• 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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  • October 16th, 2009mr meanernews, other

    When President Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize last week, his first public reaction was a one-word tweet, “Humbled“. While a VegNews award isn’t quite as prestigious we’re also humbled that Operation Pancake, our investigation into Los Angeles area vegan restaurants, would win a “Scandal Breakers of the Year” award from VegNews magazine. The list was broken this morning over on ecorazzi, as follows:


    As a quick reminder, for Operation Pancake we tested samples of food from seventeen Los Angeles area restaurants (all but one supposedly entirely vegan) and found that 40% of tested positive for ingredients that were not of vegan origin. We then tracked back the ingredients of many of these dishes to fake meat plants in Taiwan, and uncovered major inconsistencies with food preparation and labeling. It’s possible that many fake meats in supposedly vegan foods are not just non-vegan, but actually contain real meat.

    What’s sobering about Operation Pancake, though, is not what we found, but what we didn’t find. It’s likely that all over the world vegans are eating animal products without realizing it, and we hope that the publicity gained by our investigation will help them to “vote with their feet” and only buy vegan foods from reputable sources.

    Many thanks to VegNews for recognizing our work, we hope the publicity might persuade a couple more people to buy strictly vegan produce to save a few animals from a degrading life, and agonizing death.

    If you read the original posts, they’re well worth reading again, especially the comments – some of which are really insightful. In the meantime, we’ll wait for our Veg News to arrive with the full scoop on November 1st!

    Team quarrygirl and our collaborator, Mr Wishbone, gladly accept the award!

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  • September 24th, 2009quarrygirllas vegas, more restaurants (not LA)


    ronald’s donuts in las vegas are known to be the best vegan donuts ever. quite possibly the best vegan desserts ever. however, they are so cheap, so good, and so “real” tasting…they often leave people wondering if they are really vegan. i mean, why is this little hole in the wall shop in nevada the only place to master the art of the vegan bear claw?

    some internet digging produced stories of rey ortega from sun flour baking having the donuts tested for veganocity, but the actual lab results were nowhere to be found. well thanks to mr. wishbone, the stealth agent behind operation pancake (our undercover investigation of the ingredients at LA vegan restaurants), we were able to get our hands on rey ortega’s report.


    the results for the glazed donuts tested show that if any egg white was present, it was below the threshold they could detect. although rey didn’t have the samples tested for milk products, at least we can rest assured that the donuts don’t contain egg…which is a prominent ingredient in every donut recipe i can find online.

    i definitely feel comfortable enough to continue eating ronald’s donuts after these results, but stay tuned…maybe we can get these suckers tested for milk in the future. until then, let’s give rey ortega of sun flour baking a big shout out for getting the donuts tested. doing this stuff isn’t easy or cheap, and now we can all eat our sweets with peace of mind.

    and thanks to mr. wishbone for the tip. DONUTS.

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  • June 28th, 2009mr meanergreen leaves (NOT VEGAN), LA restaurants, news

    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.

    Vegan Quesadilla from Green Leaves Vegan tested “Overload” for casein, a milk protein.

    Vegan Quesadilla from Green Leaves Vegan tested “Overload” for casein, a milk protein.

    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 quarrumsVegan 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.

    The Plan

    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.

    The Story

    Here’s the story of what we did, how we did it and the surprising results….

    Read the rest of this entry »