Aug
12

LA vs. NY: The Vegan Princesses Chat It Up

THE VEGAN PRINCESSES

Ellen

Ellen

&

Debby

Debby

CHAT IT UP!

UnknownAlthough vegans often share the same values, beliefs, and food choices, I’ve often wondered how different my lifestyle would be if I lived in another part of the U.S. or even in a different country. What if I lived in a place without a Whole Foods, Wild By Nature or other similar type market? How much harder would my life be? What if I lived in a city with an abundance of choices of restaurants with vegan options? How much easier would my life be?

Although I can’t possibly know the answers to these questions because I live on Long Island with no other homes (darn!), I have been able to compare notes with someone I trust implicitly concerning living the vegan lifestyle in another part of the country…Los Angeles! And who better to do that with than my blogging buddy, Ellen Francis? After all, Ellen and I live on opposite coasts, and one of the reasons she started blogging with me was to give her west coast perspective to veganism.

Since Ellen just returned to her home in Los Angeles from a New York visit, I thought this would be the perfect time for us to talk about vegan food, attitudes, and lifestyles comparing Los Angeles to the metropolitan New York area.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

VERSUS

New York

New York

LA vs. NY: THE VEGAN PRINCESSES CHAT IT UP

Debby: How long have you been living in the Los Angeles area?

Ellen: It will be 12 years at the end of this month.

Debby: You are originally from Long Island, New York. Isn’t that correct?

Ellen: Born in Brooklyn but raised on Long Island since the age of 10.

Debby: It was great to see you when you were here a couple of weeks ago visiting your friends and family. How long was your visit?

Ellen: We spent a few days in Manhattan and then a few days on Long Island, sandwiched around a few days on Block Island, Rhode Island.

Debby: Did you have the opportunity to eat in any vegan restaurants during your visit?

Ellen: We ate at the famed Candle 79 restaurant in Manhattan.

Debby: I love Candle 79. Did you enjoy your meal there?

Ellen: Immensely.

Debby: How would you compare their vegan cuisine to some of the vegan restaurants in the Los Angeles area?

Ellen: I haven’t been to that many all-vegan restaurants so it’s hard to compare, but I find that every vegan restaurant I’ve eaten at tries so hard to be creative and delicious and innovative so that everyone will be happy with the taste, presentation and diversity.  On both coasts, vegan food is prepared at the height of skill.

Debby: I agree. While in New York, did you eat in any non-vegan restaurants?

Ellen: Yes, we ate in Italian restaurants, Greek, seafood, coffee bars, salad bars—the whole gamut. The best part of NY is the high concentration of all kinds of food in a few square miles!

Debby: Yes, you can get any type of food in New York City. While in NYC, did you notice any clearly marked “vegan” or “vegetarian” options on the menus at any of the non-vegan restaurants?

Ellen: Once in a while in places that reflected healthy, modern thinking, we would see notations in the menus but mostly I found few menus that clearly marked anything like vegan or vegetarian.

Debby: How did the New York menus compare with Los Angeles’ menus as far as specifically marked “vegan” or “vegetarian” options?

Ellen: In LA and in the suburbs (LA feels like many suburbs linked together) I often do see menus with vegan or vegetarian options. In that way, there is a difference which makes it easier and more hospitable to eat here. As a customer, I feel cared for and I feel more valued—or at least my business is valued.

Debby: That’s pretty much what I suspected. Did you have any difficulties putting together a vegan meal in the non-vegan restaurants in New York?

Ellen: As I always tell my friends and family, when we’re going out to eat or eating in their homes, “Don’t worry about me—there’s always something for me to eat.” I truly do feel that way because I’ve always been more attracted to the side dishes than the meat-centric entree anyway. When I go to a restaurant and there are clearly no vegan entrees, the first thing I do is see if a dish can easily be veganized. For example, if there’s eggplant parmigiana, I ask if they can leave out the cheese. If there’s a pasta with chicken, it’s pretty simple to leave out the chicken, etc. If nothing really suits me, there’s always the sides. Several times, I’ve asked the waiter if the chef can prepare a vegan dish for me, but you never know what that’s going to be so I tend to choose 3 sides that I can eat and ask if they could be put on one plate.

Debby: Yes, I’m big on ordering side dishes too. Let’s talk about your use of the “V” word in New York restaurants, okay?

Ellen: Okay.

Debby: When you were in New York, did you use the word “vegan” to the waitstaff/restaurant personnel while trying to place your orders?

Ellen: I was reluctant to use the word “vegan” because so many people think they know what that means, when they really don’t.  I’ve heard some waiters can be annoyed by special food requirements.

Debby: Did you have the feeling that the “V” word was foreign to them, or were they receptive to your requests?

Ellen: I find that when you use the word “allergic,” then they start paying attention. They certainly don’t want their customer having a severe allergic reaction to something they were told to leave out! And there’s always the threat of a lawsuit over that, unfortunately. I wouldn’t want to generalize too much about this because I’m sure there are many accommodating restaurants with good waitstaff that do want to please every single customer.

Debby: I agree about using the word “allergic.” I actually wrote a post about that a while back called Just Say You’re Allergic. What about the waitstaff/restaurants in Los Angeles? Do you think that they are more comfortable or familiar with requests for vegan food than in New York?

Ellen: So while we’re generalizing, I think I would say that since LA is much more laid back (I know that’s such a stereotype but it’s actually true, for the most part), I would feel more comfortable saying I’m vegan and making vegan requests. The servers seem more familiar with the request and seem to know exactly how to  honor it.

Debby: That’s very interesting. On another note, it seems to me that there is a vast difference between dining in New York City as a vegan, as opposed to Long Island. While there are so many vegan eateries in the city, Long Island seems to me to be barren. Did you also find this to be true?

Ellen: I think that this is probably true of most cities and suburbs—the concentration of diverse populations in many cities makes it more feasible to have more choices, including vegan restaurants. Suburbs seem to be more homogenous and can’t survive if they only serve a group that only represents 1-5% of the general population. Of course, it would be wonderful if everyone saw a vegan restaurant as another choice to frequent an enjoy, whether they are vegan or not.

Debby: So true. Maybe that 1-5% will be larger in a few years, and more vegan restaurants will start popping up everywhere. Wouldn’t that be nice? What about the suburbs of Los Angeles? Is it like New York or different? In other words, are there more vegan options in the suburbs of Los Angeles than there are on Long Island?

Ellen: I feel that around where I live, there are a lot of vegan options. At the very least, many restaurants offer some sort of veggie burger—even the ribs’ place near me has a delicious veggie burger on the menu. It must be the easiest vegan food item for them to make and there are so many varieties—it can even come pre-made from a box. Beyond that, there are lots of places that focus on healthy food so there will be more vegan choices amongst the non-vegan choices.

Debby: You are lucky. LA is looking better and better to me. How about the sheer number of vegan-friendly eateries in the Los Angeles area? How does that compare to New York City and Long Island, as far as you can tell?

Ellen: I’m not really sure about that. New York City is much larger in population and it’s the mecca of foodies—I’m sure there are many vegan restaurants there. LA has plenty of vegan restaurants but it may have more vegan choices in their non-vegan restaurants that makes it easier to stick to a vegan diet when going out. But there are so many exceptions—recently we went out to a restaurant in Santa Monica and there was not one entree I could have on the menu, and that’s so rare—so I scanned the menu for what I could have and I started with a kale salad (which was delicious) and three side dishes. I was so full, I couldn’t even finish the meal. And it was all good.

Debby: New York City does have an abundance of amazing vegan restaurants and eateries. It certainly is a vegan mecca to me. Do you mind if we talk about your visits with family and friends during your trip to New York?

Ellen: Of course not!

Debby: Were your friends and family in New York supportive of your veganism, did they prepare vegan meals for you, or did you encounter any bumps in the road? Each person must have reacted a bit differently. Perhaps you could describe your experience with your New York friends and family as far as their receptiveness to your veganism.

Ellen: My parents are always lovingly supportive of everything I do and respectful of my choices. They have their own dietary restrictions so they are used to making special requests at restaurants or picking and choosing items based on what they can have so, for them, it was very matter of fact. Throughout my life, I’ve had aversions to certain food at times and have eaten vegetarian at times, so I think they aren’t fazed by my choice to become vegan, although they probably think it’s more difficult than it really is. Various people in my family always seem to be concerned with whether I’ll “find something” to eat when we go out and I always reassure them that there’s always something good, not to worry. I don’t bother to check menus online before I go places—I love to experience new restaurants and to go out with friends and family anywhere my group decides and I don’t want to be limited to always going to vegan places, so I’m generally very flexible.

Most friends are at the least respectful and at the most really interested and intrigued. There are a few that just plain don’t understand it and why I am doing it. To them, I just try to explain, if they ask, that I feel so much better eating this way and that it’s right for me. And then to myself, I just remember that I was them (a carnivore) a few years ago. I would never ask anyone to prepare anything special for me (I just head for the side dishes), but if they are so inclined, it’s very much appreciated—especially since a vegan dish would be something everyone could enjoy eating, as well. One friend said that my presence at her house made everyone aware of eating more healthy and trying more plant-based options. That made me feel good, mainly because I wasn’t perceived as a negative or a “party-pooper”—if I have a good influence in the group and people aren’t resentful of me, that’s a real bonus.

Debby: That’s pretty cool. I think I’m often viewed as the “party-pooper,” although I was quite pleased to see a vegan spread at a recent family gathering. I really appreciated that. Do you find the general attitudes of your friends and family in Los Angeles to be different from your New York friends and family as far as your veganism is concerned?

Ellen: My immediate family is very supportive of me. My husband eats everything I make and says I’m a much better vegan cook than I was as a carnivorous cook. He is very health conscious in general and feels much better eating mostly vegan. He eats whatever he wants when I’m not cooking for him and I accept that happily. Both of my kids eat everything I make, so it’s not as if I’m cooking 4 separate meals in my house. They eat pretty healthily but make their own choices outside the house. I only try to educate my family about what I know and learn and don’t want my choices imposing upon their own. I feel like it’s a personal decision that I wouldn’t force on anyone. My friends in LA seem much less judgmental about my being vegan—no one criticizes or questions—maybe because it is more within the norm. It’s not really an issue so there’s no discussion about it—they are more matter of fact about it. I’m not an anomaly here.

Debby: I’m an anomaly in my Long Island neighborhood. The total opposite. Do you have any friends and/or family in New York that are vegan besides me?

Ellen: One of my cousins was vegan for a long time but isn’t anymore, I don’t think. Other than that, no one is vegan.

Debby: Do you have any friends and/or family in California that are vegan?

Ellen: In California, I have a couple of friends that are mostly vegan and we love going out with them because we are mostly on the same page. I’ve met a few here and there and it’s nice to talk to like-minded people occasionally. It seems like most people that I come in contact with are doing it for health reasons.

Debby: I think it’s great that they acknowledge that it’s the best way to eat for your health. I have way too many friends and family who won’t acknowledge that simple fact. Let’s talk about our kids. Okay?

Ellen: Okay.

Debby: Truth be told, my teenage sons have some difficulties with me being vegan. I think it stems from the fact that they don’t know any other vegans besides me. Your kids are about the same age as mine. What are their attitudes about veganism?

Ellen: I think they think it’s too extreme for them and too limiting. They don’t want me to be restricted or purist because it’s hard for them to understand why someone would go to such extreme lengths. I think all kids want their parents to be “normal,” but on the other hand, they are respectful of it and we joke about it. I’m sure they don’t really know any vegans other than me so it must seem strange to them even though they are basically eating vegan in the house and don’t seem to think that’s so weird.

Debby: Do you think that being raised in Los Angeles has impacted your childrens’ attitudes towards veganism differently than if they were raised on Long Island?

Ellen: I think they will be more accepting of other vegans when they meet them in their life because they will be somewhat familiar with it. They will probably also notice items on menus and know what it means. Maybe one day they will decide to be vegan but I don’t want to pressure them because that’s not fair and they will reject it for sure. I’m glad they are being exposed to healthy plant-based nutrition at home and that they know it’s an important part of everyone’s diet.

Debby: My sentiments exactly. So, having spent time on both coasts, do you feel that peoples’ perceptions and attitudes about veganism are different in Los Angeles than they are in New York. If yes, how so?

Ellen: It seems that people in New York are a few years behind LA in terms of it. People in LA have been exposed to it, understand it and have lived with it in our culture for a bit. In New York, they seem to be puzzled by it and more resistant. But I have no doubt that this will change.

Debby: I think so too. It is my perception as a Long Islander, that veganism has become more mainstream in the Los Angeles area than in New York (with the exception of New York City). I have no basis in fact for my perceptions. What do you think? Could I be correct?

Ellen: Yes, I agree. If there are more vegan options on menus in many restaurants here, it’s possible for everyone to make a vegan choice once in a while and they can see how good and satisfying it can be. Little by little, people don’t see it as so alien and start “leaning in.”

Debby: This may be redundant, but can you generally describe any differences you noted between the New York City/Long Island area and Los Angeles as far as veganism is concerned? Is it easier to be vegan on one coast versus the other?

Ellen: Whether it’s easier or not here or there really depends on one’s personal experience. In my own experience, it’s easier here—attitudes are more accepting, there are lots of vegan items in the supermarkets here, it’s more health oriented here so people tend to make healthier food choices and restaurants seem to have recognized the demand for vegan choices on menus and are happy to provide those choices to vegan diners and non-vegan diners alike.

Debby: Well, I’m glad we finally had this little chat. In view of your recent trip to New York, the timing was perfect for you to make the comparisons. You did a great job!

Ellen: Thanks!

For all of our viewers, we hope you enjoyed our discussion, as well as this classic video, posted in honor of Los Angeles, one of the most vegan-friendly areas in the country!

Comments

  1. Helen Maxman says:

    Great chat girls, I loved reading this!!!!!

  2. My daughter lives in Brooklyn (moved to NYC 3 years ago) and was a vegan, now vegetarian. She LOVES New York because of the variety of people and food. She has never had trouble easting out. She was born in LA BTW and also finds it easier in LA than NYC to talk about being vegan or whatever.

    We love Candle 79 and I also highly suggest you check out ZEN PALATE in the theatredistrict in nyc. It’s has never failed me. Eaten there often. We ate there years ago on Christmas Day and that always amazes me that places are open on holidays in nyc.

    Fun blog. Thanks.

    • I find it interesting that your daughter finds it easier to talk about being vegan/vegetarian in LA than NYC. But, I agree, that NYC is a vegan/vegetarian’s mecca. Candle 79 is my absolute favorite! I was dining there long before I became vegan. There was actually a Zen Palate on Long Island a few years back which I loved, but it closed. Great restaurant. I’ve been to the one in the theatre district too. It’s great. Thanks for visiting our site!

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