Guest Post: R&B superstar Usher is eating vegan! And he wants Justin Bieber to join him!  »

It’s always a big deal when someone famous comes out of the vegan closet. Us normal, everyday vegans celebrate it, and our omnivorous friends think, “Hey, maybe they aren’t so weird after all.” Maybe that last part isn’t always true but we all know we’re the LESS weird ones. And our count just went up by one, as Usher Raymond IV announced he is maintaining a vegan diet. My first thoughts? “Yeah!” [Ed. note: That’s the jam].

I have a sneaking suspicion that he and his 18-pack abs will still be gyrating under unzipped leather coats for the foreseeable future, but a small victory is a small victory. Usher saying he eats vegan has led to speculation that he’s getting his main man Justin Bieber to also gravitate to a plant-based diet, so he’ll have more energy fighting off 12-year-old girls in international airports. The Biebs going vegan will be huge for P.R. in the pro-vegan community, especially when accounting for the 8-to-14-year-old girl demographic. If I see a flock of Bielibers running toward a chrome Fisker in the parking lot of Native Foods Cafe, you bet your animal-loving ass I’m going to ask for a high five. I just better not have to wait any longer for my reuben.

There is more than handful of famous vegans. It’s tough to say who is in it for moral reasons and who just claims it as they get out of a Prius on the red carpet. Natalie Portman for example, isn’t all vegan all the time. But we beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. If veganism gets a little shine here and there from a celebrity trying to better their lives, who am I to complain? We got Billy Clinton to look as good as ever since his vegan transition. I was contemplating buying women’s underwear Wednesday night just so I could throw some at the TV. Lucky for the rest of us dudes, Usher can’t get any prettier. Right?

Let’s hope that Ursher’s selling skills are as good as his sit-up skills and we can mark down more artists in the famous-V column. He reportedly feels great and “loves” eating out at fancy New York city restaurants. Not the best-ringing endorsement to potential or on-the-fence vegans, since people of all diets can eat out in fancy New York restaurants. But we’ll take it! Hopefully Usher will make a Billboard chart-topping single where he serenades an unsuspecting woman on where he gets his protein. I’ll buy that record.

Andrew E. Irons is a blogger from Long Beach, Calif. He co-created and contributes to Rhode Island-based hip-hop website The Echo Chamber Blog under the pseudonym Verbal Spacey. You can track his daily diatribes by following him on Twitter.


Guest Post: San Diego part 2: Ranchos Cocina!  »

The only downside, if you want to even call it a downside, to an all-vegan establishment is trying to persuade your omnivorous friends and family to join you. Most of the time, I’m able to join up with a group of co-workers or acquaintances after they consume some of our fallen furry friends or head out to a place that serves mostly liquid items. But the inevitable always rears it’s head, and the daunting task of appeasing many different morals takes precedence.

That’s where Ranchos Cocina in North Park comes in. They refer to themselves as a “Mexican and Vegetarian Cuisine” restaurant which is a tad too ambiguous for my liking, because I believe they are much more than that. The meat-eaters in your Donner Party will be happy with the amount of options available, as will the vegetarian and vegan homies. As soon as you and your squad sits down, someone is ready to hand you complementary chips and salsa. Which, if you have no self control like me, doubles as an appetizer. Their menu is recently refreshed and there are much more tiny, bold faced “V”s hanging around on the new menu. “V,” of course, denotes “may be made vegan.” Music to our hippie ears.

My first trip to Ranchos this past week, I was with two fellas of the non-vegan guild. They were able to order non-vegan things while I was able to order my favorite dish on the menu, Breakfast Combination no. 237, Soy Vegan Chorizo con Tofu. Their breakfast portion of the menu is available all day, because they know breakfast isn’t just for sopping up last night’s booze. This meal is a mountain of tofu scramble with soy chorizo and some assorted grilled veggies. Also a side of potatoes (or rice) and beans with your choice of tortilla. I go for the whole wheat tortilla because of it’s size—it unfolds to the size of manhole cover. I feel like I’m getting a bonus that the corn and flour folks are missing out on.

I digress. Their tofu is off the chains, as the kids used to say. Firm and seasoned, you can see bits of either thyme or pepper in the crumbled bits of Mexican-flavored vegan-ry. The soy chorizo is salty, but in that good way, not in the oops-I-dropped-the-Kosher-salt-into-the-pan way. The potatoes and beans give the plate of food that diner taste and feel. But the diner feel stops there, as the food doesn’t sit in your stomach for 15-minutes only to go into emergency mode. As vegans, at least for me, the “feel” after the meal is the best barometer of how “vegan” a restaurant actually is. Ranchos knows their vegan clientele and appreciates our views. It tastes and feels like real, home-cooked food.

I had to hit them up one more time before I trekked back up to the county of The Angels. This time I went right in as they opened in the morning with just me and my hangover tagging along. I’m not sure if it’s because single dining patrons only rack up bills worthy of tips in the $2-to-$4 range or if this man was genuine, but my waiter insisted on being extremely accommodating. I’m never one to base my restaurant visits on the service.

Again, I digress. He, the waiter, assumed of my vegan-ness by my asking for soy milk in my iced coffee and was quick to offer up his opinions on what was good. I was a mere half-a-second away from ordering the “Tofu con Soy Chorizo” again until he suggested the “Vegan Breakfast Burrito.” Which I was more-than-proud of heeding his advice for once the plate landed in front of me. This zeppelin-sized tortilla was easily the biggest burrito I’ve seen, and upon digesting it, the tastiest as well. The same seasoned, firm tofu is used in the breakfast burrito as in the scramble, in a flavor orgy with potatoes, assorted veggies and tempeh “sausage.” It was so big and filling, I couldn’t finish the 1/16th scale of the U.S.S. Enterprise in one sitting. So, if you’re keeping score, that’s chips and salsa, iced coffee (that was refilled thrice times), a ginormous burrito (that was used for two meals) for a whopping $9.16 before tip.

Now, math was never my strongest subject, but if you add everything up, I’m pretty sure Ranchos, Evolution Fast Food, and the many other unheralded San Diego vegan eateries are worthy of L.A.-sized exposure. I don’t want to pit San Diego against L.A., because that’s not a fair fight. Just don’t forget about S.D. It’s more than just a city with mediocre sports teams and a big zoo. So thanks, San Diego, we enjoy your second fiddle. Sometimes L.A. smells funny anyway.

Andrew E. Irons is a blogger from Long Beach, Calif. He co-created and contributes to Rhode Island-based hip-hop website The Echo Chamber Blog, under the pseudonym Verbal Spacey. You can track his daily diatribes by following him on Twitter.


Guest Post: San Diego Part 1: Evolution Fast Food  »

Alternative title: ”Hey, we have vegan food too!”

Growing up in Rhode Island for the better part of my existence, I’ve grown accustomed to having my local habitat being played as the second fiddle. The music and art industries, whether through concerts, shows, or just the available exposure itself to these, seemed to skip the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (yes, that’s our real, full name) altogether. Everyone assumed this was do to our close proximity to Boston and New York and no one from Lil’ Rhody (yes, that is our real “nickname”) wants to drive to New York or Boston because they’re “wicked fah!” San Diego, I find, kind of sees similar persecution. America’s Finest City is well-populated, and has its own vibe with plenty of culture. But we in the vegan community never seem to hear much about what St. Diego has to offer by way of animal-free food consumption—instead, we in SoCal hear much ado about L.A. More people, mainly us compassionate ones, should know of the mini-vegan food Mecca that is in San Diego.

San Diego was supposed to get the mother of all vegan restaurant chains, Native Foods Cafe, but that either fell through, is still being constructed, or Monsanto stepped in and bought the property. Having a world-renowned chain like Native in The 619 (or The 858 or The 760) would have been huge. Both for me and my friends who live there but also for the San Diego vegan community. However, there are equally as tasty treats deep within the cozy confines of the city. If fast food-themed is your bag, similar to Native Foods, there is Evolution Fast Food. E.F.F. is a must-see for me each and every time I’m in S.D. I have a “go-to” choice and “back-up” ready to order. A back-up is sometimes needed because they tend to sell out of their daily “specials.” Which leads me to believe they have a good sized customer base ready and willing to try new things. During my most recent visit just this past week, they had a new special available of which just the description alone made me weak in the knees and caused cold sweats. It was like I was back in high school when my man parts would do what they wished, when they wished. Male-hormonal rages aside, this is what the board read:

"California Burrito"

  • Carne asada
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
  • Fries
  • & cheese!

And all these fine basic descriptors were supposedly wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla. I say supposedly because that Bad Larry was sold out. Bummer. Upon learning the bad news I was back in flashback mode, this time elementary school when I learned Santa Claus didn’t actually check his list twice. Luckily, my standby order is impeccable and cured my sadness post haste. I’ve been a burger-and-fries type of guy since long before my vegan days. And the Bacon Cheeseburger at E.F.F. fits the bill to a T. They’ve recently started using Gardein for their patties on all their burgers, but if processed mock meats aren’t your thing, they also have a house-made bean patty option. I’m a fan of Gardein, so I recommend the O.G. version. The bean patty is too… beany.

Options are always awesome as a consumer, especially when you’re a vegan consumer when you’re about to consume vegan goods. It’s like little bits of Christmas morning each time someone behind the counter asks you a closed ended question regarding your order. In addition to the bean patty or Gardein patty, you can also choose between standard fries or the sweet potato version. I’m excessively sweet as it is, so I always opt for the regular spuds. I’m kidding. Sort of.

Evolution Fast Food isn’t really known in my circle of non-vegan compadres in San Diego. Most think it’s still called one of their previous names and others assume all they serve is wheat grass shots and tofu slabs. It’s a brilliant take on the prototypical fast food menu, just vegan’d out. But they also do soft serve ice cream, smoothies and desserts. Best of all, the entire restaurant is 100% vegan. So you’ll never have to worry about cross contamination or wondering if a bun or slice of bread is also fitting to your compassionate ways. There is also a “drive-thru” window, perfect if you’re feeling nostalgic and want to re-live the times the whole family went down to those golden arches. As far as convenience however, you’re better off parking and walking up.

Stay tuned for San Diego Part 2: Ranchos Cocina!

Andrew E. Irons is a blogger from Long Beach, California.  He co-created and contributes to a Rhode Island based Hip-Hop website, The Echo Chamber Blog, under the pseudonym Verbal Spacey. You can track his daily diatribes by following him on Twitter.

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