Nonvegan Vegan Restaurants

Last Updated: June 30, 2009 just published an investigative report exploring the ingredient purity of purportedly vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. The website spent something like $1000 on fancy test gear and then purchased various dishes at seventeen restaurants. One Quarrygirl reader left this comment on the piece: “you guys are incredible. seriously. everyone needs to BOW THE FUCK DOWN.”

I think that’s pretty much on the mark. This is by far the most impressive investigation I’ve ever seen carried out by a vegan blog, and this sort of thing gives me hope that the vegan blog community will be producing some incredibly worthwhile resources in the years ahead.

I’d have done a couple things differently had I been the person to write this article up. The piece contains all sorts of wonkish info detailing the elaborate procedures used to maintain purity of samples, and to provide meaningful test results. I’d have shortened the main article’s text by burying these details in footnotes.

Second, I think the piece could have provided more useful conclusions. I think a good starting point for analyzing this study’s results is to draw a clear distinction between an ingredient and a contaminant.

In most cases where a vegan meal tested positive for animal products, the amount present was truly miniscule. And it appears the contamination comes, not from the restaurant, but from the factory that produces the mock meats or processed food ingredients.

How much blame does a restaurant deserve if it purchases foods labeled with all-vegan ingredients, that have been cross-contaminated during production with traces of animal products? Is it realistic to expect such restaurants to regularly spend hundreds of dollars on advanced testing gear in order to verify the purity of processed foods from their supplier?

In the end, the heart of the issue doesn’t really involve animal exploitation, since the amount of animal ingredients present is so trivial. It’s more a matter of trust — trust both in the restaurants you patronize and their suppliers. Do you want to patronize a place that may not be taking adequate care when it comes to sourcing their food from vegan suppliers?

The cause of this contamination appears to be that there are several mock meat suppliers in Asia that aren’t sufficiently careful about keeping contaminants out of their products. If having traces of milk or shellfish show up in your mock meats turns your stomach, there’s an easy solution — just avoid mock meat offerings at Asian-style vegan restaurants unless it’s clear the establishment bends over backwards to verify their suppliers’ integrity.

But finally, let’s not allow this issue to tear our attention away from what’s most important. There’s something about this topic that pushes everyone’s buttons, that provokes anger and worry and disgust. Even this blog entry is getting up past 500 words, so I’m as guilty as anyone about writing at length about a side issue. When was the last time I spent 500 words blogging about leafletting colleges, or using Twitter or Facebook effectively to spread the activist message? I fail, we fail, every time we take our eyes of the prize.

The amount of animal products involved in this story is so minimal that just twenty minutes devoted to leafletting outweighs the effects of a lifetime of eating at questionably vegan restaurants. So let’s focus on what’s important: keeping as many animals from harm and working toward the day when animal agribusiness no longer exists. The topic of impure mock meats at vegan restaurants is an irksome side issue, and something to be expected in a world as screwed up as ours.

Having said all this, major props to for an outstanding piece, one that deserves a Pulitzer for vegan investigative reporting. Link.