July 2, 2009

How "Vegan" are Vegan Restaurants in LA?

Published over at Quarrygirl.com is this recent post:

Operation Pancake: Undercover Investigation at Vegan Restaurants in LA

An independent investigation to see if the vegan food at supposedly vegan restaurants is truly vegan.

After all our diligence in reading labels at the grocery store, preparing fresh vegan food at home, our ethical choice to avoid all animal products in our food, all our efforts to be "vegan" can be wasted with just one trip to a restaurant. The point of The Vegas Vegan is to aid in your dining out experience, so please read this article to learn more.

Excerpts from the article:

...During the meeting, Mr. Wishbone outlined an ambitious plan that would enable us to test for common non-vegan ingredients (eggs, casein [a component of milk], and shellfish) in a multitude of menu items from local vegan restaurants. The plan would be a logistical, financial and time-sucking nightmare but, if done properly, and to scientific testing standards, it would be a ground-breaking and highly reliable indicator of just how “pure” food from vegan restaurants really is.

...a key requirement of this operation was that all the selected and tested restaurants should offer only an all-vegan menu, so there could be no question about cross-contamination from cooking implements (kitchen dishes, pans, knives etc.). So, we set about choosing a variety of restaurants in the LA area. Initially, we targeted 20, and were able to obtain food from 17.

...We cannot stress enough how many precautions were taken to ensure that the food was tested under the most stringent conditions. Indeed, our testing standards met or exceeded the standards of the California Retail Food Code, sections 113982, 113984 and 113986.

...The testing kits that Mr. Wishbone was to obtain could positively identify three common non-vegan allergens (hen’s egg, milk protein (casein), shell-fish), and were highly sensitive (down to parts per million, which explains our intense focus on process and hygiene), so we targeted food items that contained vegan “cheese”, vegan “fish” (including shellfish and non-shellfish), creamy sauces, breads and stuff that had an expanded, sweet, crispy or bubbly texture (often created using eggs as binders in the cooking process).

Read the full article for more specific results:
The Winners
Of the 17 restaurants, 10 had a completely negative score for shellfish, casein and egg. Vegans should note that we were unable to test for whey ingredients with these tests, and just because they passed our tests doesn’t mean they will be vegan for you.

The Suspect
One restaurant, Pure Luck, was singled out as suspect because it had a POSITIVE reading on one test for one menu item, the Baja Fish Taco. While testing a clear negative for shellfish and egg content, the taco did register as positive for casein.

The Losers
Five restaurants were in this category. These restaurants are all Vegan Thai in style, and have many common food items between their menus. In all cases, the HIGH readings were for egg content, and with two restaurants both also testing POSITIVE for casein. The Conclusion Following such consistent results, it is perhaps wise for vegans to avoid meat substitutes in vegan Thai establishments, sticking instead to tofu and seitan derived ingredients.

The Big Time Loser
The last restaurant on our list, Green Leaves Vegan, stands out as being the only one tested where a food item registered OVERLOAD.

Please read to the end of the article, which goes on to outline why "fake" or "veggie" meats may not be vegan, and why "vegan restaurants" aren't necessarily catering to actual vegans, but to people who just want to eat "vegan" food. And read the follow-up post.

It's our responsibility as vegans to protect our own choices, but this vegan is also concerned with protecting her health. Trace amounts of casein may seem harmless on the surface, but I know that even a small amount of it in my food can make me sick.

The Vegas Vegan reminds you that you should always ask your server or even ask to speak to the chef if you have any concerns about any ingredients in your food. Ask before you order, call ahead before you even arrive at the restaurant, just be sure that you know what you're eating. Personally, I avoid ordering items that I am not 100% certain about. For instance, I never order anything with aioli because, even though it's only supposed to be made with garlic & olive oil, there is a good chance it contains egg or other ingredients that could contain egg or dairy.

List of Restaurants tested in Operation Pancake:


Anonymous said...

Many vegan Mock meats used by these establsihments are manufactured in Taiwan.There is a main distributer in El Monte California who gives establishment owners a VEGAN order sheet and a non vegan-ones that contain whey or dairy. AV owner is aware of the issue. The fully vegan products are more expensive. The economy is tight..just saying. Or maybe they were labeled wrong? r maybe they should have done PROPER full lab tests. This can b taken as all heresay people.Were tests done by a person who is close with the owner of a long time established LA area restaurant? One that felt a hard pinch in these horredous times for restaurants?
All Vegetetarian
4300 Bdwin Ave
El Monte, CA.
626 448-5919
I used to order from AV. I always tested the products on myself first because being a long time vegan my saliva no longer contains the enzymes to accept whey or egg. Chalkiness in my mouth right off. Also 10 minutes later upper digestive cramp. I found AV VEGAN products to be okay for me. I am also able to smell egg or whey.
Taiwan, carefull manufacturing??
There was a Mock Ham Tube about 4 years ago distributed and sold for months as Vegan, it was found to contain whey. Many establishments were caught off guard when The FDA finally caught the omission on the label. Depend on the FDA? No.
Hopefully this area of products will finaly be more regulated People should be free to be certain what they are served is what they are told. Right?
I would have known but if ingested egg or whey wld hav been in abad wy for at least 12 hours and that makes you mad.Think many have been food poisoned, same deal. You feel abused and taken besides sick.Whatever diet, allergy, choice to be lied to, decieved is wrong. If people think ORGANIC on a menu guarantees it is always you are mistaken. Been in the biz along time these can happen.
Shortages, high prices, run out of a item pinch hit with non organic from a local superstore is what happens sometimes.
I can also tell you that many vegetarian/vegan establishmets fight against one another (not all) slander OFTEN. Esp. in California for some reason. Often done via friends , relatives and not the owner . Send people in, write erroneous reviews.Witneessed it at a business I worked at. Awhile back. The truth of the matter..there is a small tight group that thinks it OWNS the vegan biz world nd they will do almost anything to keep new ones out.but the are being out numbered. Vegan Cheese companies..the old guard have
attempted to block distribution for new vegan cheese companies.
Someone said to me 'Are most vegans unblanced?" NO!
Sad really. I know several people who have been vegan 25+ years. All suit and tie wearing career people.They never talk about it. never blog, never join in vegan "clubs".
Many questions here but hopefully as the sector grows these growing pains will be corrected,eh.
I would have made an appointment with the restaurant owner first and sussed more out prior to busting out public with this.


The Vegas Vegan said...

Thanks for clearing up a lot of the mis-information regarding vegan vs. non-vegan "fake" meats, cheeses, etc..

I don't know the people who carried out these informal tests on the restaurant food, but I did find it interesting - especially in reinforcing the idea that we should trust our instincts on certain foods.

I personally don't eat any fake meats - I'm not sure what the purpose in eating them in the first place is anyway. But after many years of being vegetarian, and now vegan, it's easier to smell animal products in foods, and of course feel the effects of the foods after eating something accidentally.

I think you'll have to go back and read the original article and/or contact the authors to get even more info on how this was all carried out and if they contacted the owners before publishing.

Thanks for your comments.