Vegan Restaurant Chain Becomes Battleground Over ‘Humane’ Meat

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Vegan Restaurant Chain Becomes a Battleground Over ‘Humane’ Meat

Café Gratitude, a popular Los Angeles vegan destination, has sparked controversy over the chain’s owners’ recent announcement that they’re raising, slaughtering, and eating the cows on their Northern California farm.

Matthew and Terces Engelhart, who founded both Café Gratitude and the Be Love Farm north of San Francisco, were targeted after a year-old blog post about their meat-eating was recently recirculated on the web.

The post highlighted what the Engelharts called a “big week” on their farm in 2015 where they “transitioned” back into eating meat:

“That transition is happening deep within our beings, we know it is a necessary and important part of our growth as well as the sustainability of our farm ... as we open our hearts further to the presence of love ... ”

“We started to observe nature,” Matthew Engelhart told the Hollywood Reporter last week about their decision to begin eating meat again, “and what we saw is that nature doesn’t exist without animals.” The couple had been vegan for nearly 40 years.

Café Gratitude is considered a pioneer in the California vegan community. Started in San Francisco in 2004, the chain was known for it’s Landmark Forum inspired menu items, which used affirmations instead of traditional menu descriptions—“I Am Dazzling” for example was the name for a Caesar salad. (The chain has since dropped “I am” from the menu items, but keeps the positive words for item descriptions, such as “Abundant”; “Glorious”; and “Extraordinary.”)

Despite its propensity for affirmations, the chain was struggling in recent years. It was forced to close the doors on eight Northern California locations after a lawsuit alleged illegal handling of tip-pooling and wages for servers. The chain also settled another lawsuit over wrongful termination of an employee who refused to attend a Landmark Forum session.

But things seemed to rebound, at least in Los Angeles, where three Café Gratitude locations and one Gracias Madre location (a vegan Mexican-inspired spin-off) have been thriving in recent years. All of the restaurants receive produce supplied by the Engelhart's Be Love Farm.

Protestors say the Engelharts, who have no plans to add meat to the vegan restaurant menus, are hypocrites, perpetuating unnecessary cruelty against animals.

The Guardian reports the couple are receiving death threats. “Fxxxing HYPOCRITES!!!! Hope they will be FLAME BURNED and eaten by Meat Eaters,” reads a post on the Facebook boycott page. “They are duping vegans to support their animal killings,” reads another.

According to a blog post (not related to the controversy over Café Gratitude) from PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, “humane” meat is a myth. “[W]e have yet to find a ‘humane’ factory farm where animals […] don’t have their beloved children taken away from them, where they aren’t denied the companionship of others, where they aren’t sent to a feedlot, or where they are instantly dispatched without the trauma of capture, the horror of transportation, or the terror of seeing other animals killed before suffering the same fate,” she writes.

And while the Engelhart’s farm is certainly no factory, according to the vegans upset by the move, it perpetuates the myth about raising animals for meat, even despite the couple's insistence that they're honoring the animals and the land.

Musician Moby, who also owns a Los Angeles-based vegan restaurant, denounced the Engelharts’ decision in a Facebook post. “I love animals and I can't in any way condone or be a part of anything that contributes to animal suffering,” he wrote. “With all that said, I have great love for the people at [Café Gratitude and Be Love Farm] but I sincerely hope that they discontinue their practice of raising and killing animals for food. Animals are not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on. Animals are not ours.”

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Cow image via Shutterstock

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