Sunday, March 07, 2010

Living la Vida Vegan in Eugene—Well, Almost

I am really excited about the opening of The Divine Cupcake at 1680 W. 11th in Eugene. The day they opened there was a line out the door for the free cupcakes they offered each new customer who came by to celebrate the grand opening. It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase to the local community just how delicious vegan can be.

Divine Cupcakes have moved a long way up the yummy scale since I first tasted them at a local market a couple of years ago. In all fairness to DC, it is possible that the cupcakes I tasted in the past sat too long on store shelves before I bought them. But with their own retail outlet, that's no longer an issue. Their cupcakes are moist and delicious, and the their frosting is sweet and butter-creamy. I love all the cute names they come up with for their array of flavors like Thai Me Up, The Electric Pumpkin, and Bananarama. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try them all, (Thai Me Up is a peanut curry-flavored cake topped with peanut buttercream frosting sprinkled with ground chili peppers), but you can sure count me in for a Lavender cupcake the very first time I see one.

With so many flavors to choose from, it's difficult to imagine ever growing tired of stopping by for a treat. And I really like the fact that they offer minis as well as full-sized cupcakes for those of us attempting to watch our calorie intake, and sugar-free and gluten-free choices, as well.

The interior is pretty and inviting—it's the kind of place I could get used to hanging out in, far too often for my own good. If you love cupcakes, check out Divine Cupcake.

Seemingly overnight we received the blessing of not one, but TWO vegan food carts in Eugene! Viva Vegetarian Grill (formerly known as "The Tofurky Food Cart") is located in a parking lot on the east side of Willamette at 12th.

The day I visited Viva Vegetarian Grill, it was a typical cold and overcast winter day. But that didn't stop patrons from lining up outdoors for lunch.

Owner Dave Wagenheim has been feeding hungry country fair attendees and Eugene residents and visitors since 2006. His fun-food menu includes vegan versions of the classic Tempeh Reuben, Footlong Hotdog, and Philly Cheesesteak!

The other vegan food cart is Cornbread Cafe, located on the southeast corner of 13th and Oak.

The lovely ladies there offer some of the tastiest vegan comfort food I've ever tasted.

With down-home choices like Southern Fried Tofu and Barbeque Pull-A-Parts, you can get yours as a plate or sandwich, with sides of Mac UnCheese, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, or Fries and Uncle Todd's Mess O'Greens or Sassy Slaw. I always opt for the BBQ plate with perfectly cooked greens, yummy Mac UnCheese, and some really darn delicious cornbread.

Finally, I visited Holy Donuts. Before I say what I'm about to, let me preface it by saying that anyone who has ever read any of my books, newspaper or magazine articles or blog posts knows that it is not my style to criticize. I generally only write about things I am crazy about, because my philosophy is that there is enough negativity in the world. But I'm pretty disappointed and confused right now. Holy Donuts has been marketing and wholesaling vegan donuts around Eugene for the last two years and finally opened a retail location on Willamette. I couldn't wait to check it out and was immediately enchanted with their insanely cute little courtyard and shop.

But my cheerful mood soon evaporated when I noticed that there were little signs saying "dairy and egg-free" on only some of the donuts in the display case. Wait a minute, isn't this a vegan donut shop? I mean that's what their facebook logo and business card said:

So I asked the gal behind the counter, "Are all of your donuts vegan?" Well, everything except the maple twists, which have have bacon on them," she answered. Bacon? Are you kidding me? "Why?" I asked. "Because people like it," she matter-of-factly replied. (I later learned that they sometimes use eggs, too.) When I heard this news, I felt deeply disappointed, because my need for consistency/logic/compassion was not being met. I'm all for supporting businesses that are moving towards veganism, but away from it? Sorry, but I don't think there's anything "holy" about animal flesh on any baked good, especially one that is touted as vegan. I had just taken a bite of a little banana cream donut when I received this news, and it put me off completely. I just couldn't take another bite. Owner Karen Nunley, who is not vegan, assured me that she has issues of any potential cross-contamination from animal products under control. That may bring comfort to many vegans, but it doesn't bring any comfort to me. Apparently, I'm not the only one who was duped into thinking the donuts at their shop are vegan:

If you're going to build your business as a vegan company and then change the game plan, that just feels like bait-and-switch marketing to me. Bacon? I completely understand that most people who eat donuts in Eugene (or anywhere else for that matter) are not vegan. But no one was ever offended by a donut that didn't contain meat, eggs, or dairy, especially if it tasted delicious. On the other hand, I think that you run a risk turning off the very heart and soul of your market if you start including animal products after years of promoting them as vegan. I also realize that there are some vegan businesses that simply don't survive. But in my experience, they have failed to thrive for reasons having nothing to do with being vegan. But maybe I'm wrong. What do you think? Am I being overly critical? Have you ever experienced bait-and-switch marketing? How did you feel?


what if summer... said...

You know, I can kind of accept that they would sell donuts that had eggs or dairy in them alongside their vegan ones, but a donut with meat on it? I've never even seen a donut with meat on it! I've heard of them, of course, but for it to be sold in a store that is advertized as vegan is plain ridiculous. I guess keeping a business afloat takes a toll on common sense... and especially integrity. This news really annoys me, and I hope they get it together and sell products they say they're going to sell.


Anonymous said...

Whoa, that would totally get me twisted. I've heard of falling off the vegan wagon, but that's insane! No way to run a business IMHO. But the cupcakes look incredible, and I'd love to eat at Cornbread Cafe. My dad would be in heaven at Viva Vegetarian Grill.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Holy Donuts. When they first opened, I asked if they had vegan donuts and they said "All our donuts are vegan." I was stoked, but then got confused when I started seeing bacon donuts touted in their Facebook page. Then they started offering chicken salad, biscuits with bacon gravy... When I inquired about it, I got a defensive response from Karen. I stopped going there.

Unknown said...

The Holy Donuts thing pissed me off too, and I called them on it on their Facebook page. They ended up purging all of the comments on their wall about the bacon. I used to buy their stuff all the time at the Kiva, but I haven't once been to their retail site because of the bacon, and won't be. Great summation of my (and my wife's) feelings on the matter.

Dave said...

Interesting topic on the Holy Donuts "confusion". I have to admit, I was caught off guard the first time I heard they were draping bacon over vegan donuts. Seemed quite the paradox.
Maybe there has been a misunderstanding about Karen's intentions. It is easy to assume a business owner is "vegan" if she creates exclusively vegan products. Obviously Karen is not, nor is it her intention to create a completely vegan menu at her bakery. However, I don't think she has intentions to deceive her customer base. I think she has the best intentions. It seems to me she is just making a business decision that many owners have made and continue to make regarding their menu. I heard Cafe Yumm! started out all-vegetarian. Obviously they believed they could reach more people by broadening their menu.
It seems to me Karen went about her distinction (vegan donuts) to create a healthier version of the donut. One with less ingredients.
I guess it will be your choice as a consumer whether or not to support businesses that try to cater to more people than just the small subsection of people that are strict vegan. Unfortunately, the reality may be that there is not a large enough customer base in Eugene to support more vegan only restaurants.
I think the discussion is healthy! And I hope people keep blogging and talking about it all. Because it is undeniable we need more awareness and consciousness about our food and choices.
Viva! Vegetarian Grill

VeganMarr said...

So cool that Eugene has all these interesting little places popping up! That walk up veggie street stand needs to franchise! (Tho the Veggie Grill name has already been tradmarked by a new chain in L.A.)

I had never heard of bacon on a donut..what the ...??

I'd be curious who influenced Karen to add the non vegan items. Sounds like she has so many yummy vegan items that if people just tried 'em they'd be more than satisfied. Or, she could use fake bacon crumbles...and make fake chicken salad. But why are those things even in a donut it trying to be a cafe too? When one tries to please EVERYONE, the business loses focus. She has 2 choices. Switch immediately to fake animal products or change the logo & advertising. And I mean IMMEDIATELY because currently it's false advertising & that's bad karma.

Vegiegail said...

Thank you Summer, avegangirl, Anonymous, and Theron for confirming that I am not completely out of my mind or out of line.

Thank you Marr for pointing out that trying to please EVERYONE is a sure-fire way to completely lose focus. I couldn't agree more. It's interesting to note that two days after I inquired about bacon in maple twists, the vegan logo was removed from the Holy Donuts facebook page. But it was still there up until the day I began writing this post.

And thank you, Dave, for your thoughtful comments. I never said that I thought that the owner of Holy Donuts was ill-intentioned—only that I was disappointed and confused by the sudden change from promoting her donuts as vegan to including meat in the mix. I believe that a shop that sells donuts without bacon (or eggs or dairy) has just as good a chance of succeeding in Eugene as one that does, provided the donuts are delicious. You can cater to the community at large without alienating the customers who helped your business grow. I don't think you need to use bacon, eggs, or dairy to do that. The choice to emphasize whether or not the donuts are vegan is entirely a personal business decision. But since she chose to use this strategy to entice customers and build her business, it dishonors those of us who supported her with our purchases over the last two years.

Justine said...

I completely understand what you are saying. How would people feel if they started putting dairy in Silk soy milk, eggs in So Delicious dairy-free ice cream, or meat in Tofurky? To suddenly do an about-face would be extremely deceptive and disrespectful to their customers who have come to rely on these products as vegan. Maybe the owner of Holy Donuts now regrets that she ever marketed her donuts as vegan. If she's afraid of losing business, she certainly could stop promoting that they're vegan. But it's a little late in the game to start making them with animal products. And the incredible thing is, she doesn't have to use animal ingredients and can still please everyone, as long as the donuts are good!

Rikki Cupcake said...

oh this made me so very hungry, well all but the bacon part. it is very strange this hip bacon craze that is sweeping the nation, yum yum animal flesh and clogged arteries.

melanie said...

Thanks for the great local info. I am not vegan, but I don't think I'll be eating any Holy Donuts, just because the idea of bacon on a doughnut is cringe-inducing to me.

I have eaten Divine Cupcakes, and they are every bit as good as any cupcake, vegan or not. I look forward to stopping by for a bite at Cornbread Cafe, too. Their food looks and sounds like a delicious alternative to traditional Southern cooking.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the great review! We really appreciate it!! :)

As for Holy Donuts, I too was very surprised to see the bacon maple bar. I still buy donuts there, however, because I truly believe that they are very careful about cross-contamination and, well, they're damn good. I really like Karen and Sierra too, and want to support their business, even if it's not souly vegan anymore. I eat at many places that also serve animal products, even though I prefer those that don't. But I can completely understand why there are those in the community who feel a sense of betrayal. And although my menu will always stay vegan, no matter what, I guess I'm just into supporting other small businesses who offer any vegan items on their menus.

Sheree Walters
Cornbread Cafe
13th & Oak

Dave said...

Gail, the "bait-and-switch" comment was what made me think you thought there was some ill-intention, or false marketing afoot. On the contrary, the removal of the vegan signage shows they are conscious of potential to mislead and that they wanted to correct that.
I did see that the writers of those 3 articles you cited had referred to her donuts as vegan. I also noticed she never mentioned any reason for making her donuts vegan other than the health benefits of cutting out the ingredients of typical donuts. She has never come across as a vegan to me, and she specifically said she was not vegan or vegetarian. So, I don't see this as an attempt to mislead, or even to turn a blind eye to those who supported her over 2 years.
The facts are (and correct me if I am wrong): 1) You can still get dairy-free, egg-free donuts, (I wouldn't call them vegan because it looks like the store does not refer to them as vegan, probably because they use refined sugar or for some other reason are not technically vegan). 2) According to the owner, there are no cross contamination issues.
I think some of the more disgruntled vegans out there should probably acknowledge that while you did contribute to her success, you were not solely responsible for it. I am sure Holy Donuts was supported by Vegans, Vegetarians, and hard core meat eaters even before she put bacon or chicken casserole on the menu. And now that we are in the post bacon era, there will still be vegans, vegetarians, and obviously meat eaters who continue to support her business.
Well, that is until Voodoo Donuts opens, then the question will be... Is the donut called "Triple Chocolate Penetration vegan?! :)

Vegiegail said...

Hi Sheree! Thanks so much for stopping by! I am really craving your cornbread right about now.

I also support businesses that are not entirely vegan, not only to enjoy their vegan offerings, but also to make a statement with my dollars. So I certainly don't fault any vegan who still wishes to enjoy eating vegan donuts sold in a shop that also sells donuts made with animal-based ingredients.

I understand that Karen's reasons for making vegan donuts in the first place had nothing to do with issues of compassion or sustainability. But supporting a business that is moving in the wrong direction, just doesn't feel right to me.

Dave, it really is bait-and-switch regardless of whether the intentions behind it were good or not. I would never presume to know what someone's intentions are, so that was not meant to be implied. (Although I can see how it could be inferred from that phrase. So perhaps that was not the best choice of words on my part.) Sheree hit the nail on the head when she said that some people might feel "betrayed." Of course, that is an emotional knee-jerk response, and I admit that part of where I'm coming from is based in emotion. But when I am forced to think about how horrendously animals are treated merely to satisfy human convenience, or worse, just because "people like it," it inflames me.

I realize that Holy Donuts built its business with customers who were not vegan or even vegetarian. And that's a great point! Non-vegans were happily consuming these donuts, even though they didn't contain any animal-based ingredients.

This is not about my personal food tastes or preferences. This is about a business promoting its products as vegan, which means that when I buy them, I am not supporting a business that profits from animal cruelty. Adding bacon or other animal ingredients to otherwise vegan food is a huge step backward, in my opinion. And as I said earlier, you offend no one by leaving out animal ingredients, but by adding animal-based ingredients, you not only risk offending some of your customers, but you also contribute to animal suffering, environmental degradation, and damage to human health when you do.

Anonymous said...

The whole bacon scandal goes to show:::

Holy Donuts caters to the trendy.
Veganism is trendy.
Bacon is trendy.

There is ideological overlap.

The problem is not with holy donuts.
The problem is that people are scenesters and in the case of veganism, the scene requires people to imagine that veganism is somehow healthy.

Most people need meat to survive. And if you think you are vegan for your health, get the heck out of the donut shop.

If you think you are vegan for the planet, think about the fact that the sugar industry is tied with slavery, and our cravings for sugar are inherited pulls to comply with the world shaped by violent colonial histories.

>protein=<sugar cravings=vegans and especially vegan donuts recreate colonial histories in that donut hole you are obsessing over. If you eat it- just admit to yourself and the world you are pro-oppression. If you don't, then I suggest you choose the bacon maple donut, but throw the maple donut part in the trash, and start re-imagining a future of integrated donut shops.

Helen said...

Whoa, I was going to comment on this post, but the last comment by Anonymous really grabbed my attention, because it was very entertaining! I acknowledge that there are many people like you, who believe that it is trendy to be vegan. And still more like you, who believe that humans need meat to survive. So if you want to talk about ideology, realize that you have bought into the ideology of carnism: a completely false belief system with no basis in scientific fact that is pushed by the meat industry and adopted by hundreds of millions of people who choose not to think for themselves. The reality is that unless there is no other food source available, there is no human on the planet who needs meat to survive. In fact, consumption of animal foods is responsible for more human deaths every year in this country than any other single source. Humans have survived for millions of years without meat, and it is likely that the only way humans can continue to survive is by not eating meat.

The ridiculous statement that sugar consumption has its past rooted in colonial slavery makes me wonder if you don't wear cotton because of its roots in colonial slavery. I'm not sure I understand how consuming sugar now impacts people from the past or the planet, as you suggest.

With respect to sugar and health I didn't read anything in this blog post that suggested that eating donuts was healthful. I believe the blogger alluded to the owner of the donut shop when she wrote, "...Karen's reasons for making vegan donuts in the first place had nothing to do with issues of compassion or sustainability." Anyone who thinks that donuts are a healthy food choice is just as ill-informed as anyone who thinks they need meat to survive or that veganism is trendy.

tuanischicken said...

A true vegan does not exist. While all you vegans drive around, risking the lives of many different types of insects and mammals, only to enter a shop that has had their food delivered by vehicles of which could or could not have ran over critters on the way to deliver the goods...only goes to show that vegans for ethical reasons, are fools and their ideology stinks.

Vegiegail said...

Hi Travis! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave your thoughts. But I'm saddened that vegans incite such feelings of hostility in you. All any of us can do is tread as lightly on the planet as possible and cause the least amount of suffering within the confines of the society in which we live. I believe wholeheartedly that adopting a plant-based (vegan) diet is the single greatest choice each of us can make to reduce our contribution to global warming, air and water pollution, soil depletion, deforestation, and human and animal suffering, and I live and stand by these ideals. If my choice makes you so uncomfortable that you feel the need to post such a vitriolic comment, perhaps your time online might be more joyfully spent elsewhere, in a place with others who embrace your own particular ideology.

KathyA said...

One has to wonder what Travis's motivation is for coming here in the first place. His comment is about as defensive as Karen's response to me when I asked her about the bacon, myself. (I wonder if the two are related in some way?)

I too, was put off to learn that Holy Donuts are no longer vegan. And I'm not even vegan! I am vegetarian, and the thought of bacon on a donut is repulsive to me. Karen explained to me that her motivation behind making vegan donuts was to make them healthy. But that's insane, because "healthy donut" is an oxymoron. While a lofty goal, it's impossible to make a "healthy" donut. Without cholesterol, you might be able to make a "less health-damaging" donut. But a "healthy" one? No way.

It's hard enough being vegetarian (never mind vegan) in a meat-loving world without businesses that start out trying to capture a vegan market and then moving in the opposite direction. I empathize with this blogger's confusion and displeasure. In fact, I share it.

Anonymous said...

I know that Karen at Holy Donuts added the maple- bacon donut to her menu because her father liked them. He died, and it's a way to honor him in her mind, I think. I don't have any problem with her marketing herself as vegan when 99.9 percent of what is on the menu (an approximation) IS in fact vegan. If you go to her shop and are vegan, order something vegan. Restaurants that market themselves as organic may not have every single ingredient be organic. It's ok!

Vegiegail said...

Hi Anonymous! Thank you for your comment. I think the difference is that most restaurants that market that they are organic, acknowledge on their menus that they use organic ingredients "whenever possible." Of course there are exceptions. The Go Healthy Cafe on West 11th has signs on its exterior saying "organic" and "vegan" and this can be misleading. More than one vegan in Eugene has mentioned to me that they expected the entire menu to be vegan, when in fact, only a couple of items on the menu are vegan. (Interestingly, I didn't leap to that conclusion from their signage, but I can clearly see how others might.) I think it's terrific that more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of offering vegan options. I also think they need to be conscious of how they use that (or any other) label so as not to mislead customers.

But anytime someone makes a vegan choice instead of a non-vegan choice, it's good for the planet and the animals. And I'm happy that there are more and more vegan options available in Eugene.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Vegiegail. I guess to me it really is all about choices. Consumers have a choice of what to buy and proprietors have their choice of what to offer. When I see a sign that says organic and vegan, I don't automatically assume that every option is organic and vegan. Go Healthy also caters to those who are gluten intolerant, but they don't put that on their sign. I can find vegan and organic and gluten free options at many places that don't market themselves as such. I am grateful for the choices and I also think that people who don't have food intolerances or who don't make choices such as veganism or vegetarianism should be able to populate places that offer "normal" food. I go to coffee shops with my friends and my gluten-free friends can find good stuff and so can I. We don't worry about cross-contamination because we are going to places that we trust. Vegans can have that same experience if they ask and trust.

slowcooker said...

One of my statements was unclear. What I really meant was: I am not a vegan and don't have food intolerances, and don't eat everything organic, yet I can find organic, vegan, and gluten free options everywhere I go. My friends who DO have intolerances or who make choices such as veganism or vegetarianism should find options everywhere they go, too, even at places that sell "normal" food. Offering options for everyone increases your options of your business staying viable and means that you can reach more people.

Vegiegail said...

Thank you for stopping by and for your comments, slowcooker. Please understand that I have no problem with any business that chooses to sell vegan and non-vegan items. What I have difficulty with is a business that clearly markets itself as vegan, and later changes its game plan without making that equally as clear. If someone has been telling me for the last two years that everything they sell is vegan, then it really comes as a disconcerting surprise to discover down the road that this is no longer the case. I believe that you can please everyone's palate without switching from making your donuts egg-free and dairy-free to including eggs and cow's milk as ingredients. Certainly, the exception here is accommodating people who are gluten intolerant or who have other food sensitivities. And on that note, it's interesting to point out that both dairy and eggs are among the most allergenic foods.

The larger issue here that seems to have gotten lost is not about giving people more choices. It's about the enormous suffering that goes into the production of meat, eggs, and dairy products. Everyone can enjoy delicious donuts that are made with exclusively cruelty-free ingredients. Until more businesses (like the first three featured in this blog post), start demonstrating just how delicious cruelty-free can be, most people will continue to believe that vegan food is somehow less satisfying than food containing animal-based ingredients.