Vegan restaurant owners not vegan

There has been quite a bit of upset in vegan circles this week about the founders and majority owners of Southern California vegan restaurants Gracias Madre and Café Gratitude selling beef products (i.e. dead cows) from their family farm.

I reached out to the PR firm for Café Gratitude to find out a little more information about the situation. One of my main concerns was whether the plant-based menus were ever going to start serving meat.

Here is their response:

“We want to assure all of our supporters that Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre have always served and will continue to serve 100% organic, plant-based cuisine prepared with ingredients sourced responsibly from vendors and farmers who share our commitment to preserving the integrity of the environment.

Founders Matthew and Terces Engelhart do not personally follow a vegan diet. They reside on their privately-owned Be Love Farm in Vacaville, California where they practice regenerative agriculture, and harvest organic produce for personal consumption for friends, family and neighbors in the area.

Given the growth of the restaurants in Southern California, the majority of produce served at Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre is supplied by local farms with the exception of organic peaches in the summer, and organic butternut squash in the fall and winter months, which are both sourced from Be Love Farms.

To learn more about regenerative agriculture practices visit www.belovefarm.com and regenerationinternational.org.”

Apart from the horrible irony of animals being killed on a farm called Be Love, do you see a problem with eating at one of these restaurants? Is it effective to put financial pressure on the restaurant chain because the co-founders raise cows for food on their own farm or is this also putting unnecessary pressure on other co-owners who are are vegan or risking the jobs of vegan workers.

I eat at many vegan restaurants and from many vegan food companies where the owners or CEOs are not vegan. I could name half a dozen or so just off the top of my head. The CEO of Veggie Grill is not vegan. The owner of VegBar in Brixton is not vegan. Not everyone in a management position at Fry’s Family Foods is vegan. Some of the biggest vegan food brands on the planet are making profit for non-vegan investors who spend said profits on animal product consumption.

And what about our 100% vegan businesses with vegan owners? Should we be demanding that they do not buy produce from farms that also raise and kill animals for food?

This post is certainly not an attempt to tell people how to react to the Café Gratitude situation, but to create thought and debate. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Should these restaurants stand alone and be celebrated for their plant-based menus or should vegans be demanding the founders and co-owners change their other business practises by applying financial pressure via a boycott?

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Written by fatgayvegan

7 Comments
  1. Ideally, vegan/vegetarian restaurateurs would themselves be vegan/vegetarian, but it’s just not a realistic goal. I’d rather have them promoting vegan/veggie dining options than diminish an already comparatively tiny list of places for us. And who among us hasn’t at some point eaten the limited offerings at some restaurant or another that isn’t vegan/veggie at all, but make do with whatever we can manage to order on the menu that isn’t tainted with animal products? Why would we turn out someone who is already leaps and bounds above the alternative? It’s cutting off our nose to spite our face, if we punish those vegan/veggie eateries with non vegan/vegetarian owners/management/employees.

  2. Interesting that people who are not vegan feel they should have a vegan restaurant for commercial reasons. Until recently the opposite was more likely I think

  3. I agree with everything Paul Lambert said. Most of us mere mortals are doing the best we can, but would never be able to eat out at all if we tried to avoid restaurants that serve meat or only ate at vegan restaurants and bought vegan products from certified 100% vegan owned and operated businesses. Should we stop eating at vegetarian restaurants too? They’re just as complicit in the killing. Should we ask wait staff if they’re vegan and if not, refuse to be served by them?

    It can only be a good thing that a meat eater is opening vegan restaurants – they obviously see it as a viable business and if that changes some minds and stops some slaughter than I applaud them for their efforts. It’s going to take a long time to convince people to give up animal products and anything that goes some way towards educating people and providing alternatives to “the norm” (until we become the norm!) should be supported imho.

    • Sierra, I think you might misunderstand what is happening here. The issue at Cafe Gratitude isn’t that they are vegan restaurants that are owned by non-vegans; there are lots of those and many vegans including myself eat at them knowing exactly what they are. In contrast, CG are restaurants that, since their inception, have wrapped a vegan spiritual philosophy into their strongly touted food production and dining experience. The face of the restaurant, and the organization around it, vocally promotes compassion, enlightenment, oneness with all beings, and harm reduction. The owners published a book called Sacred Commerce that teaches their perspective that good business’s first priority is to awaken and enlighten the people it contacts, with financial aspects to be a side effect of being a force of improvement in the world. The owners were vocal vegetarians for years (40 years, they claim) prior to quietly announcing in their farm’s blog last year that they decided to raise and slaughter livestock. The CG team built a very strong vegan brand, became a powerful part of the vegan community, then decided to go completely against the ethos they promoted while maintaining the facade of vegan spirituality. It was duplicitous. There would not be this uproar if this was simply a restaurant and had not made vegan philosophy an intrinsic part of the company’s brand.

  4. I really agree with this post : http://www.jasonwrobel.com/an-open-letter-to-be-love-farm-cafe-gratitude/

    i.e. that it’s more about the sense of betrayal, the way they have been kinda opaque about the reality of their farm, when one moment its closely affiliated to Cafe Gratitude and as soon as theres a backlash its all “only peaches and squash” and the meat is only announced in a blog post, where they invest so much of their marketing and atmosphere on love and compassion and ethics and then behave contradictorily, it highlights the void between what people think they’re funding and where its actually going.

    As long as businesses are open about what they’re doing and where they’re at – giving the consumer an opportunity for informed choice – all’s cool. But when there’s subtle manipulation, giving the impression of one thing whilst doing another etc etc, people are gonna get upset and feel deceived.

    It’s a shame, I would love to go there, I’ve heard the food is amazing. Luckily i don’t have to make the choice right now and haven’t made up my mind what i would do, i guess there is plenty of amazing vegan food in California when i do get to go!

    • hannah-phoebe, you nailed it right down to how for years they promoted that the majority of their produce came from Be Love Farm, then all of a sudden the story changes to “only peaches and squash” when there’s reason to distance the farm from the restaurants. it does look a bit like track covering necessitated by the backlash. If everything was out in the open there wouldn’t be a backlash like this. disappointment for sure, but not the anger that is boiling over in the community right now.
      I hope you do come to CA as soon as you can! We have SO many amazing vegan restaurants. We’re fortunate to have a real abundance of great places to eat. Don’t wait, come to LA! You’ll love it.

  5. I think it’s a good thing… Veganism shouldn’t be something cliquey, separatist or exclusive. The more non-vegans are involved the better. There’s always the danger with being vegan of sidelining ourselves.

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