Archive | December, 2011

Veggie Castle (II) and The Cinnamon Snail (by Roald Dahl)

12 Dec

Veggie Castle (II)
132-09 Liberty Avenue
Richmond Hill, NY 11419

The Cinnamon Snail
(It’s on wheels so
check their Twitter)
Manhattan, Brooklyn,
Hoboken, Red Bank

Chapter One: Veggie Castle

Once upon a time last month I made a quick trip to New Jersey for my niece’s wedding. (She’s 25, I’m… sigh.) Flew into JFK and thanks to the wonder that is Happy Cow I found a great  vegan restaurant only a few minutes north of the airport right off the Van Wyck. (Pronounced WICK not WYKE and if you try to tell me otherwise I’ll punch you in the EYE — pronounced IH.)

I know that looks like a fat Roman numeral I but it's a blurry Roman numeral II. Trust me.

Veggie Castle has a Roman numeral II on the sign outside because they once had another Veggie Castle, which got its name because it was located inside an old White Castle, and do you think I can still wear my White Castle jacket that I bought before I was vegan? (On the one hand it’s made of synthetics, on the other is it promoting the eating of animals?)

One thing I forgot about New York is that it’s harder to find a parking spot on any given day than Pasadena on January 1st. But the native New Yorker in me prevailed and I found one out back between a hydrant and a Dumpster and ran around the corner to a Caribbean (food) paradise. Veggie Castle is a take-out place, so I ordered a bunch of things and ate them when I got to my in-laws’ place in Jersey. This had the added advantage of irritating my in-laws, who while not opposed to my veganizing, are under the impression it’s simply another diet like Atkins or Paleo despite repeated attempts to disabuse them of this notion. (My in-laws, no matter what the issue, are not disabusable of any notions whatsoever.)

What did I eat? Well, who says a restaurant review has to tell you what was eaten? I’m breaking new ground here. Mostly because I don’t remember. Because what happened was, as I stood there trying to choose from the amazing collection of items in steam trays before me, the owner, who was so into it that I had sought out his restaurant after finding it on the Internet, threw a bunch of different things into the container so that I could try a vast array of his creations. They were Caribbean items that included things like plantains, yams and fake meats. And they were all amazing.

In addition to the steam table items, I spotted some patties behind the counter. Seeing these immediately took me back to my Brooklyn days when there was only one, that’s right, one, restaurant on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope and my favorite place to go in the neighborhood was Christie’s Jamaican Patties for “one on coco bread.” (That “one” was beef of course, ugh.) I asked about the patties and was told there were three kinds: fake chicken, fake fish, and some kind of spinachy thing whose name I wish I could remember (and yes, I’m personifying spinach here, so what, do you want another punch in the ih?). I decided to get one fake chicken and one spinachy and they smelled so dang good I broke into them in the car. Not only did they taste as good as they smelled — especially the chicken one — but it was a rental car, which is essentially a napkin wrapped in metal, right? (BTW, I don’t know about you, but I do a lot better with fake meat than fake fish.)

And… and this is not a small and… they carry Vegan Treats straight outta Bethlehem! After seeing constant references to this beloved bakery I of course had to try some. I got four different slices of cake and, here’s the best part, when I got to Jersey nobody wanted to share them! (So what if I ate four pieces of cake over two days, it’s allowed when you leave your home state.) And yes, they were good. Better than the bestest vegan dessert ever? Don’t know that I’d say yes. But I’m looking forward to a re-match, especially if I can get my hands on some of those peanut butter bombs one day.

Chapter Two: The Cinnamon Snail

So that was Friday night. And Saturday was a rehearsal dinner at The Olive Garden which provided me with a perfectly fine plate of vegan pasta. But, Sunday morning, while the others were still asleep, I took my metal napkin up to Red Bank, where parked at the farmers market was…


By the time I got there, about five minutes before their stated 9 a.m. opening, there was already a line! And I’m guessing it wasn’t just vegans lining up at the gates of food truck heaven though I have to admit I didn’t do a survey. This was pretty exciting. I’d read a lot about this place online, and this was before they got permission to start hitting the streets of New York, so the whole thing seemed kind of legendary and — how often can you say this and mean it — it did not dissapoint. The special of the day, which I was told will become a regular menu item this spring, was the Ancho Chili Seitan Burger and it is THE BEST VEGAN THING I HAVE EVER EATEN. And really, I wouldn’t even have a problem taking the word vegan out of that sentence. It destroyed. To the point that after taking a bite in the car I had to go back to the truck to tell them just how incredible it was.

I got some other things to try, too, like their “classic breakfast burrito” and a puff pastry with curried lentils and a few different doughnuts, and while those were all good, the star of the show was clearly the ACSB. (Though the burrito was a pretty good VPM on the flight home Monday, I must say.)

So to all you New Yorkers who have been too lazy to tube it over to Hoboken: go see what the fuss is all about!

And then cry for me that I live 3,000 miles from it.



At the wedding I had a terrific, and I’m not overhyping this, vegetable napoleon. If you’d gotten this at any vegan restaurant, even a pricey one, you’d have been very happy with it. Even better, after my niece told me she’d make sure they’d have something I could eat, she had them put it on the menu card. So hopefully this led some other people to get it instead of the chicken or salmon.

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

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

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.

Jonathan Safran Foer

3 Dec

I mentioned in my very first post that two weeks into a tentative dabble with veganing, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book and that then there was no going back. (Note to aspiring writers: Do not use the words that, then and there in a row.)

There’s probably not much lamer in a blog than writing about a two-year-old book (and if there is, I’ll find it, you just wait) but after reading what I felt was a catty and vicious attack on Safran Foer by a leading vegan website, I wanted to defend him (like he needs me to come to his defense).

What makes this attack even more pathetic is that the attacker openly — and proudly — admits to never having read the book. But that doesn’t keep this ethicist from posting a photo of Safran Foer with a photoshopped pus mustache (pustache?) under the headline “got pus?”  (Though to the attacker’s credit, a “got milk” reference is pretty original and cool.)  What angers this critic is that Safran Foer is a vegetarian not a vegan, and the critic knows this because he’s read some reviews. In fact, the reviews are apparently enough to tell this critic all he needs to know about the book.

Well, I apologize for talking about a book that I actually did read, I know that’s so 20th century, but it seems pretty clear that this critic is simply jealous of Foer, and of the fact that this vegetarian has done far more to turn people vegan and alleviate animal suffering than this webmaster ever will. Yeah, I thought it was odd too that Safran Foer hasn’t actually come out and declared that based on what he now knows, he’s become vegan, but he does say that if you really want to do something to alleviate animal cruelty it’s better to give up eggs and dairy because those are the worst-treated animals. So it’s not like he’s saying that drinking milk is just swell.

Safran Foer also says he spent over a year researching this book. Keep in mind, he’s one of the country’s young literary stars, and he interrupted his fiction career to do this. That shows some dedication. And he also talks about how he snuck into a factory farm at night and broke into a building housing chickens. Has the critic ever done that? I won’t presume to know, since that would be presumptuous.

Can’t the argument be made that it’s more beneficial to animals to convince people to become vegan or vegetarian, than to spend your time bitching about people who convince people to become vegan or vegetarian? This critic needs to have a couple of stiff ones at his next Vegan Drinks event and then sit in the corner thinking about who’s done more to help animals. Maybe then he’ll take down that catty photo and feel at least a little embarrassed about having put it up in the first place.

Mr. Baguette

2 Dec

Mr. Baguette
8702 E. Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-9166

How could I not try a place with a sign like that?

Okay, this is my first restaurant review. I am not looking to compete with people who are good at vegan restaurant reviews. Like this person. Nor am I looking to build a comprehensive resource. Like this person. I am simply trying to tell you about places you might not know about, even if you’re a vegan in LA. Like this person. So I’ll try to stick to out of the way places.

I went to Mr. Baguette today and had the “Veggie Ham” sandwich. It was $4.99 and pretty big. It comes on a plain baguette. And be sure to order it with no cheese and no mayo. (It comes with a “sweet soy sauce” that Jacques-blocks your “this baguette is too dry” complaints.) It also comes with tomatoes and lettuce (iceberg: leafy not shredded) and for something like 20 cents more you can get it on a sesame seed baguette.

I asked about the veggie ham and also the baguette and was told they didn’t contain any meat, dairy or eggs.

Who knew sesame seeds were so expensive?

As for the place, it’s non-descript.  I was there for over an hour and didn’t see them once bus a table. People either threw out their trash or the next customer threw it out when they needed a table. That’s not good, but otherwise the place was clean.

The sandwich was pretty good if not killer. The baguette itself was very good. Most of the time when you eat a sandwich, if you can remember eating meat like I can, you don’t even taste the meat, or at least not much. And the veggie ham tastes just fine. The most distinct taste is probably the sweet soy sauce, and of course the pretty great taste of that crunchy baguette.

Hamsome devil!

I also got a root beer. I usually don’t drink soda but they had Faygo root beer in cans. You don’t see that every day. Or just about any day. Actually, never before, for me, though I have seen it in bottles. Big thick bottles with seams. Or at least in my memory there were seams.

Oh, and maybe this goes without saying, but this is an omni joint. If you can call a place with one vegan choice an omni joint.

You know what I just did? I wrote about a sandwich. How odd.

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