Vegans are supposed to oppose the killing of animals, right? That's supposed to be why they're vegans.
But there's one animal that some vegans don't seem to mind killing: the human animal.
L.A.'s vegan vortex has angrily turned on the most prominent vegan restaurant group in town this week as word has spread that its owners are not just eating meat but raising and slaughtering animals at the working farm where they live in Northern California.
Matthew and Terces Engelhart, the husband-and-wife proprietors of favored entertainment industry haunt Cafe Gratitude, tell The Hollywood Reporter they've been receiving death threats as part of a quickly growing, internet-bred campaign against them.
Seems that the Engelharts, after 12 years of building their successful vegan-restaurant empire, got tired of carrots and soyburgers.
The trouble began last week when animal rights activists discovered and then widely circulated a 14-month-old blog post written by Terces on the Engelharts' Be Love Farm website, which mixed an announcement of their transition back into a meat diet again after nearly 40 years of vegetarianism (they had been vegan since 2003) with posted pictures of strained beef broth and a freezer full of pastured beef from their own dairy cows. Matthew tells THR they have kept chickens on the farm for seven years "for eggs only," along with the cows for five years for milk, cheese and butter that's for sale. (He claims they've "harvested," or slaughtered, several cows in total and never sold the meat, only shared it with "our friends, neighbors and community.")
The news has come as a shock to many vegans, who have been regular customers of the restaurants and claim the Engelharts have built their brand on not just serving vegan food but clearly wrapping themselves in the righteousness of the vegan cause — which they argue has now been undermined. "The reason we're so upset is that veganism is a belief system," says Carrie Christianson, who started the Facebook boycott group. "You are patronizing a restaurant that you think has that philosophy, and it turns out it doesn't. Vegans should know that this restaurant has a farm that slaughters animals."
The Engelharts' restaurant chain, Cafe Gratitude, first opened its doors in San Francisco in 2004 before adding branches in Southern California, where there's a voracious appetite,especially among entertainment celebrities, not only for stewed kelp and kale smoothies, but for the kind of high-minded "spiritual" hoo-hah that vegans–and entertainment celebrities–seem to crave:
Cafe Gratitude is known for giving dishes names that are self-affirmations. The most popular include the "I Am Whole" macrobiotic sea-vegetable rice and a curried lentil assemblage called "I Am Humble." The locations have become a solid entertainment industry draw for business lunches, as well as a reliable celebrity nexus. Customers range from Beyonce Knowles and Sacha Baron Cohen to Ariana Grande and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Well, I'll leave the macrobiotic sea-vegetable rice to Beyonce. And that, apparently was the thinking of the Engelharts as well, who started sneaking a few cows and chickens into their daily diet a few years ago:
The Engelharts frame their return to "sustainable, regenerative" animal consumption as the mindful culmination of years spent laboring on their upstate farm. "We started to observe nature, and what we saw is that nature doesn't exist without animals," says Matthew. "Neither does natural farming. You know, you can't buy organic vegetables that aren't fertilized with animal residue. So that was our discovery. We aren't on a soapbox."
But apparently the vegans of Los Angeles aren't buying that "mindful culmination" stuff:
Yet while the Engelharts are at pains to paint their decision as a private and personal rural journey separate from their public work at their urban restaurants, their critics find the reasoning specious, believing the enterprises, the figureheads and their choices are inextricably bound. "This is a vegan restaurant company that's been a leader in the vegan community," says Chase Avior, a screenwriter and director who is organizing the [April 29 protest]. "If they're going to go around and say it's not about animal rights, it's not about speaking about the animals horrifically abused, it's just about better nurturing a plant-based lifestyle, that's something different. A lot of vegans have a right to feel betrayed by this."
As Woody Allen famously said about Los Angeles vegan restaurants in Annie Hall, "I'll have the alfalfa sprouts and the mashed yeast." But maybe not at the Cafe Gratitude if those plant-based protests keep up.