Note: As Omar Afra reminded us on Twitter today, "Worst of" entries are public submissions and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Free Press Houston. Carry on.
This week, Free Press Houston released its always-scathing, usually quite hilarious "Worst of Houston List." Other than the usual passing shots at local politicians and Omar Afra's far too familiar hand-wringing about how much YOU are ruining Montrose, there was a blurb we here at Eating...Our Words found amusing.
In an odd rant, Alice Newman rails against vegan and vegetarian joint Radical Eats, for -- among other things -- "not giving her something she can't get on every street corner." We beg to differ and find it a shame that Free Press Houston, with such a solid audience of alternative lifestyle readers, chose to attack -- even in jest -- one of the very best options in our limited selection of vegan restaurants.
Here's Newman's full spiel:
Worst Vegetarian Restaurant: Radical Eats
Why would I pick this as the city's worst vegetarian restaurant when according to Yelp, Houston Press, and Alison Cook this is the best thing to happen to Houston vegetarians since pre-sliced tempeh? Because I am not impressed. Tonight, I had a frozen Amy's meal I bought from Kroger and it was good. I enjoyed it. At first I thought I would actually put the food I had from Radical Eats on the same level as that Amy's meal, but after thinking about it I liked that frozen meal better. I can get Mexican food just about anywhere in this town. With the amount of bean tacos I have eaten since I went meat-free I should be glad that I don't weigh about 500 pounds. Mexican restaurants are one of the easiest places to go to when dining with your meat-eating friends. Throw some rice, beans, and guac into a tortilla and you have an easy vegan meal at just about any taco truck or Tex-Mex joint in the city, WHY MAKE A VEGAN MEXICAN RESTAURANT? Give me something I haven't had in 13 years, not something I can get on every street corner in Texas. Give me something I never get to eat: vegan meatball subs, vegan milkshakes or a vegan chicken-fried steak. Can someone please step up and give Houston vegetarians a little choice in this city? Don't even bother going to their website to check out their menu because that alone will make you want to punch someone.
Newman doesn't mention much about the food from Radical Eats at all, other than the fact that she prefers Amy's Frozen Meals. You won't hear an argument against Amy's from us; they make some of the best microwave burritos on the market, vegan or otherwise. And while we are ten years removed from being able to seriously critique microwave dinners, we do take umbrage at the idea that a $6 plastic tray of flash-frozen black beans is superior to Radical Eats' assortment of fresh tacos and tamales.
But you can get those tacos in vegetarian or vegan form practically anywhere, Newman tells us. This is Houston after all; the only zoning law we have on the books is the one that requires a Tex-Mex restaurant every two blocks. And all of the beans, rice and tortillas from every one of those places are vegan, she tells us.
Wait, what? So anything that doesn't expressly have "USDA choice beef" stamped on it is vegan?
Let's be clear, since Free Press hasn't quite been: There is no guarantee that any of the above ingredients are vegetarian or vegan.
Restaurants use lard, animal stock, butter and other non-vegan ingredients on a regular basis, largely with little to no concern for vegan or vegetarian diners. Beans and rice are commonly cooked in stock (and it's not vegetable stock). Refried beans may contain any number of animal byproducts. A typical order of charro beans contains pork. Tortillas come in contact or may even contain butter and lard. Moreover, since the average Tex-Mex hole-in-the-wall is not equipped to deal with a vegan diet, servers and even cooks may be blissfully unaware as to which menu items are truly vegan.
Oddly enough, it seems that the main reason for Newman's ire -- we find out later -- is not Radical Eats itself, but rather the fact that there aren't enough vegan choices in Houston. "Can someone please step up and give Houston vegetarians a little choice in this city?" she moans.
Let's get this straight: You don't like the city's limited choices, so the best course of action is to publicly attack one of its very best options? Somewhere, a torts professor just had an aneurysm.
If diners want a particular segment of dining to increase and flourish in Houston, the best course of action is probably to support that type of dining. Just saying. Now, that's not to say you should hand your wallet over to every vegan or vegetarian place that pops up, but one as good as Radical Eats certainly deserves better than this.
And while we're on it, why attack a business not for what they do sell, but for what they don't? You may as well write a Yelp review because Uchi wouldn't sell you baked ziti. Better yet, if you so desperately want a chicken-fried steak or a meatball sub, here's a tip: Don't be vegetarian in the first place.