Hell Hath No Fury Like An Ethical Vegan Scorned

Vegans are furious after Café Gratitude owners found eating meat, killing cows

May 02, 2016 at 11:17 AM ET

The owners of Café Gratitude, a vegan chain restaurant boasting a handful of locations in California beloved by celebrities and vegans alike, have been beset by angry customers throwing shade online, and even allegedly death threats, upon discovering the formerly vegan owners not only eat meat, but also slaughter cows on their Northern California farm.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the uproar started when activists discovered a 14-month-old blog post that Café Gratitude owners/spouses Matthew and Terces Engelhart wrote on their farm’s website, Be Love Farm, acknowledging they’d decided to eat meat again after 40 years of vegetarianism and more than a decade of veganism. In the post, the couple rave about harvesting giant lettuce, the joy of grandparenting, and include a snapshot of Matthew chomping down on his first beef burger in 40 years. The explanation for why they’ve gone back to beef?

“Cows make an extreme sacrifice for humanity but that is their position in God’s plan as food for the predators,” Terces wrote. “Cows maintain the grass, predators maintain the herd by culling the weak and sick. We can be part of that sacrament. Sacrifice is part of life.”

Though no one noticed when the post went up in August 2015, it was rediscovered and recirculated this week on My Vegan Journal, where Jackie Day wrote:

Sadly, it seems that Matthew and Terces Engelhart, founders of Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre, have decided to do just that.  After being vegetarian for over 40 years, they’ve now decided to kill the animals on their farm, package them up, and eat their bits and pieces. On the very same land that grows produce for their vegan restaurants, and their daughter’s vegan restaurant in Culver City, Sage Vegan Bistro.

Terces snapped a photo of the frozen, packaged carcass chunks, along with jars filled with diluted, browning blood, proudly noting, ”Here Matthew is straining off beef broth and our freezer full of pastured beef, our pastured beef.”

From there, the fallout online was swift and brutal. Vegan race car driver Leilani Munter tweeted:

Moby—yes, Moby—also joined in on his Facebook page:

There is a disturbance in the force…I have been a #vegan for 28 years. I’m a vegan for life. @littlepinerestaurant is a 100% #vegan restaurant, with no exceptions. We give all of our proceeds to animal welfare organizations. I love animals and I can’t in any way condone or be a part of anything that contributes to animal suffering. With all that said, I have great love for the people at @cafegratitude and @belovefarm 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. #animalrights #animalliberation

Raw food chef Jason Wrobel penned an open letter on his site, since taken down, then updated in light of the death threats to argue compassion for those with different beliefs, but the Hollywood Reporter had already quoted him as saying:

People feel misled, deliberately lied to and that a business they’ve so lovingly supported for many years has lost its way. I feel that my hard-earned money has been used for purposes that are unethical, cruel and out-of-alignment with my values. And I strongly feel that a more public announcement from the company should have been made about the practices at the farm, not tucked away in some obscure blog post.”

Café Gratitude’s Yelp got hit with a swarm of one-stars across all locations, where reviewers echo disillusionment, anger, and disappointment:

There’s now a Facebook group mobilizing to boycott Café Gratitude as well as their meatless Mexican restaurant, Gracias Madre, in West Hollywood. The Facebook “about” section simply reads: “GUESS WHAT? THE OWNERS OF CAFE GRATITUDE AND GRACIAS MADRE ARE NOW SELLING MEAT ON THEIR FARM!!” (Matthew Engelhart told the Hollywood Reporter that though they harvested several cows, they never sell the meat, but rather give it away.)

Disgruntled vegans even organized a protest of the restaurants in Los Angeles (the Engleharts also have locations in Venice, Downtown Los Angeles, Newport Beach, and San Diego). The event, organized by Total Liberation Crew Los Angeles, is called “Café Gratitude, Restore Your Ethics!”

Café Gratitude often tops lists for best vegan restaurants in LA (including Moby’s own list of local faves), but also for things that make Los Angeles the “worst place ever.” One infamous aspect of the service is that upon being seated, your server will ask you a question to ponder and then answer before ordering—usually something along the lines of “What are you grateful for?” or “What keeps you grounded?”

The menu forces you to awkwardly declare positive affirmations—you don’t just order a cherry tomato soup, you order “I am Passionate.” You don’t just order a coffee; you order “Courageous.”

If that sound particularly hippie-ish bordering on spiritual cult, it’s because it sort of is. Café Gratitude has long been rumored to serve as a funnel to get employers and visitors into the Landmark Forum, which depending whom you ask, is a life-saving self-help organization that helps attendees transform their lives by taking full responsibility for it, or a money-draining cult. Café Gratitude has endured lawsuits over the claims that employees are strongly encouraged to take the classes, which are a requirement for managers. The Engelharts met there in 2000, and started Café Gratitude together in San Francisco in 2004 to combine their love of raw food and Landmark ideas.

For vegan writer and activist Laura Beck, who runs the popular vegan lifestyle site Vegansaurus, it’s not just the owners switching horses mid-stream, which is problem enough trying to find good businesses to patronize. It’s also how they’re handling it. Beck explained by email that it’s disappointing to them particularly because Café Gratitude’s owners have “always been vocal about their dedication to veganism and so it feels kinda like a betrayal.” It’s one thing, she says, to shell out money for the one vegan thing on the menu at a non-vegan place, another to spend the pricey money on an all-vegan place that you think is worth it because you’re supporting it on principle, too, only to find out it’s a sham. Two tacos will set you back $15.

Beck pointed to how the owners are handling it on social media—like this post on Facebook, where after a stream of negative criticism about their various restaurants, the owners of Café Gratitude only remark “People are now bitching about Gracias Madre too.”

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk gave Vocativ a statement on the issue:

The first time I quit smoking, I went back. The first time I became a vegetarian, my mother talked me out of it. I understand the burning disappointment of discovering that people who run a vegan restaurant have been eating flesh and killing animals—especially having seen them use the word “love” in their marketing, as there’s nothing loving about slaughter, even on a small farm. However, I am not giving up on them: They may have fallen for the myth of “humane meat,” which, like a deadly virus, is going around now. I have written to them asking that they watch one of the videos on PETA’s website, like Paul McCartney’s “Meet your Meat,” or view Cowspiracy on Netflix—and I’m hoping with all my heart that they’ll reconsider and recognize that flesh food is hurtful to animals, the Earth, and their own arteries.

The Engelharts told the Hollywood Reporter that they received death threats. “It saddens me that the choices we made in the privacy of our home would lead people to feel so betrayed that it’s elevated to threats on our lives,” Matthew said, though none have been produced for publication.

And meanwhile, the dilemma for vegans remains. One study found that some 84 percent of vegetarians eventually return to meat, while about 70 percent of vegans do.

Looking a the challenges of maintaining a vegan lifestyle, the New York Times found that the hardest part isn’t giving up animal proteins, nor is it the higher prices for subsitute foods. Rather, it’s knowing which food sources to trust, along with the challenge of social functions.

43 percent of who quit veganism did so because was it was just too hard to be pure. Still, Café Gratitude has always welcomed meat-eaters too. One Yelper named Cat L. wrote at the Larchmont location, “You don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate this place. Besides the cheesy quotes and hippie appearances, the food is actually delicious.”

Unfortunately this welcoming attitude towards meat-eaters will not be extended to its founders.


Update: Landmark has submitted a statement in response, the entirety of which you can read below.

Landmark is an international leader in the personal and professional growth, training and development industry and has had over 2.4 million people around the world participate in its seminars. In 2002, Landmark was recognized as one of the top leadership and development training providers in the world. Harris Interactive®, one of the largest and most respected market research firms in the world, conducted an independent survey, on behalf of Landmark, of health professionals and educators who have taken Landmark’s programs, and the results show that of those surveyed more than 94% agree that Landmark’s programs are professionally conducted and provide great value. To date, more than 40,000 health professionals have participated in Landmark’s programs.