Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

10 February, 2010

Frozen Yoghurt Lament and Vegetarian Doublespeak

It's funny that Jesse Russell should lament the paucity of frozen yoghurt joints here in Madison today at Dane 101 and notes the opening of a Red Mango frozen yoghurt store on State Street. Whilst traipsing about earlier today, someone from Red Mango was giving out free samples on one corner while another woman handed out flyers across the street. I took a flyer and saw that the Red Mango folks proudly proclaim that their yoghurt is 100% natural and completely non-fat. I immediately threw the flyer and its attendant coupon in the trash.

What crap. Is this stuff made from soy milk? Since when are denuded dairy products natural? Milk naturally has fat in it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And check out the specs on their cocoa flavor. The "flavor profile" is that of "Rich Cocoa Bean". Naturally speaking, cocoa beans have fat in them. Check out the Wikipedia page for them: "Cocoa bean (also cacao bean[1], often simply cocoa and cacao) is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of Theobroma cacao". The **fatty** seed. Take out the fat and you don't have a rich cocoa bean anymore.

On another note, I recall a story that a friend told me. He too works in IT and back when the Peacemeal vegetarian restaurant was open, he took some of his co-workers from India there for lunch. As my buddy recalls it, they were rather dismayed that a vegetarian restaurant seemingly did nothing other than offer faux meat dishes. I can't say I blame them. I went to an Indian restaurant in Chicago a few years back that was vegetarian and had me an uthappam which was excellent. Nowhere on the menu were there dishes traditionally made with meat labeled in such a way as to reassure erstwhile vegetarians that you really can go home again. This is because they served foods that were invented meatless in the first place, not transmogrified to console those who have exorcised meat from their diet.

Unfortunately, the new vegetarian restaurant here in Madison, The Green Owl carries on in the worst tradition by combining meatlessness with Orwellian doublespeak. For instance, there are "vegan crabcakes". Just as Kraft ought to be chastised for daring to put the word "cheese" on a Velveeta box, so too for The Green Owl. It's not a crabcake if there's no crab in it. What exactly goes into such a culinary atrocity? I don't know as their menu doesn't elaborate. Then we have the Vegetarian Meatball Sub with "eggplant meatballs". No meat, no meatball. Being the Italian beef lover that I am, I am especially appalled by the Vegetarian Italian Beef made with wheat gluten. There's no beef within miles of one of these things so why is the word "beef" in the menu? And don't get me started on Vegan Schnitzel.

Why does chef/proprietor Jennie Capellaro feel the need to engage in such semantic foolhardiness? If there's no beef in it, don't use the word "beef" to describe your sandwich. Call it an "Italian Wheat Gluten" instead and stop trying to fool people into thinking that there is even the most tenuous link between what you serve and what millions of people in Chicagoland proudly eat every day. I had enough of this kind of bullshit when George Bush was president. You know, back in the days when torture wasn't torture.
|| Palmer, 4:15 PM


i've chatted about this (the green owl) topic with other vegans who really can't stand meat substitute food... and i've come to the conclusion that vegetarians and vegans are not her audience (at least not now). i think she's trying to appeal to the "not-quite-ready" crowd of eaters who find something cutesy about trying a vegan dish, yet it still feels comfortable because the name of the meat is in the title.

i'm hoping (with fingers and toes crossed) that she'll get more inventive with vegetables once she's more established and fresh veggies are abundant.

she's been making food for years (soups and cookies at mother fool's, desserts at alchemy) and is no dummy, i just hope she has a solid plan. i'd hate to see her fail.
Blogger bekee, at 4:47 PM  
Interesting theory. Not being a vegetarian nor a vegan and not knowing many who are, I'll take your word on this. I too hope she goes beyond bastardizing meat dishes. If she does, I'd even consider going there.

Are you up for some more lectures at the Union?
Blogger Palmer, at 5:48 PM  
Fwiw, I'm vegan and not that into fake meats but I've enjoyed my meals there. I just don't go as often as if it was less "meat" heavy.

The fact that almost everyone wishes it was less "meaty" proves that the market for a more natural vegetarian restaurant exists. She's certainly not tapping it out, judging by how busy it always seems to be.
Anonymous bruce, at 7:55 PM  
Bruce - thanks for your $0.02. Out of curiosity, how often do you eat there?

Perhaps if The Green Owl does well enough, another vegetarian restaurant will open. Or someone will heed the call of folks like yourself and open a vegetarian restaurant that counters The Green Owl with less reliance on dishes with meat substitutes.
Blogger Palmer, at 8:24 AM  
I've been to the Green Owl and enjoyed my meal, as did my companions. I am not a veg or vegan (though was one in a past life, dig vegan cooking very much and still do a bunch of it at home), and couldn't care less whether they make vegan food "in the style of" a particular well-known meat dish, or whether they name their dishes in a way that reflects awareness that some of their audience may be more comfortable with a familiar reference point. The food was good, the place was packed, the environment was pleasant, the service was decent (if a bit slow). Seems to me the owner has done a nice job of being inclusive in bringing people to her table, thus increasing her chances of success in a very difficult industry.

I liked Savory Thymes and I frequented the super-yummy vegan Korean/Japanese restaurant that was in the University Square building a few years ago (can't remember the name), but where are they now? That Ms. Capellaro uses seitan or jackfruit or eggplant in fake-meat ways because she likes it or because she's savvy enough to know that there aren't enough culinarily-pc vegans in town to sustain her business doesn't really matter. Take it or leave it.

And when you open your raw foods or fruitarian restaurant because you're willing to put everything you have on the line in order to offer a "pure" dining experience, I'll visit you, too. And if the food is good, the service is capable, the price is right, the environment is nice and I feel welcome, maybe I'll come back.
Blogger Chris, at 9:51 AM  
Palmer, to be fair, they're actually called "crabby cakes" and not "crabcakes," so there is a small distinction. ;)

I'm a vegetarian, I've enjoyed most of the food I've had at Green Owl, and I'm glad it's there. But I agree very much that a vegetarian restaurant that didn't rely entirely on meat substitute dishes would be spectacular.
Blogger Emily, at 10:04 AM  
Emily, to be fair, here's exactly how it reads on the menu:

"CRABBY CAKE PO'BOY our vegan crabcakes, served on a roll with lettuce, tomato and chipotle rémoulade. $9 vegan"


They are described as "vegan crabcakes". Q.E.D.
Blogger Palmer, at 10:22 AM  

"That Ms. Capellaro uses seitan or jackfruit or eggplant in fake-meat ways because she likes it or because she's savvy enough to know that there aren't enough culinarily-pc vegans in town to sustain her business doesn't really matter."

Nowhere did I criticize the joint for taking eggplant and making balls out of it. Nowhere did I criticize the place for putting wheat gluten in a sandwich. What I take issue with is using the word "meat" when naming balls of eggplant that are meatless and putting the word "beef" in a description of a dish that has no beef in it. She can serve braised cow shit for all I care, just don't try to make any tenuous links between cow shit and a meat dish.

Not being a vegetarian nor a vegan, I have no intention of opening a "raw foods or fruitarian restaurant". For me personally, it's not an issue of being "pure". From Bekee and Bruce's comments, I don't think they're looking for purity either, but I'll let them speak for themselves.

I'm glad that you and apparently many others enjoy the place. Go nuts with the wheat gluten and eggplant. Me, I'll leave it.
Blogger Palmer, at 10:35 AM  
< derail > more union lectures? sure! as long as i don't have to wait an hour to get through security :) < /derail >
Blogger bekee, at 11:04 AM  
What waiting in line forever to get frisked by a UW occifer doesn't appeal to you? Forsooth!

Michael Shermer and V.S. Rrrrrrrramachandran are coming up next month.
Blogger Palmer, at 11:17 AM  
Palmer -

I understood your point. It was plenty clear. My comments were aimed more generally at the other replies as well as the numerous complaints I've heard along the lines of "making vegan food that vaguely resembles meat in name or form is a disgrace". The "you" I was referring to was the "Royal You", not you. Palmer. Given the semantically sensitive nature of your o.p., I should have been clearer.

And for clarity's sake, I agree with you that there is no need to call a vegetarian thing a meat-like thing, but the owner put her money and time down, so she can call it whatever she wants. You won't have it as a result. I don't care what she calls it as long as it is good. A rose by any other name...

Bully for you. Bully for me.
Blogger Chris, at 11:26 AM  
OK. Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you - she can call her dishes whatever she wants.

I have some friends in Milwaukee who are vegetarians and visit occasionally. I may end up at The Green Owl yet.

And, please, call me Skip.

Take care
Blogger Palmer, at 11:43 AM  
Nice to "meat" you, Skip.

Blogger Chris, at 12:12 PM  
Yucca(n) comment any time.

I had to try and I'm not creative. Sorry.
Blogger Palmer, at 12:23 PM  
Do you remember the name of the Indian restaurant in Chicago that you referred to in your article???
Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:12 PM  
Anon - No I don't. But I think it was on the 2500 block of W. Devon.
Blogger Palmer, at 7:58 PM  
I'm a little late to the game here, but I think the food at Green Owl is great. I know Jennie, so I'm biased, but I'm also a carnivore who struggles to eat vegetables that aren't heavily salted, slathered in butter and/or deep-fried. What Jennie does with vegetables is impressive, regardless of what she names her dishes. I agree that the meat references are awkward, and I'd wager that Jennie would prefer to evolve away from it over time, but I think she's wise to throw some shit at the wall in an effort reach beyond the vegetarian-only eaters who have a 100% failure rate of sustaining a vegetarian restaurant in Madison.
Blogger Joe, at 4:11 PM  
Hi Joe - thanks for the comment. I've never eaten there but I don't doubt that Jennie is a more than able chef. My point was that I, as an omnivore, don't make Beef Ratatouille. When I go to Indian restaurants, I never see Vegetarian Chicken Vindaloo on the menu.

All of my griping aside for the moment, I have to wonder why The Green Owl has all these faux meat dishes. Is that her preference? Do a lot of vegetarians & vegans go for that stuff? I believe Flavor of India on the Square does a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian buffet at times. They don't feel the need to appeal to customers with faux meat names so why does The Green Owl?

When I cooked for a living, I would occasionally make a dish that was a lot like meatloaf except it had no meat and instead had nuts, oats, et al. We called it "nutloaf".
Blogger Palmer, at 7:31 AM  

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