La vida vegan - Page 2

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."


Vegan cred: Founding blogger of

Loves her job because: "The vast majority of my commenter are so rad. They're smart, awesome activists, not preachy dicks, which is what a lot of people think vegans are."

When's she's not blogging: Beck's favorite Bay Area vegan eats include Encuentro, Golden Era, the flan at Gracias Madre, schwarmas from Herbivore, Saha, Jay's Cheesesteaks, and Souley Vegan.

Note: Beck was sick for our summit but I hollered at her afterward so she could still join the conversation.

Elbow-deep as we were in the toothsome culinary contributions my summit attendees had whipped up for the occasion, it was perhaps no surprise to learn that food cravings were the least of the challenges to their vegan lifestyles. Indeed, to a (wo)man, our panel participants — many of whom had been vegans for the better part of a decade — found their eats superior to more omnivorous spreads.

"There are only five or six animals that people eat for meat," said Loewen, who works at a senior citizen center by day and spends her free time organizing events like the Vegetarian Society's annual Meat Out. "But we've got so many options in terms of grains and vegetables."

One of the upsides to being vegan — in addition to the animal treatment and health and well-being issues that panelists cited as their salient motivations to make their lifestyle switch — is that it compels a certain amount of creativity in the kitchen. When you're operating largely outside the parameters of what your family considers a standard meal, you tend to think outside the prepackaged box.

Dyson runs my favorite reason to cross the Bay Bridge — Souley Vegan's crispy tofu burger and mac 'n' cheese have magical properties. She came to veganism when she had a visceral reaction as a teenager to a chicken bone, and now can't imagine life any other way. She started her cooking career at a farmers market booth and now brings Souley Vegan's cuisine to African American expos and public schools, where it teaches people about life, post-pork flavoring.

We talked about living vegan in the Bay Area, where my panelists agreed the vegan community had yet to come together the way in has in places like Austin. They pinned this lack of cohesion on the dearth of a central cultural hub, and Beck affirmed that a need for just such a meeting space was one of her motivations behind Vegansaurus.

Evans bemoaned the "ideological chasm" that separates omnivores and vegans and makes it difficult to share information and understanding between the two. The group debated over whether the "vegan movement" could truly be said to exist — and yeah, we talked shit too.

"I think it's bullshit!" Loewen opined suddenly when I asked the group how they felt about Michael Pollan's assertion that eating sustainably is more important than eating animal-product-free. "[That view] takes out the ethical aspect. That animal is going to die — free range animals want to live even more than other animals."

Benedetto and Vazquez attended the California Culinary Academy (where they met and Vazquez became vegan) and were the summit's official "vegans on the front lines" because of it. The school, they said, accommodated their desire not to work with meat — to a point. They still had to cook a steak for a final exam and take a two-week butchery course. "It smelled like death," grimaced Benedetto. "Postgrad, I decided I would rather work retail than have to cook meat."


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