Operation Pancake: Undercover Investigation at Vegan Restaurants in LA
An independent investigation to see if the vegan food at supposedly vegan restaurants is truly vegan.
After all our diligence in reading labels at the grocery store, preparing fresh vegan food at home, our ethical choice to avoid all animal products in our food, all our efforts to be “vegan” can be wasted with just one trip to a restaurant. The point of The Vegas Vegan is to aid in your dining out experience, so please read this article to learn more.
Excerpts from the article:
…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.…a key requirement of this operation was that all the selected and tested restaurants should offer only an all-vegan menu, so there could be no question about cross-contamination from cooking implements (kitchen dishes, pans, knives etc.). So, we set about choosing a variety of restaurants in the LA area. Initially, we targeted 20, and were able to obtain food from 17.
…We cannot stress enough how many precautions were taken to ensure that the food was tested under the most stringent conditions. Indeed, our testing standards met or exceeded the standards of the California Retail Food Code, sections 113982, 113984 and 113986.
…The testing kits that Mr. Wishbone was to obtain could positively identify three common non-vegan allergens (hen’s egg, milk protein (casein), shell-fish), and were highly sensitive (down to parts per million, which explains our intense focus on process and hygiene), so we targeted food items that contained vegan “cheese”, vegan “fish” (including shellfish and non-shellfish), creamy sauces, breads and stuff that had an expanded, sweet, crispy or bubbly texture (often created using eggs as binders in the cooking process).
Read the full article for more specific results:
Of the 17 restaurants, 10 had a completely negative score for shellfish, casein and egg. Vegans should note that we were unable to test for whey ingredients with these tests, and just because they passed our tests doesn’t mean they will be vegan for you.
One restaurant, Pure Luck, was singled out as suspect because it had a POSITIVE reading on one test for one menu item, the Baja Fish Taco. While testing a clear negative for shellfish and egg content, the taco did register as positive for casein.
Five restaurants were in this category. These restaurants are all Vegan Thai in style, and have many common food items between their menus. In all cases, the HIGH readings were for egg content, and with two restaurants both also testing POSITIVE for casein.
Following such consistent results, it is perhaps wise for vegans to avoid meat substitutes in vegan Thai establishments, sticking instead to tofu and seitan derived ingredients.
The Big Time Loser
The last restaurant on our list, Green Leaves Vegan, stands out as being the only one tested where a food item registered OVERLOAD.
Please read to the end of the article, which goes on to outline why “fake” or “veggie” meats may not be vegan, and why “vegan restaurants” aren’t necessarily catering to actual vegans, but to people who just want to eat “vegan” food. And read the follow-up post.
It’s our responsibility as vegans to protect our own choices, but this vegan is also concerned with protecting her health. Trace amounts of casein may seem harmless on the surface, but I know that even a small amount of it in my food can make me sick.
The Vegas Vegan reminds you that you should always ask your server or even ask to speak to the chef if you have any concerns about any ingredients in your food. Ask before you order, call ahead before you even arrive at the restaurant, just be sure that you know what you’re eating. Personally, I avoid ordering items that I am not 100% certain about. For instance, I never order anything with aioli because, even though it’s only supposed to be made with garlic & olive oil, there is a good chance it contains egg or other ingredients that could contain egg or dairy.
List of Restaurants tested in Operation Pancake: