All hail the vegan inspector general

Who says investigative reporting is dead? "Operation Pancake" blows the lid off of L.A.'s vegan restaurant scene

By Andrew Leonard
Published July 1, 2009 6:53PM (EDT)

Felix Salmon calls a 6000-word investigation of whether L.A.'s vegan restaurants are 100 percent authentically vegan "absolutely bonkers."

I'm not so sure about that. The piece seems to me like a pretty amazing example of authoritative investigative reporting -- involving industrial strength food testing and fanatical attention to detail. Obsessive perhaps, but if I was a vegan, I'd surely want to know which restaurants were living up to my exacting standards and which weren't. And I have nothing but respect for seekers of vegan truth who go so far as to call up the Bureau of Food Safety in Taiwan to get the full story on food labeling practices in the Republic of China.

I say this as someone who does get annoyed when barbecue guests inform me that they don't want their veggie burger cooked on a grill that has ever been touched by meat. Those people should not come to my barbecues -- I do not advertise 100 percent authentic vegan food preparation quality control in my back yard. But I digress.

The most interesting part, to me, of "Operation Pancake: Undercover Investigation of L.A. Vegan Restaurants" was the reasonable theory that the vegan eating establishments that failed the tests likely were getting their "fake meat" supplies from a Taiwanese manufacturer. Taiwan, I was unsurprised to learn, is the largest source of "fake meat" exports in the world, and there's a good reason why the product may include traces of egg or other non-vegan-approved materials.

In the Taiwanese and Chinese market [where most of these products are made and sold] vegetarian customers are only concerned with meat ingredients and not bothered at all if egg or milk ingredients are included [this is due to religious reasons in many cases, typically to accommodate Buddhists, who are often not vegan]

Buddhists, I have found, rarely have a problem with the sanctity of the grill, when getting their veggie burgers cooked. This is why they are always welcome at my bbqs.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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