If you were a quarrygirl.com reader just about a year ago, you’ll probably recall reading Operation Pancake, where we investigated 16 Los Angeles area vegan restaurants, and found that six of them tested positive for certain non-vegan ingredients. In the report (which you really should read if you have not already), we singled out Green Leaves Vegan in Los Feliz as being particularly non-vegan as they were apparently putting real cheese into some of their dishes.
Soon after our post, things got nasty. We were threatened with legal action by an attorney claiming to act on behalf of Green Leaves Vegan, and yet another lawyer contacted us privately to see if we’d join in a lawsuit AGAINST Green Leaves for “emotional distress”. In fact, it was amazing to see the strength of feeling that patrons of Green Leaves Vegan displayed (check the comments on the post!). Many people had been eating there for years and were shocked to discover that they had apparently been eating non-vegan food.
So one year on from Operation Pancake we decided to return to Green Leaves Vegan to see how things had improved. Posing as a customer, I asked a very accommodating staff member if the restaurant was entirely vegan. She stated “This is a vegan restaurant, and everything here is vegan.” I asked if she was sure as we’d heard rumors to the contrary, then she said “Look, we’re certified as vegan by the LA County Health Department”, and pointed to a certificate on the wall by the entrance door.
I was beside myself with joy! A “vegan certification” could only be a good thing for the LA vegan community. Well, the problem was that it WASN’T a vegan certification. Far from it. It instead appeared to be a “Truth in Menu” certificate which is used to verify that certain ingredients are what the restaurants claim. They’re used to indicate, for example, that if somebody is selling a “Japanese Kobe Burger” that the meat is, in fact, Japanese beef and not some domestic knock-off. These certifications are also used on occasion to verify that uncooked weight is accurate: An 8oz burger, really is 8oz when it goes on to the grill!
I was puzzled as to why the City of LA would give such a certification to a vegan restaurant with such a large and broad menu when I noticed some strange things about the document. First, it said “Food Official Inspection” on it: language the government would never use. Second, it was reproduced on plain white stock paper, not official LA County certificate paper (that would have a watermark of City Hall). Also, it was clearly printed on a consumer-grade color inkjet printer (the kind I have at home), there was a grammatical error and the City of LA logo was low resolution and badly cropped. Finally, there was a small yellow sticker on the lower right of the certificate with unintelligible writing on it which appeared strangely suspect.
Frankly, it appeared to me that somebody had knocked together a fake certificate using the logo from the City of LA website, and hung it on the wall. The more I looked at the “certificate” the more I realized it was completely fake. I was outraged, and decided to leave the restaurant. Before I did, though, I pulled out my ‘phone and snapped a high resolution picture. I was tempted to rush home and knock out a blog post about this, but I know I’m not an expert in local government documentation so I decided to verify the authenticity of the certificate directly with its alleged provider: The City of LA Dept. Of Public Health.
From my car, I started calling the City of LA (that 311 ‘phone number that Mayor Villaraigosa introduced is a really useful thing!) and was eventually transferred to a Health Inspector at the Environmental Health Dept. I explained to her what I’d seen and she said that she’d contact the local field office and make a request for somebody to visit. Frankly, I didn’t think that anything would happen – these people must be so busy that spending time to investigate some paranoid vegan crackpot’s suspicions would hardly be high on their list of priorities!
Before I hung up with the lady I got her email address (NO, NOT FOR THAT. Get your mind out of the gutter.) so that I could email through the photo I’d just taken. Within seconds of sending it, I received a nice reply:
Well, as I expected, July 8th came and went without hearing anything from the Health Inspector. BUT, yesterday afternoon (Monday July 12th) the following message popped into my Inbox:
As soon as I read it I called a vegan friend who works in Los Feliz and asked him to pop down to Green Leaves and see if the “certificate” was still there. An hour or so later, he called me to confirm that there was an empty space where I’d seen the document just a few days ago. Again, I was intrigued to know what was going on, so I called up Green Leaves and asked to speak to the manager. The call went like this:
QG: Hi there, is your restaurant completely vegan?
GLV: Yes, 100% everything is vegan.
QG: Oh, that’s great. A friend of mine said you had a certificate that your menu is vegan. Can I see that when I come in?
GLV: (long pause) er, we have no certificate but we are 100% vegan.
QG: Oh, my friend saw the certificate only last week. Did you take it down?
GLV: I don’t really know about a certificate, sorry, but we are a vegan restaurant and the food is good!
QG: OK, thanks very much.
I think that any intelligent person would have a pretty good idea about what the bottom line is here. I reached out to a few vegan friends, one of which told me that he’d been shown the certificate as a reassurance of Green Leaves Vegan’s honest menu some weeks before, and never thought to question it. I wonder how many other people were sucked in by this fake certificate and who continued to trust Green Leaves Vegan, a restaurant which never, ever seems to learn a lesson.
I’m going to research the hearing date for the Public Health Dept. and I may go along if it’s a public hearing – I really have to be a fly on the wall when the owners explain an alleged forgery of a government certification.Tags: green leaves, operation pancake
We recently received a letter from somebody claiming to represent Green Leaves Vegan (see below). You may recall that when we tested their food in the original Operation Pancake, samples from several food items showed as positive for Casein and Egg.
We’re delighted to make available the information, reproduced below, where Green Leaves Vegan’s representative is categorically stating that the food at Green Leaves Vegan is, in fact, vegan. We also completely retract any assertion (expressed or implied) that the food available now at that restaurant is not vegan.
As we stated in the original post, the tests we performed were a “snapshot of the moment in time”, and positive results for traces of the non-vegan contaminants are restricted purely to the samples that we obtained at that time.
We’re not able to re-test new samples from Green Leaves Vegan, but would gladly reproduce tests from a certified food laboratory.
Also, we can confirm that Mr. Jeff Mann is an active attorney at the State Bar of California. His detailed record can be found here.
Tags: green leaves, los feliz
From: Jeff Mann (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: July 15, 2009 3:58:33 PM PDT
Subject: Green Leaves vegan
This office represents Green Leaves Vegan In Los Angeles Ca.Your website quarrygirl.com indicates that my clients food registers “overload” for Casein in my clients cheese dishes.and registers high for egg content in both it’s chicken and fish dishes.Your site contines to allege that my client is misleading it’s customers. The facts are that Green Leaves Vegan is vegan and is verified by the Los Angeles Health Dept. Green Leaves has passed all city inspections regarding it’s vegan menu. The information yoou have provided is false, malicious and defamatory. My clients business has suffered as a direct result of you website.You have 10 days to retract your comments about my clients restaurant on your website in a clear and noticable way. My client is even willing to allow you to retest his food. Failure to perform the above will result in legal action against you.Please be guided accordingly. Jeff Mann Attorney at Law. 3660 Wilshire bl. #522 Los Angeles Ca 90010 213-930-1902.
Is your vegan food really vegan? We pull out all the stops to test 17 LA area vegan restaurants for non-vegan ingredients, and to find out why seven of them failed miserably.
NOTE: Please see update regarding Green Leaves Vegan here
UPDATE: Please check out the follow-up post from today when you’ve read this. THANKS.
From Pure Luck to Green Leaves, Vegan House to Vegan Plate and Rosemead to Taipei we pull back the covers on the seedy world of vegan restaurants, and an international supply chain that pumps eggs and milk into our supposedly vegan food on a daily basis.
Surely, a vegan restaurant is safe to eat at if I’m a vegan?
Really? Regular readers of quarrygirl.com will recall us publishing an email and photos from “Mr. Wishbone” detailing the contents of a dumpster at LA Vegan Thai with non-vegan ingredients plainly visible, and presumably used as ingredients in the food (pancakes in this case).
After we published Mr. Wishbone’s findings, several people wrote in with stories about potentially non-vegan ingredients being sighted in vegan restaurants, and one particular thread on the quarrums “Vegan Dirt” began to get rather busy, with accusations flying here and there about shrimp paste being spotted in some restaurants, and “vegan cheese” that looked and tasted exactly like dairy-based cheese being served in others.
While this blog hasn’t hesitated to call out non-vegan “vegan donuts” and non-vegan “vegan cheese pizzas” in the past, we can only make information public that can be empirically proven. Accusations and reports of non-vegan ingredients and suspect food handling (of which we get many) have to stay smoldering in our Deleted Items folder laying in a morass of uncertainty. Or so we thought until a couple of weeks ago, when Mr. Wishbone emailed again, and requested a meeting: “I have some knowledge of the food industry, and I think we can prove whether or not a food item contains certain non-vegan ingredients. I can tell you, though, it’s not going to be easy or cheap. If we meet I’ll share my ideas”. Intrigued, and under the strictest secrecy, we met up for lunch.
During the meeting, Mr. Wishbone outlined an ambitious plan that would enable us to test for common non-vegan ingredients (eggs, casein [a component of milk], and shellfish) in a multitude of menu items from local vegan restaurants. The plan would be a logistical, financial and time-sucking nightmare but, if done properly, and to scientific testing standards, it would be a ground-breaking and highly reliable indicator of just how “pure” food from vegan restaurants really is. Here’s an outline of the plan:
- Locate a facility that has no traces of egg, casein or shellfish in which to perform the advanced tests
- Purchase anti-contamination equipment including industrial sterilization supplies, lab coats, uncontaminated bags, swabs, razor blades, gloves and floor coverings
- Obtain highly restricted industrial food testing “kits” only available to the food manufacturing industry
- Develop a regimented process to test each food item with the highest standards of inter-test cleanliness, ensuring that absolutely no food particles from one food item contaminate another
- Select a diverse set of menu items from 100% vegan-only restaurants throughout LA (with one exception, see later)
- Order the food for carry-out, and seal it in an airtight bag in its original packaging either inside, or very close to the point of purchase
- Transport the food items to the testing facility intact and sealed, and perform the tests within 48 hours of purchase, keeping them refrigerated until immediately before the test
- Develop a strict bracketing control, with a thorough analysis of the testing facility and equipment before testing: A negative control to ensure no pre-existing contamination, and a positive control test on a known-positive food product (containing all three target non-vegan items) to ensure that the tests do indicate positive results
- Conduct the test in absolute secrecy to ensure that no restaurant would know they were providing samples, and pose as regular customers ordering take-out food in a normal way, with no disclosure that the items would be used for a test
So, we divided up the work between us, and dedicated a Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday as well as over $1,000 of our collective money to pulling off the most extensive scientific test that we know of to find out, once and for all, if samples of restaurant food are vegan or not.
Here’s the story of what we did, how we did it and the surprising results….Tags: operation pancake
UPDATE: we did an investigation on this place and found out their cheese is NOT VEGAN, but contains casein. other dishes at green leaves contain egg products. they have been lying about it for years. i highly suggest vegans do not eat here, green leaves is shady as fuck.
yes, green leaves vegan is in fact one of the numerous vegan/thai restaurants with the word “vegan” in its title. but it has got something that most of eateries of its kind don’t….a great atmosphere. light, clean and open, tall windows provide a view of hillhurst, while electric guitars and flat-screen televisions adorn the walls. i’m convinced the food is also a cut above the rest, although i haven’t sampled enough dishes off of its vast menu to have an accurate opinion.
when we went on sunday lunchtime, the place wasn’t nearly as packed as it should have been. i guess everyone was too busy lining up across the street to eat at home, which suits me! we had decided on eating healthy and passed on the onion rings appetizer (that looked SO good btw) for an order of spring rolls.
the spring rolls were pretty damn good, but the best thing was, they came packed with a little surprise. the menu didn’t mention anything about soy meat inside, yet they were stuffed with with some kind of protein as well as fresh vegetables! light and refreshing, exactly what you’d expect from a guilt-free appetizer. the sweet, peanuty sauce was lovely as well.
as a main course, we opted to share the seitan wrap. i’m always interested to see how each of these thai/vegan places makes a wrap, because each restaurant has its own variation. green leaves’ seitan wrap was right up there, almost as good as the one at the vegan joint. what i did like about this specific version, is that it was rolled with a flour tortilla-like lavash, rather than a wheat chapati-style bread.
what kinda irked me about this wrap though, is that it didn’t seem like it was filled with seitan, but rather soy chicken or some other crazy fake animal. i’m used to seitan that tastes like tough, chewy wheat meat and is dark brown. this was much softer and lighter in color. it still tasted great, just not what i was expecting. of course, i completely soaked it in a delicious mixture of tahini and chilli-garlic from the hot sauce carousel.
granted, we didn’t eat very much between us, but i was still pretty impressed when the check arrived and it was under $13. there aren’t many places you can sit in a hip little spot looking out at los feliz and finish off 2 plates of vegan food for less than a dub. i will definitely be returning to green leaves, and i hope to get something really unhealthy to make up for those fresh spring rolls. i’m thinking onion rings, a quesadilla, or some pancakes…maybe all 3.
stay tuned.Tags: seitan, spring rolls, wraps