Archive | October, 2012

Beyond Meat responds

18 Oct

Beyond Meat Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce taco

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

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

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

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

Beyond Meat botches its Southern California rollout

17 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce

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

Beyond Meat in tomatillo sauce taco. Good!

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

Mac and Cheese for the win!

13 Oct

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

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

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

Doomie’s Mac and Cheese

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

Sun Cafe’s mac and cheese

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

Southern Fried Vegan’s version

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

Treats from Amanda’s Bakery

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

Hugo’s Winning Recipe

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

Can you buy meat and be vegan?

12 Oct

This is not me.

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

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

This is not me either.

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

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

Still not me.

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

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

Like taking candy from an omni

12 Oct

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

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

Vegan!

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

Vegan!

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

Vegan!

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

Promoting veganism. What’s veganism?

12 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lemonade, very pretty

9 Oct

Lemonade
Multiple locations throughout L.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginger snap cookie sans snap.

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

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

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