Recently in Vegan Category

Calories, "Healthy", and Restaurant Menus

I love information. Absolutely love it. The more I've reflected on this fact, the more I realize that my job, my hobbies, and my interests all tend to revolve around acquiring interesting data. So when California instituted its menu labeling law (California Health and Safety Code Section 114094) two years ago, I was very pleased, not only as a data-lover, but as someone who'd rather eat 600 calories over 1,100, given the choice on a menu.

One problem I've faced, however, is that not all restaurants are required to give nutrional information for their food - if a company has fewer than 20 locations, they're exempt. This is apparently because a "small" restaurant or chain can't afford the costs associated with food testing to determine nutritional info. I think that's a load of manure, personally (a chain with 15 restuarants is by no means small and poor), but it's the law. 

What really surprises me, though, is that restaurants that sell themselves as "healthy" refuse to go above and beyond the legal requirements and provide nutrional info. The worst offender I've found so far, and also a restaurant I love, is the Veggie Grill. But their opinion on the matter is pretty well spelled out in the following I received from them after complaining loudly on their Facebook page:

We apologize that we do not have full nutritional details on our menu items. The yet to be released FDA menu nutritional labeling guidelines requiring restaurants to have full nutritional details will apply only to restaurants with 20 or more locations as the government acknowledges that the effort to compile and maintain this information is too burdensome for smaller restaurant companies. 

We have been advised that we would need a large food analysis lab to do the analysis since we need to have a company with liability insurance to stand behind their work (we live in a very litigious society). This of course makes it an expensive proposition (approximately $30,000), particularly for a new, small company such as ours.

That being said, we are very proud of the fact that our menu is 100% plant-based with absolutely no cholesterol, animal fat, trans fat or high-fructose corn syrup. 

Numerous studies have shown that eating 100% plant-based foods is the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and to maintain a healthy weight. We recommend "The China Study" by Dr. T. Colin Campbell ( for anybody who would like to learn more about these studies.

As I believe you may be aware, additional information regarding our nutritional philosophy can be found at 

Our mission to build an enduring brand that helps people and the planet can only succeed if we listen carefully to guests such as yourself. Opening 7 restaurants and hiring 220 people over the past 4 tough years has been very difficult and expensive, but we are trying hard to make a go of it.

Are calories everything? No. And I agree that eating a plant based diet is almost by default healthier than one with meat, especially if that meat is factory-farmed. But calories, as well as other pieces of nutrional information, are vital for many people on many kinds of diets (weight loss, and otherwise). I've touched on this topic before, with swear words.

If you've never eaten at Veggie Grill, you're missing out on two things: very delicious passable-as-real-chicken-sandwich vegan food, and grease. Their food tastes good, in part, because it's high in fat, and likely high in salt as well. This is all well and good if you know what you're getting into, but when all the marketing material for a restaurant touts its health benefits while refusing any mention of meal calories, there's a strong likelihood of confusion. 

Above all else, it makes me wonder if the company is just too poor to do a nutrional analysis (not likely, given they only open in boutique locations with high rents, and charge full-service prices for their counter-service food), or if they're hiding something. All I know is that if I'm looking for low-calorie, I look elsewhere.

(This entry has been cross-posted to my new/old blog, Insignifica)

Observations and Diets

We're almost 3 weeks into my Very Vegan February. Some observations:

- I don't miss egg and dairy themselves nearly as much as I miss the variety of foods available to me.

- I'd much rather avoid something all together rather than have a sub-standard vegan version. But some vegan stuff is perfectly fine if you don't try to compare it to a meat/cheese equivalent. And some vegan stuff is actually very, very good as a replacement.

- I wish I could have chickens at my home so I could source my eggs easily.

- I may be losing weight.

The last point is important here - veganism as a weight-loss diet is seemingly pretty effective for me. There are a few factors to this:

- I can't just "snack" on whatever's available.

- Most of my meals are a little more "planned", i.e., I'm not doing much in the way of "picking up drive-thru on the way home".

- I'm going out to eat much less, thereby avoiding the delicious by fattening cooking preps restaurants use.

- Cheese and dairy make up a non-insignificant portion of my regular diet's calories, and they're avoided while going vegan.

All that said, I don't think using veganism as a diet should be your goal, mostly because it's not sustainable if you don't care for it to be. But as a side-effect of going vegan anyway, it's nice. 

Feelin' Fine.

I'm a week into my Very Vegan February, and things are goin' good. It's not at all hard - it's certainly much easier than it would be for someone who eats meat - but it's a bit annoying at times. I'm having to read all my labels again, even for stuff at home. I have to stop myself from mindless snacking, because The Girlfriend and The Kid both still eat dairy. And twice I've had to suggest different restaurants, because there are plenty of super vegetarian-friendly places in my restaurant rotation that don't have much to offer to vegans at all.

One interesting thing I'm discovering is that vegans are just as prone as anyone else to spread misinformation (of all sorts). When a product or menu item is identified as "vegan" online (by any source, it seems), that info spreads like wildfire - whether it's true or not. I'm finding myself not trusting most sources online, with the exception of a few bloggers and industry folks, and the manufacturers/restaurants themselves.

There's also still a huge problem in a lot of vegan chatter about "true vegans", which usually involves name calling, love/hatred of PETA, discussion of honey, and value judgments about health. Mention Oreos and Ritz crackers as being vegan some time to a group of 'em, and you'll see what I mean.

All that said, I'm still diggin' it. I've made very successful vegan blueberry muffins, very unsuccessful brownies, and our homemade seitan is surprisingly tasty.Still looking forward to the next few weeks, too.

Very Vegan February

Hello World!

As expected, I came back for a couple posts, then disappeared entirely again, as is usually the case with such returns. But I've had a nice break, and is the best place I can imagine to discuss my current project: Very Vegan February.

As it stands, I'm a "strict vegetarian" - no meat, and I'm careful about hidden ingredients (broths, rennet, gelatin, flavorings, etc). I also only buy products with dairy/eggs if they come from organic sources (for animal treatment issues). I'm lax about this aspect when I eat out, but not my vegetarianism (I don't "not worry" about broths, etc. when I go out to eat - just about organics).

For February, I'm sticking to a pretty much standard vegan diet. No dairy or eggs, on top my standard strict vegetarianism. I don't worry about honey, a) because I almost never eat it, and b) because I think it doesn't belong in the same vegan category. Otherwise, though, it's gonna be a very vegan February.

I'll post here when I have something interesting to add, thoughts about the process, or tips/tricks I want to share/remember. Looking forward to it, and bringing readers along for the trip!

Social Media Day/food truck event

Wednesday, June 30 is Social Media Day - and while that sounds amazingly niche and pretentious, I'm totally going and totally looking forward to it. Luckily for me, my employer is hosting a Social Media Day/food truck event from 3pm-6pm - there'll be guest speakers, little workshops, and a bunch of local food trucks, including Seabirds (vegan/organic) and Piaggio On Wheels (which comes highly recommended).

If you're in or around Santa Ana, stop on by and say hello!

Gardein, Gardein everywhere!

crispy_tenders_295x35052.jpgIt's interesting what a difference a year can make. When I stopped regularly posting to TofuFighting last August, the only place I'd seen Gardein brand meat substitutes was at Fresh and Easy and Whole Foods - they sell little two-to-three serving packets of pre-seasoned fake meats, in "beef" and "chicken" varieties. Easily one of the best-tasting products out there (though some of the flavors didn't appeal to me), and the consistancy is the most reminisant of meat that I've had (especially the chicken).

Fast foward to today. Gardein is everywhere:

Chipotle is serving Gardein as "Garden Blend" at select stores in New York, Washington DC, and California, and last week expanded to include many of their Los Angeles-area locations (sorry OC and the IE, none for us, yet). I tried it last week, and found it a bit dry - it didn't have the flavor I expected (and had heard about). I'm more than willing to give it another try.

The Yard House, a generally west-coast brewpub restaurant, is serving Gardein as a replacement for meat in almost all of their menu items. Some vegans are freaking out because the menu items themselves aren't vegan, but still, to have a vegan replacement that's not just a veggie burger is amazing to me. Right now it's available at their Irvine location, but it should go company-wide later this year.

Select Costco locations are now selling large bags of Gardein Crispy Tenders (fake chicken tenders) for $9.99 for 40 pieces. As is often the case with Costco, not all locations carry it, and it will likely disappear at some point as well. Keep buying it, and it may not. Such are the whims of Costco.

I'm sure it's found its way to other locations as well, but three major chains, in the space of a few months, is a fairly impressive feat for a vegan product. The best part is that it's actually good. I'm hoping more places jump on this bandwagon.

Cover Story

vnanewsletter.jpgHello Readers! A quick update to let you all know that yours truly has the cover story on this month's Vegetarian Network of Austin newsletter, "Austin Vegetarian Living". It's about how to eat vegetarian/vegan at Mexican restaurants (and how difficult it can be).

I'm hoping to start posting here more, with links to other great blogs and original stuff. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!


Quick question for everyone to ponder over and argue about: Outside the actually staff members I know, just about everyone I've met who I'd consider pretty hardcore vegans and vegetarians doesn't care for the practices of PETA. I happen to find them very, very entertaining, but a lot of people think they go to far.

What's your take? Are there specific things they do that you don't like? Are they generally a good group? Often I'll talk to people who say they hate PETA, but can't give me any real reasons. Do you have some?

Mom's Tomato Sauce

A few years ago, I posted this to Insignifica, noting that I wanted to put it somewhere I wouldn't lose it. I figure my new food blog is as good as any other place.

This is my adaptation of my mom's tomato sauce. This sauce really is all about the tomatoes, so buy the best. You should use canned instead of fresh here, but go for something high quality - I prefer plum tomatoes for texture, body, and flavor. If your tomatoes aren't salted in the can, you're gonna want to increase the amount you add to the sauce. Total cooking time is at least an hour, but I often let it go all afternoon (3-6 hours) to let all the flavors meld.

I usually serve it over thin spaghetti, with a high sauce-to-pasta ratio (tradition be damned - I'm an American, and I like sauce). As listed, it's almost vegan - just cook your mushrooms in oil instead of butter, and you're set. Top with your favorite cheese (I've been using mizithra, grated over the top - I still haven't found a good Parmesan Reggiano that doesn't use animal rennet), and enjoy.

Mom's tomato sauce


2 28oz cans whole or crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons Italian seasonings (premixed Italian seasoning, or a combination of basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme or rosemary, to taste).
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/2 small white onion, diced
8-12oz white mushrooms, sliced or chunked
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste


In a large pot, simmer tomatoes on medium heat. If whole, crush first with a potato masher or with your hands, making sure to remove all skins. Add olive oil, then Italian spices. Allow sauce to simmer for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a medium saucepan, heat butter or oil on medium heat. Add onions, and cook for 4-5 minutes before adding mushrooms. Once this mixture is mostly cooked (onions should be clear, and mushrooms should have given off a fair amount of moisture) reduce heat to low and add garlic. Cook for another 3-5 minutes then stir into sauce.

Add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. After cooking for an hour total, the sauce is ready to be served over your favorite pasta. Sauce can also be prepared ahead of time and reheated.

Thank you, Little Caesar's!

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I must say that I haven't been to a Little Caesar's in a LONG time - but back in the day, their $5 pizzas were a mainstay in our household. That said, I might start going back, because they're all kinds of awesome for having this kind of information on their website:

Vegetarian Options at Little Caesars
Little Caesars wants to help meet the growing needs of our vegetarian customers and offers them many appropriate menu choices. Vegetarian diets that allow dairy products can easily be planned to meet nutritional adequacy using any of the Little Caesars vegetarian-style pizzas. Little Caesars pizzas can be ordered with cheese-only or with any of our fresh vegetable toppings including onions, green peppers, and tomato slices. Mushrooms, ripe olives, and pineapples are also available toppings. Banana pepper rings can be added to give some "zip" to any vegetable-topped pizza.

Please note: Topping selection varies by location. Visit your local Little Caesars Pizza restaurant for topping availability.

For the Strict Vegetarian Diet (Vegan Diet)

A strict vegetarian diet requires a little more planning for nutritional adequacy because it may require special conditions such as no animal by-products. Little Caesars' pizza crust is made with a quality, high-protein flour and contains no animal products or by-products. The sauce is made from crushed tomatoes and is seasoned with a special blend of herbs and spices - it also is made without animal by-products. This means that customers who are strict vegetarians can order a Little Caesars vegetable pizza, without cheese, and still fulfill their needs.

There are other items that can be special-ordered from our menu that are acceptable for a strict vegetarian diet. For example, Crazy Bread® can be ordered without Parmesan cheese along with an order of Crazy Sauce® on the side.

If every restaurant (especially chains!) had a page like this on their site, my life would be much, much simpler. It doesn't take much to make me happy: Know what "vegetarian" and "vegan" mean, and tell me, simply, what's in your food. Little Caesar's does it perfectly.

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