La vida vegan

A panel of animal product-free Bay Area-ites tell it like it is

Chef Carmen Vazquez brings vegan to the people: "Gracias Madre has everybody, not just your dreadlocked hippies."

DINE It's a wild, woolly world when you won't eat its cheeseburgers. Or so I discovered last autumn when I read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals and found that my inner logician could no longer justify consuming products from the loins (and udders, and uteri) of animals that spent their lives experiencing the systematic abuse of factory farms.

But the most shocking tiding from Foer? A University of Chicago study, he writes, found that omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gas of vegans. My bicycle eyed me from its perch on the storage hook in our apartment's foyer. Environmentalists, are we?

So we traipse along the hippie-liberal continuum — just one more step to independence from fossil fuels, I suppose. But though I've been riding the pescatarian train for years, going animal product-free was harder than a piquant wedge of manchego (Jesus, even my metaphors have dairy products in them).

I was surprised how many places I would go — even here, in the befigged plate of the Bay Area! — where wearing my vegan hat meant going underfed and, by extension, becoming a whiny envelope-full of social anthrax addressed to my dining companions. Some restaurants even ghettoize our kind with separate menus, as if vegan food holds no interest for the general dining public.

Surely, though, this is nothing compared to the brave, ice cream-rejecting, pizza cheese-peeling pioneers of the vegan world! Even if it's still hard to break society's "five food groups" programming, as a whole our country is well out of the "what's a vegan?" stage of cultural development.

It was high time for a pulse check. So one rainy spring day, I met with some of the Bay's best and brightest vegans for a potluck and chat on where living animal-free is at these days. Food activists, chefs, moms, a boyfriend, a blogger. We ate like kings and bitched about steaks. We called it the Summit of the Vegans. I'll tell you more — but first, a word on our vegans ...



Vegan cred: Owner of Souley Vegan and self-taught chef

Comes natural: "When someone asks me what I use instead of milk or butter, I don't even know how to answer that. What do you use? You just don't use it!"



Vegan cred: Chefs. Started the now-defunct vegan Brassica Supperclub. Now the manager of Frog Hollow Farm's Ferry Building store and kitchen supervisor at Gracias Madre, with a restaurant of their own on the horizon.

Vegans on the lam: The couple's underground supper club was shut down by the fuzz in 2009 for lacking required permits.

A love that knows no animal products: "There are a ton of factions, splinter cells," Benedetto says, "but all vegans secretly, quietly love other vegans."



Vegan cred: Nurse and vice president of the SF Vegetarian Society

Don't even try to win that argument: "The Vegetarian Society has been around for 40 years. We continue to be a small group, but the number of vegetarians continue to grow. I love animals; I don't like to go to the doctor; there are the environmental reasons; and I love the food. You just can't win that argument!"



Vegan cred: Guardian production manager. Has been animal product-free for years. Our Joe Vegan.

Breaking down the meat lines: "The things that crack me up and annoy me at the same time: my girlfriend is the opposite of vegan and she'll order a steak and invariably the waiter will come back and give me the steak and her my salad. There are some societal expectations about what's a manly food."



challenges to veganism in the bay area? really?
i don't think so...
not compared to MOST every other place in the US. There are more vegan restaurants AND grocery stores that very much support veganism than in any other urban area in the entire country!
if you think this is difficult here, try montana, colorado, or any other state between both coasts. i think your article should celebrate how easy it is here instead of bemoaning something that isn't true. in no other whole foods market in the country can you go to a contracted ENTIRELY VEGAN restaurant inside the store (like you can at oaklands WFM/ cafe gratitude). That to me is a positive affirmation of how widely accepted veganism is here and how easy it is to go vegan in the bay area.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 27, 2011 @ 9:03 am

This article is about awesome vegans and welcomed change in food availability. Your point about Montana, et. al. is kind of a given -- but since the Bay Area has a reputation for being awesome about food activism, we should and do hold it to a higher standard (and as proud progressives, endlessly analyze the things we love).

My main challenge as a wannabe-gan? CHEESE. Though I just got the lowdown on some fly vegan queso from Food Lovers (thanks Ruggy!)

Go vegan! Fist pump!

Posted by caitlin on Apr. 27, 2011 @ 10:11 am

I love that line about how vegans secretly, quietly love other vegans. That is true for me, and I'm only a near vegan. I love you, vegans! We share a spirit, wherever we are on our food lifestyle journeys.

Anyway, it is actually not easy here to dine well vegan-style. It's tres chic in SF and surrounding areas to eat sustainable, organic meats -- e.g., $100/lb. for pancetta raised in France by pigs who are fed only truffles, available at Bi-Rite. (Note that grass-fed/organic/sustainable meat is only about 1% of the meat industry...)

And there are PLENTY of people here who eat the standard American diet, probably as much as in Montana, and look at you strangely as if you are some kind of outrageous radical when you say you don't eat meat, or eggs...

On the other hand, it is not tres chic to be vegan here. We are a tiny minority. In fact, I get shit about it. So I have stopped mentioning my personal choice when I'm with meat eaters. And I have accepted that it's the company not the food when I go out to eat, frequently. And when the menu does treat my preferences equally, I am delighted and surprised.

So the main point of this post: I am writing a story on raw vegan nut cheeses and mliks -- which taste amazing, even to meat eaters who don't know what they're eating. Yet there are only 2 restaurants that serve these, and a handful of chefs, in the entire East Bay, which is supposedly a hot bed of raw food activism in the Bay Area.

So there.


Posted by Guest Jillian Steinberger on May. 01, 2011 @ 9:35 am

For more free info, check out Eco-Eating at with its tons of info and loads of links.

Posted by Dan on May. 02, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

Thanks for the article; I appreciate any info. I hear about other vegans. And it is kind of curious that there isn't much cohesion in the bay area vegan community. I know a few vegans and have heard about others, most of which hadn't heard about each other. It would be nice if there was some kind of central meeting place that was reasonably well known, real or virtual.

Re. taking crap for being vegan, I've been vegan for about 5 years (vegetarian for a long time before that - and in both cases I feared that I'd miss certain foods but never found that to be the case). I've grown reasonably strong in my convictions, but realizing that any views ultimately have to be provisional, I try to stay off any high horses. But after a few situations where it was too obvious to avoid explaining that I was vegan and was assailed for it I hunted around for some handy and very succinct arguments. On that score I found a great resource in Gary Francione, the vegan legal scholar at Rutgers. Check him out -

Also, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has an interesting podcast at her website ( reviewing a book (forget the authors name at the moment) that takes Pollen to task for what she considers his rather callous view of animal rights.

Go vegans !

Posted by Karl on May. 02, 2011 @ 9:53 pm