Cafe Gratitude founder Ryland Engelhart, son of Matthew
The Hollywood Reporter today has a lengthy piece on Matthew and Terces Engelhart, the owners of “entertainment industry haunt” Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican food place with locations in San Francisco and LA. The long and short of it is that the Engelharts recently revealed that they’ve been eating meat! Albeit, only from animals raised on their personal farm (where they’d long had chickens and cows for producing eggs and dairy, but recently starting eating them too). And now, some of their former fans, all vegans, some famous – are pissed.
This despite the Engelharts having what sounds like a pretty reasonable explanation for doing what they did:
The Engelharts frame their return to “sustainable, regenerative” animal consumption as the mindful culmination of years spent laboring on their upstate farm. “We started to observe nature, and what we saw is that nature doesn’t exist without animals,” says Matthew. “Neither does natural farming. You know, you can’t buy organic vegetables that aren’t fertilized with animal residue. So that was our discovery. We aren’t on a soap box.”
If you’ve got animals on your farm, they’re going to die at some point anyway, right? Might as well eat them then. But of course they had to explain this with a bunch of obnoxious buzzwords like “mindful” and “regenerative,” which is part of what makes the story so funny. Watching them trip over their own horsesh*t, so to speak. Because while vegan restaurants can be a great thing (I’ve been to Gracias Madre, I remember it being decent), as is veganism in general (just because I eat and love meat doesn’t mean I can’t recognize that it causes a ton of problems) I think we could all do without the air of new agey smugness.
Cafe Gratitude is known for giving dishes names that are self-affirmations. The most popular include the “I Am Whole” macrobiotic sea-vegetable rice and a curried lentil assemblage called “I Am Humble.” The locations have become a solid entertainment industry draw for business lunches, as well as a reliable celebrity nexus. Customers range from Beyonce Knowles and Sacha Baron Cohen to Ariana Grande and Jake Gyllenhaal.
And as noted by our own Steve Bramucci, servers at Cafe Gratitude used to present their food with “I give you humility.” (Or whole-ness, or whatever value the dish was named for.)
In any case, the Engelharts seem to have a point, in that they’re being criticized for a personal lifestyle choice, when the veganism of the food they serve at their restaurants was never in question. Which hasn’t been enough to satisfy their many critics, including Moby.
One of [their critics] is the musician Moby, who opened his own vegan restaurant five months ago in Silver Lake called Little Pine. “I sincerely hope that they discontinue their practice of raising and killing animals for food,” he wrote on Facebook.
He also prefaced that with “I have great love for the people at Cafe Gratitude, but…”, but it still qualifies as a pretty harsh diss coming from Moby. In addition to Moby, a lady with an obnoxiously-named blog is also angry.
“I eat at non-vegan restaurants all the time,” says Elana Lavine, who runs the L.A. healthy lifestyle blog Klean Slate. “Just don’t claim to be something you’re not. They’re slaughtering animals! And there’s been a lack of total transparency about it on the restaurant side.”
Again, the news of their switch from veganism to responsible meatery came from the Engelharts’ personal blog, and had nothing to do with the food they actually served in their restaurants. Which apparently hasn’t mattered much, as THR writes that they’ve received death threats and a “deluge” of one-star reviews on Yelp, the poor man’s death threat.
The best part about the article is that the Engelhart’s defenders sound even more obnoxious:
The couple’s vegan supporters think the fury is misplaced. “Boycott factory farming – something that will make a real difference to the cause,” says Rainbeau Mars, author of The 21-Day SuperStar Cleanse and a board member at a Venice-based healthy-soil non-profit called Kiss the Ground with Ryland Engelhart [Matthew’s son from a previous marriage]. “And as for their own personal diets, would we stop supporting the Dalai Lama because he eats meat? Or stop supporting the organic farmer who grows your tomatoes because she eats meat?”
After that interview, Mars wrote a long follow-up email to THR to clarify her position (“despite needing to go teach a yoga class on the helicopter pad of the Four Seasons this morning and head out of town this evening”).
THR doesn’t unpack the phrase, but I have to assume that’s where you couch all your money-making endeavors as attempts to save the planet. We invented that here in the Bay Area. Anyway, it feels a little harsh to ridicule these people, because on balance, running a legitimate vegan restaurant is probably better for the world than running one that relies on methane-farting cows or contributes to lakes of pig sh*t, even if they do seem like assh*les. For those of us who love animals and responsible agriculture but hate hippies, it’s the age-old conundrum.