Review of M.O.B. Vegan Restaurant in Brooklyn

Well folks, I’ve failed you yet again—in the midst of my studies, my role as co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), and my galavanting across southeastern New York, I’ve not made the time to scribe a post to quench your thirst for social justice-infused food prose. However, the aforementioned galavanting has provided me with ample blogging material, as it included a jaunt to my beloved spiritual hometown of New York City. Accompanied by my dear Ferry housemate and native Brooklynite Gabe, I wholeheartedly enjoyed two days of urban frolicking, chock full of yoga, vegan eats, philosophical subway conversations, and the discovery of a revolutionary eatery known as M.O.B.

The day after catching a train from Vassar to NYC and catching up with Gabe’s generous, welcoming family, my Brooklyn buddy and I enjoyed green smoothie-granola breakfast bowls à la Ali before heading to an invigorating class at the activism-imbued yoga studio of Jivamukti. If you’d like a taste of the Jivamukti style, I’d highly recommend downloading a couple of podcasts from top-notch instructor Jessica Stickler. An artful yet unpretentious round of sandwiches and donuts from the Cinnamon Snail food truck nourished our yoga-ed bodies, and I basked in the superbly vegan-positive atmosphere that so contributes to my love of The City.

Tempeh crusted in blue cornmeal & hemp seeds, tomatillo salsa verde, beer-simmered onions, arugula, and chipotle mayo on grilled spelt bread. Oh yes.

Tempeh crusted in blue cornmeal & hemp seeds, tomatillo salsa verde, beer-simmered onions, arugula, and chipotle mayo on grilled spelt bread. Oh yes.

Gabe, meanwhile, savors a pistachio-cardamom donut. Even more yes.

Gabe, meanwhile, savors a pistachio-cardamom donut. Even more yes.

After tea, showers, and lazy reading, Gabe and I had worked up another appetite. Accordingly, I employed my mental arsenal of vegan restaurants of NYC to invoke one near Gabe’s Brooklyn home, and happened upon M.O.B. First popping up on my restaurant radar at The Seed Experience 2013, M.O.B.’s newly launched Brooklyn location received positive reviews from a handful of my fellow NYC vegan venturers, though it has not yet exploded onto the main veg restaurant scene alongside the Candles and Blossoms. However, M.O.B.’s outstanding food quality, creativity, and whimsy undoubtedly deserve a coveted spot in the New York Vegan Restaurant Hall of Fame.

Boasting an acronymic name for “Maimonides of Brooklyn,” M.O.B. buries its roots in the ancient Jewish philosophy of reflection, commitment, and knowing “The Other,” as well as in the following’s emphasis on the healthful combinations of vegetables, fruits, and spices—sounds to me like the basis for a vegan ideology! The brainchild of French-born Cycil Aouizerate, M.O.B. originated in Paris, but drew primary inspiration from Brooklyn’s hip hop scene. Aouizerate sought for M.O.B. to unite all people, regardless of beliefs and lifestyles, over nourishing, compassionate, and scrumptious food. Both of M.O.B.’s locations function as celebrations of Brooklyn’s dynamism, featuring “avant-garde pizzas” in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge’s arches as the restaurant’s namesake dish, as well as Brooklyn-themed comic books offered to guests along with the menu. M.O.B.’s playfulness extends beyond its comic books: one of the walls of the main dining room sports a plethora of plastic vegetables nailed to wooden plaques bearing such eulogies as, “R.I.P. Mister Tomato—Died for Sauce,” as a satire of the taxidermied heads of hunted animals.

M.O.B.'s complimentary Brooklyn-themed comic book.

M.O.B.’s complimentary Brooklyn-themed comic book.

The comic book not only provides guests with a story of a Brooklyn superhero, but also a board game...

The comic book not only provides guests with a story of a Brooklyn superhero, but also a board game…

...and a poem prompt.

…and a poem prompt.

Not only does M.O.B. offer humor, spunk, and free reading material, it also boasts a well-crafted menu of artfully composed, soul-satisfying vegan dishes. Two Michelin-star chefs and an acclaimed raw food connoisseur united to create a legitimately groundbreaking menu of wholesome, plant-based comfort foods, with specialties of meatless saucissons, sweet potato buns and rolls, corn soup, and (of course) the namesake M.O.B. flatbreads. Since the menu nor the restaurant’s décor nowhere explicitly denotes the restaurant’s complete vegan-ness, unsuspecting (and non-vegan) diners expect the traditional animal-based versions of mac & cheese, burgers, and hot dogs, and become subsequently wowed by the wonderful world of vegan food. I became convinced of the efficacy of this strategy when, on both of my visits to the eatery (one a week after the first), curious patrons hesitated outside of the restaurant’s front door and enthusiastically entered with my slight prodding of, “Oh, this place is great, you’ll love it!”—no mention of veganism involved (the servers would take care of that later).

Even I, aware that M.O.B. was a vegan establishment, felt compelled to double-check with my server that nothing on the Mob Dog Deluxe contained animal foods (better safe than sorry!). With her blessing, I eagerly ordered the loaded hot dog. In between munches of complimentary paper-thin kale chips, Gabe and I talked life, love, and literature before gawking over the colorful plates soon presented to us.

Any restaurant that serves kale chips as appetizers instantly wins my heart.

Any restaurant that serves kale chips as appetizers instantly wins my heart.

As you know, dear readers, I don’t often find myself speechless in reply to food (if I did, my blog would certainly be lacking in content). However, the Mob Dog Deluxe—a carrot-chickpea dog studded with fennel seeds stuffed inside a sweet potato roll and topped with tangy ketchup, spicy mustard, salty Brooklyn Brine sauerkraut, and sour relish—transcended words. One bite of perfectly intermingled flavors dancing over a toothsome, seitan-like chickpea dog evoked in me a rather epiphanal response in which I stared, wide-eyed and longingly, at the dog; locked eyes with Gabe; and turned the dog toward his mouth, needing to share my mind-blogging gastronomic experience with another. The dog produced a similar response in Gabe (remember that he still eats meat occasion), though he regained his vocal capacities faster than I did in order to gasp, “That dog is not just as good as meat-based hot dogs—that dog is better. As in, given the choice between a traditional ballpark hot dog and this vegan one, I would choose the Mob Dog.” Coupled with M.O.B.’s strategy of not advertising their vegan-ness, the eatery’s genius evocation of traditionally meat-based classics harbors the potential to revolutionize the vegan restaurant scene. Indeed, the restaurant prompted me to break my streak of not patronizing eateries twice in a row, calling Gabe and I back for more M.O.B. a week after our first visit.

The Mob Dog--an other-worldly gastronomic experience.

The Mob Dog: an other-worldly gastronomic experience.

The impeccable Mob Dog necessitated my return to M.O.B. a week later in order to enjoy their other "meaty sandwich" offering of the Mob Burger Deluxe--a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom patty topped with secret sauce, Brooklyn Brine pickles, charred onions, tomatoes, smoked eggplant, and lettuce.

The impeccable Mob Dog necessitated my return to M.O.B. a week later in order to enjoy their other “meaty sandwich” offering of the Mob Burger Deluxe–a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom patty topped with smoky & tangy secret sauce, Brooklyn Brine pickles, charred onions, tomatoes, smoked eggplant, and lettuce.

While the Mob Dog & Burger appealed to me more than the M.O.B. flatbreads on both of my visits to the eatery, two of my dining compatriots ordered both M.O.B. options during my two excursions. On our first M.O.B. visit, my dearest Gabe enjoyed the Autumn Glow M.O.B.—a house-baked flatbread made with locally grown and milled organic flours shaped like the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, spread with black bean puree, paprika-roasted sweet potatoes, grilled corn, and jalapeno sour cream. Gabe’s younger brother Isaiah opted for the Iron Man M.O.B.—a verdant flatbread topped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, sautéed kale, horseradish aioli, and parsley— on our second journey to the eatery. Both Gabe and Isaiah sang the praises of their M.O.B.’s, sweetly offering me fabulous sample bites (though not quite as fabulous as either the Mob Dog or Burger, I must say). The graffiti-style metal plates specially tailored for serving M.O.B. flatbreads further contribute to the restaurant’s playful atmosphere.

Autumn Glow M.O.B.

Autumn Glow M.O.B.

Iron Man M.O.B.

Iron Man M.O.B.

No quality vegan restaurant has ever disappointed me in terms of dessert, and M.O.B.—the increasingly impressive establishment that it is—proved no different. Just as varied, mouthwatering, and well-chosen as M.O.B.’s dinner menu, the dessert selection guarantees a succulent, revelatory conclusion to an already pivotal meal. During both of my visits to the restaurant, I had the pleasure of sampling three of M.O.B.’s four regular desserts, and one special. I first enjoyed the Mob Sundae—two scoops of DF Mavens coconut milk ice cream (a new vegan ice cream company that has burst onto the scene over the past year) in both chocolate and vanilla, topped with a chocolate hard shell, toasted hazelnuts, and citrus-mint whipped cream.

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Gabe, Isaiah, and I opted to split three desserts during our second visit, sharing a Lemon Cheesecake with Blueberry Compote, a Chocolate Hazelnut Torte, and a Peanut Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich (the latter, unfortunately, is unpictured).

The Lemon Cheesecake offered the closest parallel in both dense, creamy texture and rich, tangy flavor as dairy-based cheesecakes that I’ve ever encountered, even sporting the familiar golden-brown exterior of traditional cheesecakes. The blueberry compote, unfortunately, tasted like little more than thawed frozen wild blueberries, but only detracted slightly from the otherwise remarkable dessert.

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The Chocolate Hazelnut Torte harbored a similarly creamy texture, coupled with the classic, genius pairing of hazelnut and chocolate.

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Finally, the Peanut Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich provided a fun, childlike eating experience, what with its slowly melting chocolate ice cream oozing out from the soft, chewy cookies and threatening to drip all over the table at any moment.

Gabe and I first patronized M.O.B. on a bit of a whim, but I could not be more enthused with the outcome of our rather spontaneous restaurant choice. M.O.B. easily ranks among my top four vegan restaurants of all time, along with Vedge in Philadelphia, Angelica Kitchen in New York City, and Garden Café on the Green in Woodstock. I duly look forward to my family’s annual NYC Thanksgiving adventure so that I can introduce my parents to the wonders of M.O.B. Hopefully my Mob Dog cravings over the next six weeks don’t distract me too much…

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #1: Reflections on an Internship with Compassion Over Killing and a Summer in DC (Part 2)

vegan mofo 2013

Allow me to begin by wishing you all, dear readers, a very happy Vegan MoFo! This virtual festival of vegan yumminess unites food bloggers from all over the globe for one month each year, during which bloggers attempt to post as often as possible, if not every day. Clearly, I’ve started off my MoFo-ing on a rather lackluster note, having failed to post on the very first day of the event (yesterday). Additionally, my first post of Vegan MoFo, rather than featuring a healthy dose of veggie food porn, serves as the second in my series of reflections upon my summer internship with Compassion Over Killing. Rest assured, however, that you can expect many posts, recipes, and tantalizing photos in the upcoming month. Vegan MoFo, onward!

The first batch of DC summer adventures I regaled to you ended with the successful Rehoboth VegFest and the completion of my first week interning with Compassion Over Killing. Predictably, the month of June held many more escapades, both related to my internship and as part of my own personal undertakings. To maintain sufficient organization (a top priority for yours truly), let’s recount my summer tales chronologically, shall we?

June 3

After a whirlwind weekend at the Rehoboth VegFest—one during which I unintentionally abused my feet with sunburns, hours of standing, and plenty of running around—I and my fellow intern Katie received the following Monday off of work. COK struck me as quite committed to ensuring that they didn’t overwork us interns, seeing as they never once during the summer failed to compensate us with adequate rest time after our various outreach endeavors. Considering the very real phenomenon of activist burnout, I duly appreciated this measure of care.

The evening of our COK-free day, Katie and I met for dinner at Sticky Rice—in part to celebrate a job well-done on our first major veg outreach event, but mostly to enjoy a fabulous array of vegan Asian-fusion food. Don’t miss my review of Sticky Rice for a full recap of our overflowing peanut-soba noodle bowls.

sticky rice (5)

Soba noodle bowl with tofu and veggie in peanut sauce at Sticky Rice.

Katie and I at Sticky Rice.

Katie and I at Sticky Rice.

June 8

A mere week following the Rehoboth VegFest, COK participated in yet another large-scale outreach event—the Capital Pride Festival. One of the largest pride festivals in the country, Capital Pride fills two days with ever-present rainbow flags, tons of queer solidarity, a massive parade, and an all-day outdoor festival complete with food vendors and musical performances. Luckily, since COK only participated in Sunday’s festival, Katie and I had the fortune of fully enjoying Saturday’s parade. (Apparently, COK has joined the parade in past years, but everyone at the office seemed incredibly excited to not take on that rather overwhelming responsibility this year). Boasting a seemingly never-ending stream of colorful floats and beaming individuals throwing bead necklaces into the cheering crowd, the parade lasted for about three hours and attracted a crowd that completely overran the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

PETA’s float in the parade.

Because we faced a good seven hours of tabling for COK during the next day’s festival, Katie and I opted not to leaflet the parade. The vibrant and inspiring animal activists Aaron Ross and Kate St. John of Vegan Outreach, however, took full advantage of this hugely valuable outreach opportunity and handed out over 3,000 leaflets to the Pride Parade crowd. Katie and I happily ran into Kate and Aaron as we departed from the parade, reminded of the committed community of animal activists in the DC area.

Katie and I with our beads at Capital Pride.

June 9

Early on Saturday afternoon, I biked over to Pennsylvania Avenue where the Capital Pride Festival filled two street blocks with over 150 exhibitors, music stages, and food carts. I found the COK table located adjacent to a queer Shakespearean theatre company and across from PETA (what a corner of animal advocacy, eh?). Elena, COK’s fabulously competent Special Events Coordinator, allocated to me the task of handing out free samples of Field Roast vegan frankfurters and sausages sliced, toothpicked, and served on a platter with the option of ketchup. Standing next to me, Katie provided an educational leaflet to anyone who took a sample, ensuring that we accompanied the “how” of veganism (with delicious and hearty plant-based foods) with the “why” (to combat animal exploitation).

COK’s table at the Capital Pride Festival.

Festival attendees responded to COK’s outreach with overwhelming positivity; many self-proclaimed “carnivores” admitted that they probably would not have identified the Field Roast products as plant-based if we hadn’t informed them beforehand, and a generous handful of festival attendees enthusiastically revealed to us their own burgeoning journeys toward more compassionate food choices. I mentioned in my summary of my internship endeavors during the month of May that I most enjoyed the aspects of working with COK that allowed me to directly interact with the public, for I still view basic, good-natured grassroots activism as the most effective form of social change…plus, I thrive in any situation in which I can converse thoughtfully about the ethics surrounding veganism.

The Capital Pride festival also provided me with my first sampling of the top-notch vegan soul food offered by Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, formerly known as Everlasting Life Café, my extensive review of which you can find here.

everlasting life cafe capital pride (1)

Vegan BBQ chick’n wings, sweet kale salad, and baked mac n’ cheeze.

June 11

With COK’s two major outreach events of the early summer behind us, I began to focus on more individualized duties in the COK office, including contacting possible exhibitors for the upcoming DC VegFest and launching my restaurant outreach project, in which I attempted to work with various non-veg eateries in the Capital Hill neighborhood to help them incorporate more veg options onto their menus. Restaurant outreach can serve as a hugely valuable form of animal rights activism, since it harnesses the power to maximize the availability of veg menu items and shows non-vegans diners that veg*nism is fast becoming a mainstream movement. You certainly needn’t secure an internship with COK to engage in restaurant outreach, though—with a bit of planning, communication skills, and a visit to COK’s online guide, just about anyone can team up with restaurants in their community to inspire lasting change for animals.

Most days after work, I would retire to my apartment and whip up a fabulous dinner with the farmers’ market produce I’d purchased that Saturday, but I also visited my fair share of the finest restaurants DC’s veg eatery scene has to offer. On the Tuesday after Capital Pride, I embarked upon my third DC dining adventure with my newfound friend Emily, which transpired at Busboys and Poets and involved a plate of the most magical tofu I’ve ever put into my mouth (be sure to check out my review of B&P here).

Coconut Tofu Bites at Busboys & Poets.

Coconut Tofu Bites at Busboys & Poets.

June 14

Much of my internship work this summer involved organizing and carrying out various leafleting and feed-in activities. After researching public events around DC, Katie and I would decide which events would attract a large, receptive, and generally young crowd. We’d then write a description of our leafleting/feed-in to post on COK’s “Upcoming Events” page and advertise the outreach on COK’s various social media platforms to attract volunteers.

Our first formal leafleting endeavor took place at the monthly Truckeroo festival, a showcase of DC food trucks held at the fairgrounds next to the Nationals baseball stadium. Before planting ourselves on a bustling street corner in front of the fairgrounds to hand out leaflets, Katie and I purchased our lunch at the newly opened all-vegan food truck known as The Randy Radish. Offering such hearty hand-held items as jackfruit BBQ sandwiches, tofu reubens, and iced cinnamon buns, truck owners Nancy and Sharon debuted The Randy Radish at a flower and garden show in Virginia and have since taken to the streets all over the DC metro area. The ladies plan to feature their on-the-go plant-based fare at COK’s DC VegFest on September 28, so be sure to visit the festival if you live in the DC area.

Katie and I in front of The Randy Radish all-vegan food truck.

June 18

COK seeks to tailor internships to best serve and contribute to the activist growth of their interns, and my boss Erica Meier ensured that during the summer I would have many an opportunity to practice the skill I view as absolutely indispensable to my activism: writing. Not only did I produce blog posts for three of COK’s major websites (VegDC.com, TryVeg.com, and DCVegFest.com), I also drafted a number of sample letters to the editor to aid the Humane Society of the United States in their fierce campaign to defeat the nefarious King Amendment.

My most major writing accomplishment this summer, though, came when the Washington Post published my letter to the editor, which responds to a very veg-positive article entitled “Vegetarian children in omnivorous households” by recounting my family’s own collective journey to veganism. Erica first introduced to me the notion of writing an LTE in response to the aforementioned article, and in doing so demystified the process of writing and submitting an LTE.

June 23

While Katie and I embarked upon a handful of additional leafleting ventures after our first at the Truckeroo festival, we hosted our first feed-in less than two weeks later by distributing free samples of Field Roast frankfurters at a Nationals baseball game. After devoting the morning to cooking, stuffing inside hot dog buns, and wrapping in tin foil about 400 veggie dogs, Katie and I metro-ed our caravan of food and supplies to the stadium, where we met our team of enthusiastic volunteers. We set up right in front of the stadium’s main gate with two people holding our “Free Vegan Food” banner, two holding the trays of veggie dogs, and the rest handing out leaflets to attendees of the game. In our prime location, we handed out veggie dogs at an impressive rate for about 30 minutes before security ordered us to shift our setup outside of stadium grounds since nearby vendors had complained about us encroaching upon their business.

Katie and a volunteer holding our feed-in banner.

Katie and a volunteer holding our feed-in banner.

Because foot traffic severely decreased in our new location, we couldn’t hand out all of the veggie dogs we had prepared, but donated the remaining food to DC Central Kitchen, a prominent organization in reducing hunger in America and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise. While dropping off the veggie dogs at DC Central Kitchen, Katie and I met a director of food recycling who had been a vegetarian since childhood and a chef who eagerly asked for our advice in adopting a plant-based diet. A valuable day of outreach, indeed!

June 27-30

The last major (and largest…and most involved…and most exhausting) veg event of June, the 2013 National Animal Rights Conference prompted four days of COK tabling, constant mingling with passionate activists, and note-taking in various panel discussions. I recounted the conference in detail in a previous post, so check that out for further details.

Katie, myself, and our friend Alan (who works for MFA) at the AR Conference.

Stay tuned for the third installment of my summer adventure tales, as well as the amalgamation of vegan deliciousness that is Vegan MoFo.

Until next time, Ali.

Reflections on an Internship with Compassion Over Killing and a Summer in DC: Part 1

Way back in May, I embarked upon a summertime adventure in Washington, DC for an internship with the fabulous national animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing. 85 days, 7558 distributed leaflets, 3 feed-ins, 1 veg fest, 1 national conference, 1 letter to the editor published in the Washington Post, 1 animal sanctuary visit, and an innumerable amount of stuffed envelopes later, I’ve returned home to Madison to enjoy nearly two weeks of repose before heading back to New York to commence my sophomore year at Vassar.

I largely refrained from posting about my DC shenanigans during the past three months—save for my restaurant and farmers market reviews—since I wanted to reflect upon my summer outreach as a whole before sharing my experiences in the public realm. Now, after having the opportunity to gather my thoughts in a space physically divorced from my internship, I can confidently deem my stay in DC an overall positive one, though certainly not without fault.

In this and the next three posts, I’ll first narrate the highlights of my summer chronologically before elaborating on my general views of both my internship and life in DC. This particular post will focus on my experiences during the month of May.

After arriving in the nation’s capitol on the 25th and settling into my apartment, I began my foray into the world of DC-area animal advocacy and vegan living by attending a Memorial Day vegan potluck-barbeque with my boss, Erica Meier, and fellow intern, Katie. Star-struck even before setting foot in the COK office, I disbelievingly hob-nobbed and shared veggie burgers with prominent figures in the animal advocacy movement whose work I had followed since the early days of my veganism—COK executive director Erica Meier, journalist and author of “Green is the New Red” Will Potter, Sticky Fingers Bakery founder Doron Petersan, and co-author of “The Animal Activist’s Handbook” Bruce Friedrich, to name a few. The next day provided a “welcome-to-DC” lunch with Erica at Sticky Fingers, while the day following marked the first of my actual internship.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

During my preliminary week with COK, I met five of the organization’s nine full-time employees (the other four work in COK’s LA office), learned basic nonprofit tasks such as fulfilling requests for merchandise and literature, and stuffed an office full of goodie bags in preparation for the Rehoboth Beach VegFest that weekend.

VegFest goodie bags, stuffed by yours truly! Image courtesy of COK.

Not but four days after the onset of my internship, I and the rest of the COK team ventured east to Delaware for the first-ever Rehoboth Beach VegFest. The first large-scale AR event I had ever helped to organize, the VegFest attracted over 600 attendees who spent the unexpectedly windy day browsing the wares of 35 exhibitors and listening to entertaining and informative speakers like The Humane Society of the United States’ Paul Shapiro and vegan cookbook author John Schlimm.

Image courtesy of COK.

VegFest speakers tent.

VegFest speakers tent.

My role at the festival included staffing the Tofutown table to offer event attendees samples of Viana sausages and soy- and rice-based whipped creams—though, the aforementioned wind complicated this task by completely overturning my table’s tent on multiple instances throughout the day. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed my time at the VegFest, where I first discovered my love of interacting with the public while tabling. While I spent much of my summer internship completing important assignments and projects in the COK office, I reveled most in the occasions during which my outreach assumed a more tangible form, such as leafleting, tabling, or hosting a feed-in. For me, no other endeavor—in terms of the positive impact for both animals and the environment as well as the immense satisfaction of having truly made a difference in an individual’s life—surpasses aiding said individual in transitioning to a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. Every leafleting, tabling, and feed-in opportunity this summer provided an ideal venue for doing so, and the Rehoboth VegFest proved no exception.

Tabling with Katie at the COK booth.

Tabling with Katie at the COK booth.

Handing out free vegan sausage samples to festival attendees. Image courtesy of COK.

Dinner on Friday as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday came from a veg-friendly to-go café called Root Gourmet, located across the street from the festival, which specialized in freshly prepared deli salads, made-to-order sandwiches and flatbreads, and packaged dips like hummus and guacamole. Root, along with such beachside restaurants as Hobos, (a)Muse, and Cake Break (which supplied vegan cupcakes for the festival’s cupcake-eating contest) served their vegan menu items at the festival, to the annoyance of a small handful of attendees who complained about seeing non-vegan restaurants featured at an all-vegan event. However, I see the inclusion of such establishments as yet another form of activism; non-vegan eateries can meet and interact with the vegan customers they’ve already at least somewhat acknowledged, thus solidifying the importance of offering animal-free menu items.

Nage & Root Gourmet festival menu.

Nage & Root Gourmet festival menu.

(a)Muse festival menu.

(a)Muse festival menu.

Cake Break cupcakes.

Cake Break cupcakes.

Cupcake-eating contest in action! Image courtesy of COK.

After bidding goodbye to the last few festival goers, disassembling the last tent, and wiping down the last table, I and the rest of the exhausted COK team retired to Nage, the more upscale sister restaurant to Root that would host the VegFest benefit brunch the next morning. Though Nage’s usual menu only features a small handful of vegan dishes, our party enjoyed a sampling of appetizers including shoestring sweet potato fries, hummus and flatbread, and chickpea fritters with lemon marmalade. While my fellow intern Katie and I thankfully could partake in our three square meals on the day of the festival, even amidst the behind-the-scenes chaos integral to event-organizing, many other COK members had not eaten anything more substantial than vegan cookie samples all day—apparently, the hecticness of vegfests frequently leads event organizers to forget to nourish themselves, as our COK co-workers would inform us. I, however, fully intend to never allow this phenomenon to affect me, for I believe that taking the time to tend to one’s personal needs proves necessary in avoiding activist burnout, even if only on one particular day.

Hummus & flatbread.

Hummus & flatbread.

Chickpea fritters.

Chickpea fritters.

Shoestring sweet potato fries.

Shoestring sweet potato fries.

Before heading to brunch at Nage the next morning, Katie and I journeyed to the Rehoboth beachfront in order to experience the real draw of the largely touristy town. With the sand in our toes and the clear water lapping at our ankles, we spotted a dolphin swimming close to shore—a picturesque way to end our weekend at the beach.

rehoboth beach veg fest (9) rehoboth beach veg fest (6)

Nage’s vegan brunch featured an impressive array of vegan pastries, pancakes, grilled veggies, fresh fruit, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, tofu scramble, curried coconut cauliflower and peas, and mushroom scrapple—the latter two items absolutely knocked my metaphorical culinary socks off. Plus, as COK interns, Katie and I enjoyed the normally $35 brunch for no charge. Ah, the benefits of nonprofit internships.

Brunch buffet line.

Brunch buffet line.

My plate of mouthwatering brunch fare.

My plate of mouthwatering brunch fare.

After a whirlwind week-and-a-half in DC, I entered into June with bountiful optimism toward the following month of my internship. And that, dear readers, will have to wait for another blog post.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant & Yoga Exploration: Yoga District & District Tea Lodge

For those of us lucky enough to have the funds, geographical access, and physical ability necessary to engage in a frequent studio yoga practice, moving to a different location can prove difficult, since doing so means bidding good-bye to a well-loved studio community and seeking out a new one in which to hopefully foster the same sort of connections and support group. Granted, cultivating a fulfilling yoga practice certainly does not require a studio membership or even a mat, necessarily—indeed, during the school year I happily practice yoga alone in my room, either guiding myself through the asanas or following along with a free podcast provided by Jivamukti teacher Jessica Sage Stickler, since I can’t easily access a studio near campus without a car.

That’s yours truly in the bright blue tank top with the short brown hair at my hometown studio.

While I find that a solo practice does minimize distractions and eliminate any tendency of judgment or one-upmanship toward other yogis, it lacks a sense of community, of “We’re-in-this-together-even though-this-advanced-arm-balance”-ness, of powerful energy only generated by a room full of individuals united in a physical manifestation of peace. Not only can yoga studios provide a supportive group of oft like-minded people, they also play an integral role in developing the base of a safe and joyful yoga practice for newcomers, as well as in offering the advanced yogic knowledge (physical, mental, and spiritual) necessary for longtime yogis to continue to find excitement in their practice.

Returning to the notion of finding a new yoga studio after moving to a different area, I’ve shifted between three studios in the past year thanks to moves from my hometown of Madison, WI to Vassar College in New York, and from Vassar to my summer home of Washington D.C. Madison offers the heated, fast-paced intensity of Inner Fire, at which my love of yoga first blossomed; New York offers the deep spirituality, advanced physicality, and vegan philosophy of Jivamukti (though I don’t visit the studio as often as I’d like since it requires a two-hour train ride from Vassar to get there); and DC offers the unpretentiousness, activist-oriented programming of Yoga District.

Boasting six brightly sunlit, immensely welcoming studio spaces around DC, Yoga District features a variety of classes from beginner to advanced, vinyasa to kundalini, and yogalates to AcroYoga. The studio strives to render the innumerable benefits of yoga financially accessible to as many individuals as possible with its yoga work/study program, sliding scale fees, and donation-based classes, providing a refreshing reminder of yoga’s humble roots—an aspect of the practice so often forgotten in an age of $20 drop-in classes and expensive yoga gear advertised as necessary for a “proper” practice ($40 for a mat towel? No thanks).

Yoga District’s vision of spreading the yogic message of peace, health, and overall wellbeing to those who may not otherwise find the practice manifests itself no better than in the studio’s Yoga Activist program. A nonprofit that partners yoga teachers with social service organizations, Yoga Activist runs on the notion that “every being deserves the  holistic benefits of yoga as a practical tool of empowerment, self-soothing, self-healing, and coping.” Yoga Activist currently partners with organizations that support cancer survivors and patients, domestic violence survivors, eating disorder patients and survivors, homeless communities, communities affected by HIV/AIDS, prisons, seniors, trauma survivors, veterans, and youth—and they’re ever willing to partner with more.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

I would consider the Yoga Activist program social justice outreach at its finest, since it provides an effective method by which largely disenfranchised groups can cultivate a sense of autonomy in a society that’s toxic cultural norms previously overpowered them—this program functions as the antithesis of a Band-Aid solution. Indeed, a 1980 social study by Michael Dillbeck found that “during periods when large-scale Transcendental Meditation groups numbering more than 1% of the population were holding regular meditation sessions, researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in the rate of fatalities resulting from automobile accidents, suicides, and homicides in the United States.” The phenomenon discovered from this study, known as the Maharishi Effect, helps to prove the societal value of spreading yoga and meditation practices well beyond the affluent group to which the modern, Westernized realm of yoga primarily caters. Thankfully, programs like Yoga Activist accomplish just that.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

Not only does Yoga District engage in hugely beneficial community outreach, it also succeeds where so many yoga studios fall short of fully embracing the integral yogic tenet of ahimsa (nonviolence)—it advocates veganism. Unlike Jivamukti in NYC, Yoga District does not directly incorporate discussion of a vegan lifestyle into the inspirational prose offered by its teachers, but the studio outspokenly supports a vegan lifestyle in other manners. For example, at the beginning of the summer, Yoga District students had to pay a $100 membership fee in order to participate in the studio’s unlimited monthly yoga program (to my understanding, Yoga District does not require membership anymore). However, in the spirit of offering maximally accessible yoga, the studio waived the membership fee for students, non-profit workers, and vegans. The fact that Yoga District legitimizes a vegan lifestyle in such a manner further highlights the studio’s commitment to truly fostering a just, equitable society for all.

Additionally, the I Street location of Yoga District features an all-vegan, high-raw café known as District Tea Lodge on the studio’s lower level. The wood-paneled, warmly lit dining space features a long communal table; a bar with kombucha on tap, behind which the cafe’s friendly chefs prepare fresh, seasonal, organic, and hugely nourishing fare; and a case displaying a daily selection of raw desserts. While the café certainly lives up to its namesake, boasting a wide selection of handcrafted tea blends, District Tea Lodge also knows a thing or two about handcrafting wholesome vegan noms. A creamy, optionally green smoothie; a fruity chia pudding; a “big daily bowl” with whole grains, plant-based protein, greens, veggies, and dressing; and raw cookies and puddings always grace the District Tea Lodge menu, though the specifics of these dishes varies according to produce seasonality and availability.

Tea Lodge communal table.

Tea Lodge communal table.

My experience at District Tea Lodge happened to fall on the same weekend during which my parents visited me in DC, so I had the pleasure of enjoying the humble café with my dear mother. The “big daily bowl” that day featured quinoa, steamed tempeh, lightly cooked kale, sliced cucumber, and julienned beets and kohlrabi in a choice of dressing (my mother and I both chose the creamy tahini dressing, but they also offer Asian amino and apple cider vinegar & oil). While I’ve long adored the blissful simplicity of the vegan bowl, this one erred on the side of ersatz rather than pleasantly uncomplicated. The bowl certainly showcased the fresh crispness and bold flavor of each individual veggie, but with its unseasoned tempeh, a fairly scant drizzling of tahini dressing, and an oddly disproportionate amount of quinoa to veggies (one can only eat so much plain quinoa without becoming bored, after all), I found myself quite underwhelmed with the dish.

Big Daily Bowl

Big Daily Bowl

Other offerings that day included a raw almond hummus with sliced cucumbers, a raw tomato-basil bisque, and a kohlrabi slaw in a creamy sunflower seed-basil dressing—my mother and I opted to split the latter. The kohlrabi slaw proved much more dynamic and enjoyable than the bowl, highlighting the earthy brightness of the kohlrabi and beet batons, yet harboring enough dressing to provide interest and textural contrast.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Though perhaps the newly opened District Tea Lodge’s savory offerings require a bit of improvement, its selection of nourishing, wholesome raw sweets has already reached top quality. Equally as simple as the cafe’s savory fare yet much more satisfying and gastronomically captivating, District Tea Lodge’s daily dessert variety includes artfully prepared raw cookies, brownies, tarts, mousses, and chia puddings in dynamic yet familiar flavors. On the night of our visit, the café featured a mango pudding tart, a chocolate avocado mousse, a pecan brownie, and almond cookies with either cashew-chocolate or raspberry frosting. My mother and I partook in the first two options, reveling in the creamy, healthful decadence of our strawberry-topped dessert selections. While I harbor absolutely no qualms with the impeccable pudding-y portions of our desserts, the very small criticism that I must make regards the somewhat dry, crumbly texture of the mango tart’s crust—an issue easily remedied by a more thorough blending of nuts and dates in the food processor.

Raw dessert case.

Raw dessert case.

Mango tart.

Mango tart.

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Chocolate mousse.

Relatively in keeping with Yoga District’s mission of affordability, District Tea Lodge’s fare proves quite inexpensive ($8 for a generously sized daily bowl, $3-5 for a side such as the almond hummus, and $4 for a dessert), especially when compared to most all other high-raw restaurants I’ve visited, as well as to other DC-area restaurants of the cafe’s caliber—the daily bowl closely parallels the cost of a Chipotle entrée, for goodness’ sake! District Tea Lodge’s teas, however, cost a much prettier penny: $5 for a single mug of tea. I do understand the expense, though, seeing as the café ethically sources the teas, herbs, and spices featured in its blends.

Needless to say, I’ve developed a close kinship with the Yoga District community, both with its yoga classes and teachers as well as its support of a vegan lifestyle. I’ll fondly remember my immensely positive experiences with the studio after returning to Vassar this upcoming weekend, and intend to return for a drop-in class if I ever find myself in the DC area again.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Woodland’s Vegan Bistro (formerly Everlasting Life Cafe)

Ask anyone familiar with the veg-friendly eatery scene in DC for restaurant recommendations and they’ll invariably mention two restaurants: Sticky Fingers Bakery (which I reviewed about a month ago) and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. These two establishments have long reigned over DC’s veg restaurant kingdom, and any DC-area vegan, vegetarian, veg-curious folk, or person who enjoys eating fabulous food should prioritize patronizing both of them—perhaps three times each, if they and I share any commonalities.

As I’ve already introduced you, dear readers, to the delights of Sticky Fingers Bakery, I’ve reserved this post to discuss the delightfully unexpected fusion of comfort and health food known as Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. Formerly named Everlasting Life Café, Woodland’s specializes in 100% plant-based versions of traditional soul food dishes including barbeque seitan ribs, fried “fish” sandwiches, mashed maple sweet potatoes, smoky collard greens, and “the best mac & cheese I’ve ever eaten,” according to Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing. While I’d definitely consider some of Woodland’s more novelty items (veggie country fried steak made of fried yuba skins, anyone?) as occasional treats rather than everyday fare, the restaurant also features a wide array of veggie-heavy prepared salads, green juices, wheatgrass shots, and fruit smoothies that more closely parallel my daily eating habits. Needless to say, Woodland’s eclectic blend of vegan noms will astound even the most skeptical of parents who insist upon their adult child’s veganism as a “phase,” as well as health-conscious folk who scoff at the term “too much kale.”

Woodland’s warm and inviting dining room.

Though I’ve become a die-hard fan of Woodland’s thanks in part to its deeply satisfying fare, the primary reason I ardently support the eatery comes with its success in rendering nourishing, compassionate food accessible to a community most often barred from making such choices. Located in an area of DC populated largely by people of color and low-socioeconomic status, Woodland’s offers a welcome alternative to the fast food joints and liquor stores littering this almost-food desert, providing healthful vegan options at affordable prices. Seeing that about 2.3 million Americans live more than one mile away from a grocery store and do not own a car, that wealthy districts boast three times as many supermarkets as do poor ones, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as do primarily black ones, and that the grocery stores in black communities usually lack an adequate selection of fresh produce, taking action against such atrocities to food access has become absolutely imperative, and Woodland’s has nobly done so. (Stop by the Food Empowerment Project’s website for more information on food justice issues.)

In food deserts, liquor stores often function as the only establishments at which residents can purchase food.

First introduced to Woodland’s by their booth at DC’s annual Capital Pride festival, I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the restaurant’s sweet kale salad and sticky BBQ soy chick’n drumsticks. This preliminary sampling of Woodland’s cuisine ensured that I would venture to their brick-and-mortar establishment with my parents (now vegans of eight months) during the weekend they visited me in DC. Fast-forward a couple weeks, and my parents and I passed through the warmly hued, welcoming atmosphere of Woodland’s spacious dining room on our way to the eatery’s cafeteria-style food service area. Boasting a hot foods bar, a cold case of prepared salads, a sandwich-ordering station, a dessert display, a juice and smoothie bar, and a soft-serve ice cream machine, Woodland’s ready-to-order selection certainly does not skimp on variety or volume.

A glimpse of the hot foods bar.

A glimpse of the hot foods bar.

Beautifully colorful cold case of prepared salads.

Beautifully colorful cold case of prepared salads.

My father, the true southern boy he is,  positively swooned over the restaurant’s cornbread muffins and tender collard greens, while I struggled to refrain myself from breaking the glass of the cold case and stuffing my face into the dish of sweet kale salad. (You guys. I’m not kidding around. This kale salad=pure magic.) Meanwhile my mother, understandably overwhelmed by Woodland’s tantalizing array, heeded my recommendation of their famous baked mac & cheese.

My plate from bottom clockwise: sweet kale salad, chewy seaweed salad, curried tofu salad with bell peppers, brown rice.

My plate from bottom clockwise: sweet kale salad, chewy seaweed salad, curried tofu salad with bell peppers, brown rice.

My mother's plate from bottom clockwise: baked mac & cheese, smoky braised collard greens, spicy "live stir fry" with brassicas and carrots.

My mother’s plate from bottom clockwise: baked mac & cheese, smoky braised collard greens, spicy “live stir fry” with brassicas and carrots.

While undoubtedly scrumptious, the food at Woodland’s comes in hefty portions—one plate can easily provide two meals for a single person, thereby rendering Woodland’s fare even more cost-effective than do their already quite fair prices. So impressed with his meal of comforting favorites that harkened back to his childhood in Arkansas, my father eagerly purchased a pack of three homemade peanut butter cookies to maintain his energy during our full day of trekking around DC—please enjoy the comical picture of him and his beloved cookies below.

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I would encourage anyone in the DC area to sample the impressive fare at Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, and to support their endeavors to improve food access in their community. Woodland’s latest project, the Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck, launches TODAY! (Saturday, August 3) at the 2013 Mustock Festival in Lignum, VA, and plans from then on to serve the streets of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck.

Until next time, Ali.

If I Were to Open My Own Vegan Restaurant…

At not more than seven years of age, I typed up a rainbow-hued list of menu items (including “French toast sticks” and “peanut butter sandwich”), stuck it inside a three-ring binder, and scrawled “Seiter’s Place” in Sharpie across the front. At age thirteen, the pique of my Food Network fandom, I received (facetious, I’m sure) confirmation from my mother that I could attend culinary school as long as I earned my undergraduate degree first. After going vegan in my sophomore year of high school, I jokingly entertained requests from friends that I serve as their personal chef and health coach. In other words, I’ve long viewed the culinary arts as a legitimate and desirable career option to pursue.

Fully intending to devote the remainder of my professional and personal life toward bettering the lives of animals, promoting veganism, and fostering a more equitable worldwide society, I envision before me a sea of career paths: nonprofit management; grassroots activism; magazine, book, and blog authorship; restaurant work; the list continues. I’m steadfastly certain, however, that my primary livelihood will include two aspects: writing and cooking.

Thus, at some point in my life (perhaps after writing my first book on the links between plant-based diets and egalitarian societies, or after launching a nonprofit devoted to dismantling corporate seed-patenting and winning back the rights of farmers in the non-Western world to grow their own food…or whatever), I would wholeheartedly love to open a vegan café/community bookstore that hosts social justice-related speakers, book and discussion groups, yoga workshops, and various other educational outreach events—kind of a Busboys-and-Poets-esque type thing. Engaging in such a project would allow me to combine my passions of social justice activism, the written word, and culinary creativity in a meaningful manner, with the potential to reach, educate, and inspire a generous amount of individuals.

I’ll iron out all of the details later, but for now, I’d like to provide you with a working menu for the seasonally inspired Farmers’ Market Vegan Café.

Breakfast and Brunch (available all day)

Trio of Granolas with Accompanying Milks
Apricot-lavender granola with lavender-vanilla almond milk, berry-lemongrass granola with coconut-cashew milk, sweet corn-thyme granola with maple soymilk
*Raw trio available upon request

Waffle-nanza Platter
Gluten-free sweet potato waffles, maple tempeh bacon, and coconut-braised kale

Fruity Waffle o’ the Day
Changes depending upon fruit seasonality, always served with coconut mascarpone and infused maple syrup

Raw Spirulina-Banana Crepes
Filled with cashew whipped cream and fresh fruit coulis

Seasonal Vegetable Tofu Scramble
Seasonal veggies and greens scrambled with tofu in a curried peanut sauce.

Seasonal Smoothies
Changes depending upon fruit seasonality, favorites include blueberry-basil and peach-raspberry-ginger
*Add a topping of your choice of granolas for an extra charge
*Add kale to any smoothie at no extra charge

Fresh Bakery Selection
Includes muffins, sweet breads, fruity crumble bars, and granola bars
*Raw options available; all baked goods are free of refined sugar and flour, and are sweetened with either dates or local maple syrup

Appetizers

House-Made Bread Basket
Served with a selection of seasonal hummus and pesto

Cheese & Cracker Plate
A selection of house-made nut cheeses served with seasonal crackers
*Raw crackers available upon request

Herbed Garden Gazpacho
Topped with roasted chickpea “croutons”
*
Add a side of house-made bread for an extra charge

Toasty Kale & Coconut Summer Rolls
With lemongrass tofu and sweet almond or peanut dipping sauce

Raw Nori Rolls
With seasonal veggies, sprouts, coconut meat, and sweet almond or cashew dipping sauce

Salads

*Add seared tofu or tempeh to any salad for an extra charge

Big ol’ Farmers’ Market Salad
Mixed greens, alfalfa sprouts, seasonal veggies, chickpeas, and quinoa or brown rice, all tossed in house-made Liquid Gold Dressing

Tangy Kale Salad
Kale, seasonal veggies, raisins, and sunflower seeds tossed in maple-mustard dressing

Spinach & Wild Rice Salad
With almonds and tarragon-mustard dressing

Purple Potato and Haricot Vert Salad
With red onions and miso-mustard dressing

Fall Medley Salad
Brown rice with pomegranate-infused roasted butternut squash and cauliflower, toasted hazelnuts, and baby arugula

Sandwiches

All non-raw sandwiches served on house-baked bread (gluten-free available) with your choice of side salad, baked sweet potato fries, or house-made root veggie chips (raw or baked)

Roasted Brussels Sprout Grilled Cheese

Caprese Sandwich
House-made vegan mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, and basil

“Chickpea of the Sea” Sandwich or Lettuce Wrap
A delectable mash of chickpeas, avocado, and dulse flakes

Raw Garden Vegetable Sandwich
Scallion cashew cream cheese, marinated mushrooms, and butter lettuce, served with house-made raw root veggie chips

Entrees

Fig & Hazelnut Pizza
With caramelized onions and basil sauce on a raw buckwheat crust

Socca o’ the Day
Seasonally rotating French-style chickpea pancake

Bowl o’ the Day
Seasonal veggies, steamed or sautéed leafy green, whole grain, baked tempeh or tofu, and dressing

Miso-Maple Roasted Eggplant & Kale Tacos
With lentils, gingered cashew cream, and mango salsa

Beverages

On-Tap House-Brewed Kombucha
Seasonal flavors

Green Juice o’ the Day
Seasonal flavors

Hot Tea
Selection of organic & fair-trade brews

Herb-Infused Iced Tea
Seasonal flavors

Dessert

Raw Cheesecake o’ the Day
Changes depending upon fruit seasonality

Chocolatey Pudding
Carob, avocado, and banana pureed into a smooth pudding

Trio of Seasonal Ice Creams
*Raw selection available

Raw Cookie Dough “Blizzard”
Banana “soft-serve” with raw cookie dough bites and seasonal fruit swirl

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Founding Farmers

While researching the veg-friendly restaurants in the DC area that I would have to visit over the summer, I came across sustainability-centric Founding Farmers on both HappyCow and VegDC. My deep adoration of the farmers market and all it represents (more on this in an upcoming blog post) initially attracted me to the fact that a nationwide group of farmers collectively owns the modern American eatery, as well as to the restaurant’s devotion to environmental sustainability. Moreover, I wholeheartedly appreciated the acknowledgement on FF’s website that “it isn’t always about ‘local’, or ‘organic’ — sure, when it makes sense, those are great things, but local doesn’t always means the smallest carbon footprint, and ‘organic’ can also refer to broccoli that comes from China.” Too often do advocates of farm-to-table cuisine ignore the fact that only purchasing food produced within their 20-mile radius does not always constitute the most environmentally friendly decision, failing to holistically consider the other energy-consuming aspects of food production unrelated to transportation.

Unfortunately, when I surveyed the FF menu, I discovered a barrage of bacon, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, meatloaf, chicken and waffles, steaks, and “sustainably caught or raised fish” (as if that even exists). Appalled by this veritable ode to all things meat and dairy, I sincerely questioned the decisions of both HappyCow & VegDC to award FF the title of “vegan-friendly,” even considering the generous (please sense my sarcasm) 4.2 percent of the menu that didn’t contain animal flesh and secretions. Clearly, FF (like a countless number of other farm-to-table establishments) neglects to acknowledge the environmental, ethical, and economical complications associated with small-scale, non-industrial animal agriculture, as well as the fact that all animal agriculture, regardless of size, poses “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from global to local.” Their commitment to sustainability thus falls quite short of its potential range.

Of course, as an animal activist first and foremost, my grandest complain stems from FF’s claims of animal welfare: “Animals are treated humanely and respectfully and are well cared for. They are permitted to carry out their natural behaviors — such as grazing, rooting or pecking — and are fed a natural diet appropriate for their species.” Sound familiar? This harmless-sounding rhetoric parallels that of many other proponents of small-scale animal agriculture—individuals who recognize the egregious suffering endured by non-human animals on factory farms, yet, thanks to cultural carnistic conditioning, refuse to reject the notion of animal agriculture as necessary. However, the rhetoric lacks meaning. For example, FF touts the eggs they use as “cage-free,” which simply means that the hens laying said eggs live uncaged among up to thousands of other birds in barns or warehouses, but generally do not have access to the outdoors. The cage-free label even permits forced molting. In regards to animal welfare, the meaninglessness of terms such as “free-range,” “small-scale,” and “family-owned” extends far beyond the mistreatment of chickens. Indeed, during a recent visit to the magnificent Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, I received the intriguing information that every single one of the sanctuary’s nearly ten rescued cows came from so-called “small-scale family farms.”

Jason–an Angus steer rescued in 2000 who now lives at Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary.

Even on farms that receive praise as employing the most humane of practices when raising animals for food, quite ethically questionable procedures take place. Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich offer a succinct summary of this idea in The Animal Activist’s Handbook:

“For example, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007), Michael Pollan endorses eating animals from Polyface farm, where ‘animals can be animals,’ living, according to Pollan, true to their nature. But what is Polyface really like? Rabbits on the farm are kept in small suspended-wire cages. Chickens are crowded into mobile wire cages, confined without the ability to nest or the space to establish a pecking order. Pigs and cattle are shipped year-round in open trucks to conventional slaughterhouses. Seventy-two hours before their slaughter, birds are crated with seven other birds. After three days without food, they are grabbed by the feet, up-ended in metal cones, and, without any stunning, have their throats slit. This is the system Pollan proclaims praiseworthy. In the end, Polyface’s view is the same as Tyson’s—these individual [animals] are, ultimately, just meat to be sold for a profit.”

 

Not only does FF aid greatly in perpetuating the myth of humane practice and environmental sustainability surrounding small-scale, non-industrial animal agriculture, it also (no matter how unintentionally) alienates and delegitimizes its vegan customers who recognize and work to combat the carnistic system that allows the pervasiveness of such a myth. Upon arrival at the restaurant, I sensed rather awkward an unwelcome. The entrance foyer’s bookshelves featured literary titles that extoled the virtues of “humane meat,” such as Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, immediately othering the restaurant goers attracted to the meatless section of FF’s menu. Actually, deeming it a “section” of the menu proves rather false, as customers must specifically request that their server bring them a separate meatless menu, as if to warn the FF staff of an outsider’s presence. The heading of the meatless menu reads “developed for those who enjoy true food,” but the fact that FF has relegated its’ vegan and vegetarian entrees to an entirely different menu implies that the restaurant does not regard these dishes as on par with their real notion of “true food.” The lack of hospitality FF displays to its vegan customers extends even to the silverware—every diner’s napkin encases an ivory-handled steak knife and a fork decorated with cattle brand designs. Needless to say, I harbored much wariness toward FF by the time our server appeared to take my family’s order.

Pickle jars in the FF entrance.

Pickle jars in the FF entrance.

Rather by default ordering the only two vegan items on the main menu as our appetizers, my mother, father (both vegans of almost eight months now!), and I began our meal with the Pickled Seasonal Vegetables and Johnny’s Nuts. Considering ourselves somewhat of pickle connoisseurs thanks to the pickle platter of daikon, kimchi, escabeche, beets, and sometimes even blueberries offered at Graze back in Madison, my father and I did not regard the standard dilly cucumbers and their one-note flavor as too impressive. However, my parents and I all quite enjoyed the crunchy-chewy-sweet-spicy combo offered by the roasted peanuts and golden raisins tossed with a BBQ spice mix.

Pickled Dilly Cucumbers.

Pickled Dilly Cucumbers.

Johnny's Nuts.

Johnny’s Nuts.

Daringly opting to modify one of the meat-centric main menu items, my mother ordered the Farmers Salad without parmesan cheese, looking forward to a fresh, texturally contrasting salad of baby lettuce, avocado, dates, tomatoes, red grapes, and almonds in a champagne vinaigrette. Upon hearing that my mother did not want cheese, the waiter informed her that the dressing may contain dairy, and proceeded to inquire, “Well, how vegan are you?” As the phenomenal ladies at Our Hen House discussed on a recent podcast episode, veganism explicitly denotes the avoidance of consuming, wearing, or in any way using animals in one’s daily life. There exists no “spectrum” of veganism that includes the “sometimes vegans,” “half-vegans,” and “vegan-before-6:00’s” of the world—one is either vegan, or they aren’t. Period. That our waiter committed this now-common fallacy further demonstrates FF’s unwillingness to understand or truly serve their vegan customers. Whatever, my mom liked the salad. They dressed it with olive oil and vinegar instead.

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My father and I both chose the Many Veg Meatloaf from the meatless menu as our entrée. A thick slab of veggie meatloaf slathered with wild mushroom gravy lay upon a pile of mashed potatoes, accompanied by a ketchup-y tomato-cider glaze and grilled broccolini, and topped with crispy fried onions. While the presentation promised an enjoyable dish, I found the meatloaf mushy and lacking in depth of flavor, the mashed potatoes oh-so dry and flavorless (I couldn’t even finish them, and that makes quite a statement considering my monumental appetite), and the broccolini vastly undercooked. The unctuous mushroom gravy, tangy tomato-cider glaze, and crispy fried onions saved the dish from complete failure, but only served as small portions of the entrée (besides, who could mess up deep-fried onions?).

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The halfheartedness with which the FF team composed this dish again spoke to their implicit feelings toward vegans—inconveniencing, illegitimate, and ideologically completely wrong. Reflected by the fact that sorbet (the most uncreative vegan dessert of all) served as FF’s only dessert in which my father would happily partake on his birthday, FF’s marginal, almost antagonistic consideration of vegan customers proves wildly tangible.

Lemon-Cassis Sorbet.

Lemon-Cassis Sorbet.

After hearing rave reviews of FF from various native Washingtonians and glimpsing a line out the restaurant’s door while walking by, I truly wanted to enjoy my experience at FF. However, as do vegans in many other daily interactions, I felt judged and belittled, even in this so-called “vegan-friendly” establishment. I often experience the most hostility from non-vegan proponents of the sustainable food movement—a phenomenon that confuses me immensely considering the fact that both the vegan and sustainable food movements seek to preserve the environment, improve the lives of animals, and foster healthy living through diet. Why must there exist such an enormous chasm between two ideologies that harbor the same goals at heart? I yearn for a dialogue—a truly thoughtful conversation during which to discuss the differing definitions of “humane,” the notion of animal agriculture as necessary, and environmental implications of raising animals for food. I know that my review of Founding Farmers may indeed read as a frustrated rant, but this is only because I sincerely feel that any chance for dialogue disappeared as soon as I set foot inside FF’s doors. I do hope, however, that FF and restaurants like it prove me wrong. Let’s talk, with an open mind, heart, and spirit.

Until next time, Ali.