• Operation Pancake: The plot thickens…

    July 1st, 2009mr meanerhealth, LA restaurants, news

    NOTE: Please see update regarding Green Leaves Vegan here

    From the moment that we got our first POSITIVE result when sampling a “vegan” menu item from one of our favorite LA-area vegan restaurants, we knew that we were on to something with Operation Pancake. When POSITIVE readings gave way to HIGH and OVERLOAD results we were quite shocked. For us, though, the most memorable moment was when we unpacked the “vegan cheese (no casein) quesadilla” from Green Leaves Vegan and the acidic smell of “real” cheese came right at us out of the box as our sample crept toward OVERLOAD. We stepped back. We retested. We then warmed the quesadilla, played with the stretchy, greasy cheese and realized that the multitude of tip-offs we’d been getting about the sketchy ingredients and evasive staff members at Green Leaves Vegan might just be true.

    Green Leaves "Vegan" Cheese -- That's a stretch for sure

    Green Leaves "Vegan" Cheese -- That's a stretch for sure

    We wrote this post as a follow-up to address some questions from the 250+ comments on this blog as well as the thousands of comments around the web (see link dump later):

    How can you be sure that cross-contamination in the restaurant’s kitchen wasn’t the culprit?

    • We can’t be sure, although 100% vegan restaurants should not have the allergens/contaminants in their kitchens that we were testing for. Why would a vegan restaurant have shellfish, eggs or milk laying around in the kitchen? We deliberately tested food from only 100% vegan restaurants rather than vegan “options” from omnivorous restaurants.

    How do you know the tests are accurate?

    • Again, we don’t for sure. What we do know is that food processors all over the world depend on tests like these to make decisions about how clean their facilities are. As somebody claiming to be from the manufacturer said in the comments: “We focus very tightly on false results: a false negative could kill somebody with an allergy while a false positive could cost a lot of money in lost production, discarded foodstuffs etc.”

    Why didn’t you just tell the owners of the restaurants, and let them deal with this? Why go public? Do you hate vegan restaurants?

    • We, and people we know, have been frustrated for a long time with evasive answers from the proprietors of vegan restaurants. One manager repeatedly told us they had discarded the “cheese” package when we asked to see the ingredients and asked us to leave when we pressed them further. Also, if this all happened in the background, how could we be sure that the restaurants cared about what we said or took it upon themselves to do anything about it? Should we spend another $1,000 on even more tests? It was time to stop wondering and to empirically determine if the “cheese” contained “casein”, the protein that causes cheese to stretch, and we felt that the restaurants would only change their behavior if their customers (in many cases the people reading this right now) asked them to, which is why we went public.
    • On the last point (hating vegan restaurants) you will find hundreds of posts on this blog singing the praises of vegan restaurants – some of whom were called into question during Operation Pancake. If we were really out to get vegan restaurants, wouldn’t we always post nasty stuff? Indeed, check out our review of the visit we made to Green Leaves Vegan last year. It’s funny that we thought of going back for the quesadilla! Glad we never did. This comment on that post is particularly interesting, especially as it was posted before the investigation.

    I’m friends with (insert name here) who owns (insert restaurant name here). He would NEVER allow non-vegan things to be in his ingredients.

    • I’m sure you are right, but maybe your friend is ignorant of what he’s selling. Our research indicates that some of his suppliers don’t know what’s in the ingredients, and even the manufacturers themselves (with label sizing, lax regulations and translation issues) don’t know. Your friend needs to be more diligent going forward. He can have the tests performed by a food laboratory on an ongoing basis to confirm any suspect products such as imported “meats” with missing or incomplete labels. If we (as interested customers and concerned vegans) can pay to test these items without profit, it is not unreasonable to request that those in business claiming that their products are vegan do the same with some of their profits.

    But what about the animals? How does this project help them? You should have donated the money to your local pig sanctuary instead.

    • The number one thing we can do to help animals is to stop eating them, or anything they produce. Once that movement gains sufficient momentum there will be a tipping point where something common is considered unusual. I’ve seen it in my lifetime with tobacco consumption, which is now the exception rather than the rule in most social groups. By NOT eating food with animal products in it, and by challenging products that claim to be animal-free but are proven not to be vegan you’re helping this cause and sending a message up the supply chain that will ultimately mean suppliers will change their products. Supply and demand is the only thing that will save animals. Oh, and we do donate to several sanctuaries as well.

    Isn’t eating fake meat hypocritical? Why would you want to create a fake version of animal flesh?

    • Good question. Some vegans like fake meat, but many do not. If they are sold it as being vegan it should be what it says it is, just like a new car should not have 5,000 miles on it. Also, fake meats are sometimes an important transition food for those starting to undertake a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle change. If vegan fake meat cannot be made vegan reliably, then it should not be sold. Just the same way “healthy” cigarettes were removed from sale in the early 80s.

    Also, we emailed all the restaurants (regardless of their testing score) and asked them to comment on the record for publication in this post. We received replies from only three (M Cafe, Pure Luck and Vegan Joint):

    A representative from M Cafe named Melissa responded: “I found your tests very interesting and I can assure you that after working at M Café for a long time, we are whey and casein free 100%! Please let me know if you have any other questions and I would be happy to answer them!”

    Ben Ling, Owner of Pure Luck wrote us an email saying: “We at Pure Luck were made aware of an investigative report by the website quarrygirl.com in which casein, a milk protein, was detected in a sample of our Baja Tacos. This was surprising and distressing to us, as we take great care in keeping the food and drinks we provide our customers free from animal ingredients.
    We are currently conducting our own investigation into this issue. We have ordered allergen test kits of our own, and will attempt to duplicate quarrygirl.com’s results, and to determine where and how any contamination is occurring.
    In the meantime, we have notified all staff of the situation, and clearly and explicitly reiterated our policy to keep all non-vegan food out of the kitchen. We have also made it our temporary policy to warn all customers who order the Baja Tacos or Baja Burrito that there may be milk protein in them.”

    Hnoi, the Manger/Owner of Vegan Joint responded: “The Vegan Joint doesn’t want to be part of the problem; they want to collaborate to solve the problem. We don’t want anyone consuming a menu item that was purchased at The Vegan Joint, to contain a surprise ingredient. The Vegan Joint has an “open kitchen” policy. If someone wants to know what products are being used to make a menu item, then they are more then welcome to contact me, Hnoi, the manager/ owner. In return, I will make every effort available to provide the customer with the requested information. With the occurrence of recent events, The Vegan Joint is reviewing it’s product list, and is eliminating products that are not assured to be 100% animal free…..”

    We’re also pleased that Hnoi from Vegan Joint jumped into the comments and pledged her assistance with resolving the issues before we contacted her.

    We also noted that Green Leaves Vegan modified their website to show a cash register receipt from Whole Foods for a number of vegan products, including the absolutely vegan Follow Your Heart cheese. We thought it was strange that they had bought this cheese yet not used it in the quesadilla, so we contacted them by ‘phone for a quote. A lady who picked up when I asked to speak with a manager screamed at me “DON’T COME HERE AGAIN” and hung up the ‘phone. This attitude is in stark contrast to another restaurant owner emailed to ask if we could test their ingredients “today”.

    We also have several tips sent in to the blog and left in various comments that we are going to share with you here.

    We were alerted to this article, from 2006-2008 which lists many, many issues with LA area vegan restaurants — including things that were problems three years ago that our tests indicate may not have been resolved. Sobering reading.

    Also, a tipster let us know that the suspect “vegan fish” fillets that we discovered in two restaurants with POSITIVE readings probably comes from VegeUSA – Product Page (note: although Pure Luck have not responded to our request for information, when we called them they told us that they bought the “vegan fish” from “Healthy Times” – we cannot find any reference to that manufacturer, but Vegan Joint did state in the comments that they obtain their “vegan fish” from VegeUSA.) For VegeUSA, though, click on the link above and then try to determine the nutritional content and ingredients by clicking on the link on the lower right. Note that the link is broken or has been removed. We managed to find the data available on archives.org. Note this link, and see the ingredients. Scary, huh, and if this is the product that’s being sold as vegan it could explain our POSITIVE results for egg. However you put it, and regardless of what that nice person in a vegan restaurant tells you, or the label states, this food is unlikely to be vegan.

    While talking about VegeUSA, this groups post indicates a corroborating story about non-vegan ingredients, and a labeling issue, complete with an email apology from Tina Soong at VegeUSA for inaccurate consumer labeling. Again, this food probably ain’t vegan.

    On the subject of Green Leaves Vegan’s apparently stretchy cheese, it has been officially noted by vegan blog Sick of Lettuce, and here’s an interesting article from the dairy industry about the stretchiness of cheese. Also, a representative from Follow Your Heart says: “Our Mozzarella-style vegan cheese has a cheesy flavor and melts like real cheese. We have never claimed that it stretches.”

    Lastly, before the link dump, thanks for bearing with us through some server issues. We did get a lot of traffic, and our baby server couldn’t quite keep up.

    Sick Of Lettuce
    LA Metblogs
    Eating LA
    Granite Gourmet
    To Live And Eat In LA
    LA Snark
    Eco Vegan Gal
    Eater LA
    Vegan Represent
    River Front Times
    Vijita Cooks
    Fanatic Cook
    Happy Cow
    Perogrullo (Spanish Language!)
    Livin’ Veg
    Nac Mac Vegan
    Vegetarians in Paradise
    KolYom (Israel!)
    Frederick County Report

    Also, it’s worth pointing out that today, July 1st 2009 is the day when new stringent labeling regulations go in to effect in Taiwan. Remember, though, that the shelf life of these products are months or years, so it will take a long time for the products made under new regulations to reach our vegan restaurants stateside. And, even when they do, a regulation is only as good as its enforcement, and time will tell how that plays out.

    Finally, Team Quarrygirl would like to extend a debt of gratitude to Mr. Wishbone, without whom none of this would be possible. We’re already planning Operation Pancake II: The Vegans Strike Back. Stay tuned. Things are about to get REALLY interesting!


79 responses to “Operation Pancake: The plot thickens…” RSS icon

  • Once again, a million thanks to you all involved in this. I arrived back in LA yesterday and drove straight to Native Foods for some vegan food. My tradition used to be chicken pancakes at Cali Vegan but I will never be eating there again. A sad day but I am glad to support restaurants who are what they claim to be. Heck, I even like it when a diner has vegan hand wash in the bathroom… lol. QG forever.

  • OK, been reading this blog for months but finally leaving a comment (just lazy is all). I and my bf are both veggies, not vegan. We’ve been going to green leaves for about a year once or twice a month. He ALWAYS gets the quesadilla w/cheese. We went last night, and the quesadilla was completely different. the cheese wasnt stretchy but sorta chalky and wet. I don’t know which cheese is which, but in the last two weeks since we were last there they 100% for certain changed the cheese. Why don’t they just call themselves a “vegetarian” restaurant and serve the quesadilla as it was? It was pretty good, unlike now.

  • You guys just keep getting more awesome! Keep fightin’ the good fight! 😀

  • Thank you for this thorough follow-up post and for all the hard work you do to ensure our vegan safety while dining in L.A. I can’t wait to see what Part II reveals…

  • I’d like to order my Operation Pancake II: The Vegans Strike Back t-shirt now. XL please…

  • Thanks for coming back to the topic with a follow-up! Your last post definitely had a lot of comments and difference of opinions amongst vegans. But it’s always important to keep businesses accountable for what they sell or serve. If we have a problem with something, as consumers we should have the right to talk to our community about the problems. We shouldn’t hide information because it may be inconvenient for other customers and/or the business owner. If we all kept quiet about the happenings in business, we’d never see the real problems of stock farming, Enron, and any other places where a whistle blower has become both a pariah and a hero. So you guys keep rocking.

    Your findings, though not conclusive, are not a real bash at any single business. I find it totally reasonable that some of the proprietors simply did not know and this was helpful to some of them in order to do right by their business and customer. We do put trust into the labels we see but now that the problem is out there those interested in being vegan restaurants and serving that clientele will rectify the situation. If others don’t want to hear the findings and don’t want you as a customer, then why are they getting into the vegan restaurant business to start with? So bravo to you. This should be HELPFUL not hurtful to those that want to serve vegan food.

  • I just wanted to say thank you for all the work you put into this. It’s not okay to advertise as vegan and then take short cuts. It’s misleading your customer. Actually, it’s lying. And I’m glad businesses were called out on their bad behavior. Kudos to quarrygirl.

  • i think green leaves’s response speaks for itself. they’ve been knowingly deceiving people for years and now it’s catching up to them. they’ve probably lost more money in losing customers/business/pissing people off than they would have if they just bought the somewhat pricey vegan cheese to begin with. karma is a bitch.

    clarice – the “chalky and wet” cheese sounds like unmelted follow your heart, although when it’s melted properly it turns into more of a liquid. they probably don’t know how to work with their new ingredients yet.

  • I think those that have discussed whether this has helped/hurt the animal cruelty cause, or “the vegan image” in general have valid questions.

    Erik Marcus of Vegan.com stated on his blog in review of Operation Pancake: “So let’s focus on what’s important: keeping as many animals from harm and working toward the day when animal agribusiness no longer exists.”

    While I feel that OP has helped the cause, I would like to offer to all that feel that they can do more personally (blogging, leafletting, etc), to please increase your efforts! The entire community is behind you!

    In addition, there are others that wish the money spent on OP had been donated to animal causes, and in my heart I believe they were an in-kind donation, although not directly to each cause. (Public awareness of animal concerns has been increased).

    If the readers of OP feel they have an extra dollar or two to donate to worthy animal relief efforts, I encourage you, as does the tax break for charitable contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations. (I know I already do donate to places like PCRM, Farm Sanctuary, HSUS, and AAVS).

  • team qg, thank you AGAIN for doing what no one else has!!!! so appreciate the investigation and the follow up. you are awesome!!

  • btw, just wrote in quarrygirl. com as favorite blog on the VegNews awards. 😉


  • thank you thank you thank you!

  • Brava(o) to QuarryGirl and Mr. Wishbone! Absolutely first-rate citizen journalism! [Crossing Green Leaves off my restaurant list]

  • Tell them how you really feel:

    Green Leaves: (323) 664-2345

  • WhatMoonsongs

    just curious… you say you only tested food from restaurants that are 100% vegan, but i thought Green Leaves was “Vegan/Vegetarian”?… i’ve never dined there, but i have driven by a few times and i’m pretty sure that’s what their sign says…

  • i think i’m done with fake meats (at least the imported ones) for good.
    I’m gonna start a Team Pancake fan club! Seriously, you guys are the bomb!



  • miss anthrope

    whatmoonsongs: the actual name of the restaurant is “green leaves vegan,” and they did claim to be a 100% vegan restaurant. maybe they had a vegetarian sign as well, the same way real food daily was.

    sunny: team pancake fan club!? AWESOME. i would recommend field roast and gardein as “safe” fake meats. i think that’s what they use at places like native foods and veggie grill.

  • I gave up believing that any restaurant food was truly going to be vegetarian/vegan–regardless of appearance or description– ’round about the time I was shoving a pile of McDonald’s fries into my mouth while simultaneously hearing the story about them being “flavored with beef tallow” on the radio.

    Now- it was McDonald’s and maybe I was fooling myself oh so many vegetarian/vegan years ago. But your story clearly shows that many restaurants that proclaim to cater to me are also suspect. Thank you for this enlightening story.

    I no longer eat McDonald’s (or any fast food), and I will continue to prepare and eat as much food in my own kitchen as possible. The only animal product there is lots (and lots, and lots!) of cat fur 🙂

  • the green leaves sign says “vegetarian (vegan)”.

  • Thanks again for all your awesomeness you guy!

  • Bingo! My bf just got home. I’m handing him my laptop to type this as he never comments on anything:

    i’ve been going to greenleaves for ages and most times i’ve had the cheese quesadilla. a few times i’ve been there and the cheese has been different, so i sent it back. when it was bad it was like a fluid with a waxy taste. i absolutely hated it and would never eat it. last time this happened was a few weeks ago, and the waitress said they were using the “soy cheese” as they ran out of the one the usually use, and had had a number of complaints. i can vouch for the fact that I’ve have two completely different kinds of cheese in that quesadilla – one with stretchy cheese like normal and another with gross stuff that i can’t eat. maybe one is vegan and one is not?

  • @clarice (and her bf) – i’ve never noticed FYH to have a waxy taste. i wonder if it was veganrella or something. if it has elasticity to it, it’s not vegan. i don’t want to say “if it stretches” because daiya stretches (kind of), but it doesn’t retract like cheese with casein does.

  • While searching for more info on the country of origin for fake meats, I decided to see if wolfram alpha could help.


    Help with the ‘tude, I guess.

  • Vegnews Poll for best Blog…
    My vote: Quarrygirl.com!!! :)… Thanks for the follow up!! Btw ditto on mytch’s request! i’ll take a small!! lol

  • Maybe QuarryGirl.com should do a post with the best seitan recipes, so people don’t have to buy mock meat?!

  • @melisser – we’re not a recipe blog. we leave that to the people who know how to cook, like YOU!

  • I’m in Austin, not LA, but I follow you on twitter and read your blog, and I think your investigation is amazing and awesome. I know some people have claimed this kind of post hurts vegans, but I don’t understand how they can rationalize people selling animal products to vegans as being okay. Just because it’s (incorrectly) labeled vegan doesn’t mean it’s magically not a product of factory farming. What gravity would the word vegan carry if we stop using it to mean “one who does not consume any animal products”?

    I applaud your initiative and am grateful to find people who have the tenacity, wherewithal and resources to undertake endeavors like this. It’s investigations like this that uncover things like the Emes Kosher Jel debacle.

    This issue also extends beyond just vegan concerns, as shellfish and dairy are two of the top allergens, and I’m not sure what the laws are for food in restaurants, but for packaged food, companies are required to list the major allergens like milk, tree nuts, wheat and shellfish. I expect any place I patronize to be upfront about which items contain milk or egg products, and if they can’t confirm or deny ingredients, that’s fine, I just won’t order those items. I’m willing to give most of these places the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know that their products were not vegan. However, companies that knowingly misrepresent their products are bad for everyone. Issues like these are also the reason we have institutions like the FDA and Better Business Bureau. I think it’s a slippery slope from allowing companies to mislabel their products and lie about allergens in food to companies having such disregard for consumers that they add known toxins like melamine to milk. Hopefully, it won’t take something like someone having a severe reaction to an undisclosed but known allergen to get businesses to take this seriously and maintain high standards.

    I’m glad to see M Cafe’s comment, but I’m surprised more of the “safe” restaurants didn’t respond. I find it really telling that Green Leaves didn’t respond, but (apparently) totally changed their website which now only shows “proof” that they buy “mozz vegan”. Why is a restaurant buying their items from Whole Foods in the first place? I’ve worked at restaurants before and you only shop at retail grocery stores a)if you need a very small amount of something for a specialty dish, b)if you forget to order something, c)if your order is late or wrong as a stop gap until the correct items come in, or d)if you run out of something. Fishy.

    Also, the various comments I’ve read, like the one from Bismark of the Beast that you link to, make it sound like Green Leaves was saying that they buy their FYH wholesale, and it came packaged in small, unlabeled bags, inside a larger box that they always coincidentally just happened to throw away. But now they buy it from Whole Foods….because we all know that retail is more cost effective than wholesale….

  • I think maybe the testing was flawed. Why would Green Leaves be buying large quantities of Follow Your Heart vegan cheese on different occasions (as seen in the receipts on their website) if they’re not using it? My own experience with Follow Your Heart cheese is that the texture changes at very high heat.

    I also hope my fellow vegans consider the ramifications of certain behaviors in restaurants (veg or non-veg), particularly if you’re dining with non-vegan friends and family. I guarantee you that while you’re sitting there grilling the waiter about whey and casein, and demanding to see food wrappers, the non-vegans among you will be thinking, “I don’t ever want to be like that.” And the animals lose.

  • Whilst I seriously applaud and welcome this research and publication, just a note to say that we ought really to be steering clear of all these dodgy food anyway. I finished reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food recently and it makes so much sense – don’t eat chemicals, don’t eat additives you can’t pronounce, don’t eat things with more than 5 ingredients and so on. So let’s be vegan and let’s eat whole food that actually looks like food.

  • @Amanda – I’m sure that Green Leaves use FYH cheese, and I’m sure they buy it. The question we asked was only why they didn’t use it in the quesadilla we tested. Also, check the comments on the original post and you’ll see lots of people questioning the consistency (as in regular appearance and texture from time to time) of the “cheeses” they use.

    The testing was not flawed – the manufacturing methods in Taiwan are flawed as are many so-called “vegan” restaurants that are anything but. You know it, I know it. let’s move on.

  • I am a vegan based in the UK, and this whole story is very worrying to me.

    I have on occasion eaten mock meats in UK restaurants, when I have been eating out with non-vegan friends. We contacted one and found that they get their mock meats from http://veggie-world.co.uk/contact.asp who apparently source from Taiwan.

    I hear that Veggie World have their own factory in Taiwan, and that they do understand the distinction between vegan and vegetarian. They are apparently a major UK importer of mock meats from Taiwan.

    However, I am told that many people in the Chinese-speaking world do not really draw a distinction between different kinds of vegetarian. That could obviously lead to problems if a non-Chinese speaker thinks that ‘pure vegetarian’ means exactly the same as ‘pure vegan’ for example.

    Does Veggie World also supply to the USA market? I would obviously be very keen to hear whether any Veggie World products have been tested!

  • if fyh cheese reacted like that to “high heat” then we all wouldnt of shit our pants when daiya came out

  • This is a fantastic investigation and article. There are many obvious troll comments attacking this investigation. And, to the moron troll who keeps posting the same comment on all blogs about deceitful restaurants – the lousy economy is no excuse for restaurants to deceive customers about food ingredients, or to charge customers a premium for inferior foods.

    To the other trolls who start sniping about lawsuits straightaway: You are part of the problem. The only dispute resolution this country knows is lawsuits and that’s unfortunate. To immediately go there is asinine. However, if anyone has grounds for a lawsuit here it is customers against the restaurants. The restaurant that refused to cooperate and kicked the customers out for asking an honest question are red flags. Any time someone responds with hyper-aggression to an honest question that is a red flag. The restaurants who made inadvertent mistakes will be cooperative.

  • Rake the muck

    Trusting manufacturers and restaurants for what we ingest has become a scary deal. We’ve seen recent examples of grotesque negligence by trusted food manufacturers resulting in deaths.

    The fact is, food manufacturers are not monitored. The FDA doesn’t have the resources to make sure what is listed on the label is what’s really in the food. Restaurant ingredients are even less monitored.

    Every day everything people eat and purchase is essentially based on the honor system. In the best of economies, businesses lie and take shortcuts. In a bad economy, opportunists will look for every way to cut corners especially when they know they’ll not likely get caught.

    The only hope is the occasional spot check like this study to help keep people honest.

  • The Vegan Joint would just like to say thanks for the new information. In addition, we would like to say the archives label that you referred to from VegeUSA was not the label we saw when we purchased this product:
    Vegetarian Fish Fillets
    Soybean Fiber, Water, Soybean Oil, Whey Protein, Egg White, Wheat Protein, Soybean Protein, Raw Cane Sugar, Salt, Ginger Powder, Soy Sauce Powder, Vegetarian Fish Flavors, Seaweed
    7 oz. Package (199g)
    We know better than to serve a product with egg white or whey. Unfortunately, we have already returned the soy fish to VegeUSA but, we will get a copy of the label that we saw ASAP. Plus I remember reviewing most the products, if not all my products with known vegans in LA before opening The Vegan Joint. If the labels were more exact, obviously we wouldn’t have been in this predicament. This was pointed out in the above article when referring to VegeUSA (the conversation with Tina Soong, VegeUSA, LLC). The Vegan Joint is once again re-evaluating our products that have we have purchased from VegeUSA. And will be in touch with Tina Soong. Also, we decided we are going to make our own seitan in the near future. Finally, can anybody refer us to a manufacturer that has soy fish and chicken? Please contact me ASAP at 323-369-2579 (Hnoi). Thanks for listening.

  • The Vegan Joint would just like to say thanks for the new information. In addition, we would like to say the archives label that you referred to from VegeUSA was not the label we saw when we purchased this product:
    Vegetarian Fish Fillets
    Soybean Fiber, Water, Soybean Oil, Whey Protein, Egg White, Wheat Protein, Soybean Protein, Raw Cane Sugar, Salt, Ginger Powder, Soy Sauce Powder, Vegetarian Fish Flavors, Seaweed
    7 oz. Package (199g)
    We know better than to serve a product with egg white or whey. Unfortunately, we have already returned the soy fish to VegeUSA but, we will get a copy of the label that we saw ASAP. Plus I remember reviewing most the products, if not all my products with known vegans in LA before opening The Vegan Joint. If the labels were more exact, obviously we wouldn’t have been in this predicament. This was pointed out in the above article when referring to VegeUSA (the conversation with Tina Soong, VegeUSA, LLC). The Vegan Joint is once again re-evaluating our products that have we have purchased from VegeUSA. And will be in touch with Tina Soong. Also, we decided we are going to make our own seitan in the near future. Finally, can anybody refer us to a manufacturer that has soy fish and chicken? Please contact me ASAP at 323-369-2579 (Hnoi). Thanks for listening.

    Here is a link to the label that came off the box of soy chicken that The Vegan Joint reviewed (which was not the one noted in the archive in the above article): http://forums.quarrygirl.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=319

  • Here is a link to the label that came off the box of soy chicken that The Vegan Joint reviewed (which was not the one noted in the archive in the above article): http://forums.quarrygirl.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=319

  • In addition, The Vegan Joint will be using a different manufacture for it’s soy products. Possibly, Gardein or like…….. http://www.gardein.com/what_is_gardein.php. As we said before we are still researching this with other vegan professionals to find a product that will satisfy our customers. Thanks for listening.

  • miss anthrope

    hnoi: gardein is WONDERFUL! i love that stuff, and it is guaranteed vegan.

    i cannot WAIT to come try it at the vegan joint.

    please keep us posted, and thanks for all your hard work 🙂

  • i hope there is a team like you in NYC! otherwise I guess I will never indulge in fake meat ever again!

  • herbivore1@cox.net

    I am holding in my hands the product literature from VegUSA, obtained from the company when they exhibited at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim. The labels clearly state “egg” and “whey protein” as ingredients.

    As someone who is in the process of building from the ground up a vegan food manufacturing facility, using brand new equipment, the animal food contamination concerns you have so ably elucidated are ones I’ve shared for a very long time.

    Like so many others, I commend you for your efforts. Keep up the good work!

  • dancestoblue@gmail.com

    A million thanx for doing what you’ve done here. A great read, to boot. I don’t live in LA and I’m pretty glad of that, truth be told, though you folks surely do rock, and tilt my scale some. In any case, I won’t benefit from your work except that I’m going to forward on this link to many here in the Austin community.

    I am not vegan. Not even vegetarian, but close, and that’s my intention. But many of my friends are vegan, damn sure vegetarian, and will love to see/hear of what you’ve done. And while we won’t benefit here in Austin we WILL benefit here in Austin, because every grain of sand heads toward that tipping point you wrote of — though you’re a few zip codes and an entire way of life away from us, what you do affects us, and of course that goes both ways, the vegetarian meal I order and consume tonight weighs in on that same dang scale, we’re all interconnected, blah blah blah blah. We are the world, we are the people, blah blah blah blah, etc and etc.

    Okay, I’m going on, that’s clear. Sum: Thanx for doing what you’ve done, and for the fair way in which you’ve approached this, helpful and hopeful to all involved, giving everyone a fair shake. And thanx for giving all of us a great read, and reason to pause when we see greazy cheese.

    I hope that this finds you well, enjoying the beauty in early summer.


    Austin Texas

    ps — found out about this on http://www.metafilter.com, a community I bet you’d like, come check it out, say hi to all the nice people, they don’t all go on as I do, I promise

  • @herbivore1@cox.net: Obviously, VegeUSA has a labeling problem, a clear violation of FDA laws (esp. if the lab results come up positive for egg and casein), following the link to the label we pulled off the box that was sent back to VegeUSA it didn’t say anything whey or egg:

    Here is a link to the label that came off the box of soy chicken that The Vegan Joint reviewed (which was not the one noted in the archive in the above article): http://forums.quarrygirl.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=319

    I think we will see what the courts say….we will be talking to our lawyer tommorrow. I think we have a strong case. We still have an unopen bag at the restaurant ready to go to the lab.

    I would like to know if that archive label that quarrygirl got from VegeUSA was given to them by tina soong or did they find it themselves?

  • @herbivore1@cox.net:
    Secondly if you compare the label from the achive http://web.archives.org/web/20040405082535/www.vegeusa.com/NF_Fish.html
    to the one The Vegan Joint got directly off the box: http://forums.quarrygirl.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=319

    You will notice the SKU #s are different, the archive is 683061-304081, and off the box, The Vegan Joint has is 683061-104087. Just another reason that we are not comfortable with their labels. Compare the one you got from the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim. Post it or e-mail it to us if you can…….thanks for giving us the chance to make thing right.

  • …….thanks for giving us the chance to make things right.

  • Thank you so much for doing this work, spending your own money, and taking the flak for reporting it. I don’t eat meat but I’m not vegan. I care about truth in advertising. The most shocking part for me was when you quoted the distributor as saying they don’t put all the ingredients on the label because there isn’t room. Especially that they don’t list additives because there are too many! Many additives give me head and stomach aches and other symptoms. Other people have worse reactions.

    I rarely eat fake meats anymore because my daughter and I react to gluten. Also to dairy. But we can eat them once in a while or have traces with no problems. Egg is another story. She doesn’t have life-threatening symptoms but even a tiny trace (someone doesn’t wash their hands after touching an egg-laden food and then touches a food she eats) will cause her misery for a day or more. I can’t have any either because it goes through my milk.

    I live in the SF Bay Area but visit LA every year, with a planned trip later this month. Visiting “safe” restaurants is one of the joys of the trip for me.

    Each of us has our own expectations about the food we eat. Healthy is important to me and so is animal welfare. As for specific ingredients, egg is the one that most affects my family. But all the testing is important.

    I hope your work spurs others to continue it and do more comprehensive tests, especially to track down specific products within a dish and also the source of the non-stated ingredients.

  • Regarding the “vegan fish” in question. I note that the title of the archived label you found describes it as “Vegetarian Fish” and not “vegan” as you stated, therefore, it is in no way in violation of vegan food regulations. It is up to the owner of a vegan restaurant to ensure there product is strictly vegan, not the manufacturer who would have no way of knowing the intended consumers of the ingredient. I don’t believe the manufacturer has done anything wrong in this particular instance.

  • @Geneviere
    I don’t now how many times The Vegan Joint has to state, we never saw that achieve label until quarrygirl brought it to our attention in the article. The one that is on the packages at The Vegan Joint is this one “Vege Fresh Fish”(scroll down): http://forums.quarrygirl.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=319

    It says nothing about being vegetarian and it’s a different product then the “Vegetarian Fish” your talking about (the archived label). In addition, they appear to be different products because they have different SKU numbers. The Vegan Joint wouldn’t be that ignorant to use a product that says” Vegetarian Fish” at a vegan restaurant. See the whole above argument in the article about the problems the Taiwan companies are having with their labels.
    In the article from quarrygirl……….While talking about VegeUSA, this groups post indicates a corroborating story about non-vegan ingredients, and a labeling issue, complete with an email apology from Tina Soong at VegeUSA for inaccurate consumer labeling. Again, this food probably ain’t vegan…….

    Well with that said, we are done arguing the fact that the labeling from VegeUSA is inconsistent. We changed companies Possibly, Gardein or like……. http://www.gardein.com/what_is_gardein.php. and we are making our own seitan. We did the first batch today…………come by and taste it…..we should be serving it, if all goes well, by the end of the week.

    If anyone wants to see the labels and the packages, please feel free to stop by The Vegan Joint. Ask for me, Hnoi.

  • @Hnoi – Gardein is good. Might be a little more expensive than the inexpensive stuff you buy from Taiwan. Why don’t you get in a couple of hours early and make your own Seitan from scratch? It’s really easy and you can season it to taste. Buying expensive stuff like Gardein might not be a good move in the long run.

  • @ mr. meaner: We made our first batch of seitan today from scratch……..need a little more practice but it will come together. Secondly, who knows what we will do in the future but, a variety is always nice…….Gardein seems like a safe start…plus the quality is good but, we will see……..Thanks.


  • Confused… Label reading: that’s Your Diet 101.
    How could one look at the label for the Vegetarian Fish Fillets and think it’s okay to pass for Vegan? I mean, the very name alone!

    Good work, thanks!

  • Thank you so much for conducting this investigation! It’s an eye-opener for most veg*ns in the US.

    The fact that some “vegetarian” foods in Taiwan are mislabeled is apparently an old problem. This article is from 2004:

    “15 of the 21 vegetarian products examined by the Department of Health (DOH) were found to contain animal ingredients such as pork, fish, fowl, and beef products. “

  • Gardein does not taste good.

  • Follow Your Heart Chicken Free Chicken is best.

  • Rahel Vegan Cuisine

    This is Rahel the owner of Rahel Vegan Cuisine at 1047 S. Fairfax in Los Angeles.
    I am sorry to read about the problems with some of the foods at some of the other “vegan” restaurants in Los Angeles.
    Please know that you can count on everything at my restaurant to be 100% vegan.
    I do not use any of the fake meats.
    My foods are authentic Ethiopian foods.
    I only use legumes, vegetables, and grains.
    Vegans should easily be able to feel comfortable dining here.

  • I was pointed to your investigation from a food allergy blog. My daughter has severe food allergies to egg, peanuts, milk and soy. Your study and the lengths you went to are amazing. I’m so worried about any pre-packaged food or restaurant food I give her, even if the labels check out. If you have a moment to answer this question, I’d really appreciate it: If a food is made or assembled or packaged in any other country than the US, are they required to disclose that on the packaging? That could be one good indicator to stay away from it and/or not trust it. Thank you!

  • I just want to say that you are wonderful. I am a veggie and my roommate is vegan. This confirms many fears. Which is very sad and all to bad. But thank you. Thank you very very much for all your hard work and dedication.

  • This is pretty cool and you guys rock for doing this. I hate getting that “is it really vegan” feeling when I’m eating out. I mostly get it when I’m at a place eating obviously not homemade fake meats or cheezes. the bad translations of these fake meat ingredients doesn’t surprise me, but the fact that they would leave out additives because there would be to many to list, is very lame.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    This is extremely important.

    Thank you!

  • I’ve been a fan of Gardein from back when it was Yves. You can’t go wrong with them–have you *been* to Veggie Grill??? My ex is a chef and says it’s comparable to other mock meats, for what that’s worth.

  • Good call, Lenega. Gardein is delicious and it’s a favorite with my familiy members who aren’t vegetarian. Now that it’s carried in my Safeway and Giant, I get it all the time!

  • My Safeway started carrying Gardein, too….which is awesome because it’s hands-down my favorite veggie meat.

  • first of all, thank you thank you thank you.
    i’m in nyc, so while none of this directly affects me, it makes me wonder about the restaurants here, and their suppliers/ingredients.
    if i had the money and the team, i would follow suite and perform some tests, someone definitely should. regardless, it’s making me think twice about eating out.

    us east coast vegans support you!

  • At VegeUSA they usually offer different products, a vegan version and a vegetarian version. The version with the ingredients that have egg white in them are more likely than not from the vegetarian version. I’m not saying that it’s not impossible that a restaurant owner get the vegetarian one instead of the vegan one, but at VegeUSA they specifically ask which version you’d like, so I don’t think they can be blamed, really

  • miss anthrope

    hey everyone, just want to clarify the exact restaurants and addresses where we obtained the food for testing. it looks like there’s been some confusion, because there are two CA vegan locations as well as two LA vegan locations. here are the places we went:

    3818 W. Sunset Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90026

    Vinh Loi Tofu
    18625 Sherman Way
    Ste 101
    Reseda, CA 91335

    Pure Luck
    707 N Heliotrope Dr
    Los Angeles, CA 90029

    Truly Vegan
    5907 Hollywood Blvd
    Hollywood, CA 90028

    Vegan Glory
    8393 Beverly Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90048

    Vegan Express
    3217 Cahuenga Blvd W
    Los Angeles, CA 90068

    Green Leaves Vegan
    1769 Hillhurst Ave
    Los Angeles, CA 90027

    Vegan Plate
    11943 Ventura Blvd
    Studio City, CA 91604

    Vegan House
    1717 N Wilcox Ave
    Hollywood, CA 90028

    Lotus Vegan
    5038 Vineland Ave
    North Hollywood, CA 91601

    California Vegan
    12113 Santa Monica Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90025

    LA Vegan Thai
    4507 S Centinela Ave
    Los Angeles, CA 90066

    Vegan Joint
    10438 National Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90034

    Real Food Daily
    414 N La Cienega Blvd
    West Hollywood, CA 90048

    M Cafe
    7119 Melrose Ave
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

    11938 W Washington Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90066

  • Thank you for posting the eye-opeing article. As a vegan restaurant, we take it very seriously. Even we didn’t intend to use non-vagan ingredients, it is not excusable if we provide food with non-vegan ingredients by selecting wrong products.

    We contacted all vendors and manufactures of “vegan” products that we use, and confirmed all items are 100% vegan.


    So please feel safe and visit us.

  • Thank you SO much for all of your efforts. I can’t tell you how helpful this will be in choosing restaurants. I’ll never eat at GreenLeaves again, even if they did change their cheese, because of the way they treated you.
    One suggestion: Can you test My Vegan, a new restaurant in Pasadena? It’s Thai-style, which now makes me nervous.

  • I would just like to say for the record that numerous times I have been served supposedly vegan food either at a “completely” vegan restaurant/cafe or one that accommodates vegan diets that I am positive contained casein. How do I know this? I have a dairy (casein) allergy and when I eat dairy I get a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and hives within 15-30 minutes. No, I don’t go into anaphylactic shock, and a Benadryl with general clear things up fairly well.

    In my 10+ years of being vegan, I’ve learned that generally if it seems “too good to be true” it often is. The only soy cheese I’ve ever had at a restaurant that didn’t cause me a reaction is Follow Your Heart, and this I’ve only ever found at Real Food Daily and one local pizza joint that I used to know the owner of. It’s possible that maybe the soy cheese used in other places was vegan but that cross contamination with cow’s milk cheese was so awful that it caused me a problem. I mean, I’m not hyper-sensitive, it takes probably a tablespoon of cheese to set me off, but similarly I wouldn’t want a tablespoon of chopped up meat in my “vegan” meal either.

    I wish more SoCal vegan eateries would pick up on what many NorCal eateries do and make their own substitutes from nuts!

  • Hmm. Been contemplating your investigation for well over an hour now. Several things to comment on.

    -I hope that all the restaurants that tested positive for animal products were contacted – it seems that they were? Because we DO all love vegan restaurants, and letting them know is the best way to make this study productive. The only appropriate reaction for them to have is “We’ll look into that immediately!”; any other reaction is dodging and suspicious and disappointing.

    -At least one person has pointed out that to non-vegans, being with a vegan who seems to be “obsessing” about whether the cheese is really vegan is very offputting. And that’s true. Veganism can’t be about personal purity, and the big picture always has to be the focus. We must always be conscious of the message that we’re sending to non-vegans. That said, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant, or shouldn’t investigate false claims.

    -As to the comments that the money should have gone instead to an animal sanctuary and so forth, people, come on. To me, this is almost the mirror argument of omnivores who say, “but if we stop eating the animals, what will we do with all of them?” It’s like, hello? They don’t appear out of thin air. The animals exist because of a food system that demands them. Food animals are cranked out like products from a factory – that’s the problem we’re fighting against! Being vegan is a boycott of that product (in fact, of treating animals as a product, but bear with me for the analogy). Boycotting a product reduces a demand, and if the demand drops far enough, less of that product is produced. Get it? Good quality vegan food, real vegan restaurants, and increased knowledge of the whole system = more people becoming vegan = less demand for animals as food = less animals that need to be saved. Ta da!

    -Quarry Girl Team – do y’all have jobs? How do you have the time to do this kind of stuff?! JK.

    Still think you’re amazing. Now swing by New York. Thanks.

  • A Million appreciation to what you’ve done for us! Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it! I gave 100% trust to Thai Restaurants simply because they are Buddhist country whom I thought had high level of good deed.
    Could you please extend the experiments to broader area, ie restaurnts of Orange County, etc…I suspect Wheel of Life has the same problem

  • That’s so awesome that you went through the trouble of all of this. I, too, will never be eating at any of those restaurants that tested positive for any animal bi-product. Isn’t that false advertisement? Is there anything that can be done to get these fake restaurants shut down? Anyone who owns or runs a restaurant should at the bear minimum investigate that they are serving what they are advertising. Especially when these items in the food can make people sick, such as people who have allergies.

  • Hi …

    having just returned from Taipei, Taiwan, I just wanted to depress you guys some more and say that I saw no evidence at all of ANY vegan or vegetarian food labeling!!! This is late Nov 2009.

    There are many vegetarian restaurants from upmarket, European style and local canteens to greasy streetmarket and pavement stalls. Some claim outright to be vegan, others are not sure what vegan means.

    As the scene is all tied in with local Buddhist roots, it has a very different feel from Western Buddhism. Taipei is a bit of a mess really, I could not recommend it as a holiday venue. But there are a lot of interesting foods available.

    Thanks to Quarry Girl for this ongoing investigation and discussion. It has made me think twice about eating fake meats.

  • This article should serve to wake everyone up and not trust any food that you have not prepared yourself using produce that you have grown as well or purchased from a local organic farmer.

  • I use Whey protein a lot before and after my bodybuilding routines. Whey helps a lot in building muscles.,.*

  • The link you have listed as the current ingredient list to vegusa’s fish fillets yields a 404 error. The most current url of the ingredients in that product is http://www.vegeusa.com/VegeUSA/products/vege_fish.html and it does have eggs listed as an ingredient.

    These fillets look just like slices of a product I used to buy at Sun Hing Seafood & Meat Market, an asian supermarket, in Brooklyn on the corner of 86th Street and 25th Avenue. It is labeled “fish loaf” and is sold frozen, in vaccum-sealed clear plastic packaging. It does not list egg as an ingredient in the English ingredient listing. The vegan fish products I’ve eaten from several of the Asian vegan establishments you’ve mentioned in your testing seem to be the exact same product in appearance and taste and, as I said, seem to match the VegUSA fish fillets product in it’s appearance in the photograph on their site, minus the garnish and sauce.

  • The reason I mention the vegetarian “fish loaf” product without egg listed as an ingredient is because I imagine it could more likely be the product the L.A. restaurants order wholesale, due to the bulk style packaging, than the pre-sliced filets shown on the VegUSA site which have egg listed as an ingredient. I am not saying I believe the “fish loaf” to be egg-free, as labeled; just providing another possible line to trace the product to its source.

    Thanks for these articles.

  • Clarice, maybe because they don’t want to participate in the rape, infanticide, murder, torture and kidnapping of loved ones, whether human or cow? Are your taste buds really worth more than the life of a grieving mother and her assassinated children?


  • Mr. Wishbone, the orgs you mentioned have a welfarist position, meaning they promote only animal exploitation reforms, NOT abolition. They maintain animals don’t care about living, only about not suffering, and that “happy” exploitation is morally right. Thanks to them, people buy “happy” murdered calves’ cadavers, “grass-fed” raped grieving cows’ breastmilk, “free-range” eggs from hens whose brothers have been killed and who will be killed themselves when they are still only children, INSTEAD of going vegan. The orgs you mentioned promote animal exploitation and make the public more comfortable about exploiting animals, while the situation remains unchanged for said animals.


    Please support organisations that promote unequivocal veganism: Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary and Boston Vegan Association are two of them.

    Animal cruelty is not the issue. Animal use is. Human and non human slavery is wrong no matter how the slaves are treated. Promoting reforms will never lead to abolition.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

Leave a reply