• July 13th, 2010mr meanergreen leaves (NOT VEGAN), LA restaurants

    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.

    quesadilla from green leaves

    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.

    super authentic-looking "official" certificate by green leaves

    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:

    click to enlarge

    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:

    click to enlarge

    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.
    GLV: Welcome

    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.

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  • July 15th, 2009mr meanergreen leaves (NOT VEGAN), LA restaurants, other

    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.

    From: Jeff Mann (jeffmannlaw@att.net)
    Date: July 15, 2009 3:58:33 PM PDT
    Cc: marnow6@yahoo.com
    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.

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