superior not only to meat eaters, not only to vegetarians, but even to other kinds of vegans who don’t go as far as they do.

The honey thing is a good example. Are the bees being tortured? Mistreated? Exploited? Like I said, I don’t use honey — but do I equate what happens to the bees to what happens to a calf in a veal create? I do not. But I avoid using it so that I can feel I’m vegan. So that I don’t have to worry about challenges to my vegan authenticity. And also to be sure that this isn’t in fact a hardship on the bees. Not to mention that it adds to the statement that I’m against the exploitation of all living non-plant things. (I’m also against the exploitation of plants, but hey, a guy’s gotta eat!) And this is where, for me, veganism gets closest to religion, as it starts to deal with adherence to what “the group” says is vegan and to observing enough of the tenets to feel like I’m a vegan or a good vegan or can properly use the label vegan for myself when I see fit.

And it also becomes like religion simply by giving its adherents a name: Vegans. Why can’t we just do what we do without a name? Why can’t we just say, “Yeah, I don’t eat animal products.” Or, “I eat only eat plant-based foods”? The answer is because there’s strength in numbers, and in terms, and on some level we like being part of a group, and feeling like we’re participating in a movement. We like the feeling it gives us when we say to someone, “I am vegan.”

And some vegans take it even further. They’ve adopted a symbol: The V in a circle. Hey, if it works for you, great, but to me it just makes it even more like a religion. But who am I to criticize, since I’m known to wear a T-shirt from time to time with a band or a brand that I like on the front. So let people have their Circle V. (And wouldn’t that be a great name for a vegan convenience store? If you open one, I get a discount!)

I'm not thinking that people who use this symbol are treating veganism like a religion as much as I'm thinking that all this text needs to be broken up by some art.

So now that I’ve told you all the ways that veganism is like a religion, I just want to say that to me it’s not like a religion at all, any more than opposing abortion is a religion to a right-to-life atheist or supporting gay marriage is to a secular humanist.

And I wish that some of these people who think I’ve found religion would think about it a little more closely for a minute. There’s no meetings, like a religion. There’s no place of worship. There’s no hierarchical leader with authority over it. There’s no deity. There’s nobody I’m supposed to give money to.

I’m not seeking salvation in this. I’m not seeking answers. I don’t feel it will improve my karma or that some deity will think more highly of me as a result. But I guess I do now “believe” in something. I believe these animals are treated in a way that just about every human would say is wrong if they were watching it happen in front of them. And so I took an action that makes me feel like I opted out of it.

So yes, I’ve adopted a new belief. But adopting a new belief is no more adopting a new religion than adopting a new belief in atheism would be. (And I know some atheists who are so into atheism, who attend so many meetings and conventions and belong to so many groups that they’ve turned it into much more of a religion than veganism is, even though these are some of the people who are quickest to attack veganism as religion.)

But maybe it’s simply too late at this point to effectively argue that veganism is not like religion since I’ve just proved beyond a doubt that it shares something very basic with religion: pontification. So I’ll shut up.

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.

All vegan food contains feces, right?

5 Dec

Does that headline sound familiar? It’s from this blog post. That’s right, I’m quoting myself. I really am insufferable!

But I thought this was worthy of its own discussion, because I’m guessing it’s something many of you are familiar with. It goes something like this: (true story).

I was invited to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. My non-vegan host could not have been more gracious or considerate about my veganinity. She made a number of dishes I could eat and clearly told me what was con and sin animal. When I’d asked what I could bring, she said, “Well, someone else is making some pies for dessert, and I bet she uses eggs, so why don’t you bring a dessert you can eat?”

So I bought a beautiful vegan chocolate cake that I’d had before and that I knew just about everyone would enjoy because, unfortunately, I haven’t been vegan all that long and I still have a pretty good memory of what an animal-assisted chocolate cake tastes like.

My host took it out at dessert time and put it next to all the other desserts. People ooh’d and aah’d about its prospective yumminess. Then the host mentioned it was vegan and there might as well have been cartoon dust as people mentally ran away from this cake as fast as their neurons could take them.

I have no doubt, if they hadn’t been told it was vegan, they’d have eaten it and enjoyed it and probably even praised it. And it was a pretty big cake, so it’s not like they were thinking I needed it all for myself and they shouldn’t use up my special food while alternatives existed. Nope, they thought: must be gross.

I don’t know why I find this so frustrating, but I do. All it means to say something is “vegan,” basically, is that there’s no meat, eggs or dairy in it. And since nobody’s expecting meat in their chocolate cake, it means there’s no eggs or dairy in it. (And yes, I think most of the guests were aware of what vegan means.) So if the host had put out this cake and said, “This cake is made without eggs or dairy,” I’m guessing most people would have tried it and enjoyed it. Maybe they would have thought, “Gee, maybe someone’s allergic to one or both of those things so she announced it,” and then they would have shrugged, and cut off a slice and been happy.

But she said the V word. And I’m guessing, people’s thoughts were something like: “Maybe it’s made with tofu,” or “Ew, god knows what’s in that,” or “A chocolate cake made with kale and cauliflower? *shudder*”

Of course I’m being kind. Since these people thought no such thing. They simply accessed that part of their brain where they’ve stored this simple fact: All vegan food contains feces.

I feel pretty confident that if only Mr. Watson had called himself and his adherents “No meat, no eggs, no dairyans” that there would now be millions more of us. I mean, nobody feels like they absolutely must have those ingredients in every single thing they eat, right? Otherwise nobody besides us would ever eat hummus, or rye bread, or sorbet. Pretty much everyone is fine with eating foods that don’t have any meat or eggs or dairy once in a while, or even frequently, and they’re probably even some omnivore’s very favorite things in the world and they could eat them over and over and over.

But who wants to eat feces?

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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