As famous ex-vegans like The Balanced Blonde blogger Jordan Younger and The Whole Tara’s Tara Milhern can attest, those who leave the meat-free flock should expect some degree of controversy to follow them.
So it’s not exactly surprising to learn that Café Gratitude founders Matthew and Terces Engelhart are at the receiving end of boycotts, protests, and even death threats after revealing that they’ve started eating meat again after more than a decade of veganism—and that the meat in question is reportedly coming from animals raised on their Be Love Farm, which supplies ingredients to their plant-based restaurant empire.
A Cowspiracy Revealed?
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the fracas started when a group of animal-rights activists got hold of a year-old post from the Be Love Farm blog in which the Engelharts announced they had personally abandoned veganism—published alongside photos of beef broth and a freezer filled with packaged meat from their own pasture. The post offered little explanation for their about-face, saying only: “While I would clearly say we are in transition and that transition is happening deep within our beings, we know it is a necessary and important part of our own growth as well as the sustainability of our farm.”
Critics—Moby included—are, understandably, concerned with the fact that the pair may be actively using their vegan patrons’ profits to buy cows for slaughter and sale. “I feel that my hard-earned money has been used for purposes that are unethical, cruel and out-of-alignment with my values,” wrote raw food chef Jason Wrobel on his personal website. (The post has since been deleted).
“We’ve done nothing but a plant-based diet at our restaurants and we’re being attacked.”
Carrie Christianson, who started a Facebook group dedicated to the controversy, echoed the same sentiments to THR. “You are patronizing a restaurant that you think has that philosophy, and it turns out it doesn’t. Vegans should know that this restaurant has a farm that slaughters animals.”
The Engelharts insist that animals on the Be Love Farm were introduced to fertilize the soil and their main job is to produce milk, butter, and cheese, not meat. (THR writes: “[Matthew Engelhart] claims they’ve ‘harvested,’ or slaughtered, several cows in total and never sold the meat, only shared it with ‘our friends, neighbors and community.’”)
So what does this mean for Café Gratitude?
The Engelharts stress that despite their personal choices, all five Café Gratitude locations, as well as Mexican concept Gracias Madre and the upscale Gratitude, remain resolutely vegan. “I am allowed to change my mind [about my own diet],” Matthew Engelhart proclaimed to THR. “And by the way, I never even told them what my mind was. All I told them was it’s a vegan restaurant. And it still is! And it always will be!”
Though he claims to be “baffled” by the activists’ response, it’s certainly not the first time backlash has ensued against a vegan figurehead who’s renounced the cause. Younger was the subject of hateful comments and, ironically, threats on her life when she re-introduced fish and eggs into her diet, while animal rights cheerleader Ellen DeGeneres came under fire last year for introducing a shoe line that included leather.
“I’m allowed to change my mind about my own diet.”
Still, there’s no denying that the Engelharts’ positive impact on the vegan cause in LA, until now, has been profound. “I don’t think there’s any organization on the planet that’s done more to promote a plant-based diet than us,” Matthew told THR. “We’ve moved it from a dogma to a genre. We serve 28,000 meals a week in all of our enterprises. We’ve done nothing but a plant-based diet at our restaurants and we’re being attacked.” Whether this fiasco has an equally weighty impact on Café Gratitude’s future is as unclear as a, um, batch of homemade kombucha.