Mi Patio Cafe: Serving Animal Products to Unaware Vegan Families Isn’t Ethical

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I’m quite upset to learn that food truck vendor Mi Patio Cafe & Grill sold animal flesh and animal dairy byproducts on nearly every food option on their menu at Vegandale Food & Drink Festival, where all food and beverages were intended to be fully vegan. Customers were livid and felt betrayed (by a local business nonetheless).

Hearing this news brought up a memory from my own experience at Vegandale. I helped at a New York City-based vendor table called Monk’s Meats for a few hours, assisting in sandwich prep. One customer glanced at the sandwich handed to him, then looked back at its server. “Is this meat?” he asked suspiciously. “Ah, no…” he received in reply. Overhearing this exchange, I thought to myself, Wow, how ridiculous! Let’s not be *that* kinda vegan… I mean, this is a vegan festival! Looks like this man had the right idea to question after all. (For the record, Monk’s Meats is a 100% plant-based business).

 

Vegandale was promoted as ‘100% vegan… Where you don’t have to worry about ingredients,’ and this reassurance was given in the website FAQ as well. We paid $10-$20 per ticket to enjoy a fully vegan community event with promise to uphold a certain standard of ethics.

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What Happened?

Shortly after the festival opened, one attendee warned others about Mi Patio on the public Houston event page. In person, others spread the word to those in line around the truck.

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Upon realizing their food wasn’t vegan, patrons asked for their money back. Though apparently some did request refunds, it isn’t about the money. For vegans, eating animal flesh is like eating human flesh. We don’t see animals as food. It is ethically horrifying, makes many of us physically ill, and not to mention a lot of individuals went vegan due to food allergies, making ingredient transparency extremely important.

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It would be one matter if this were an issue of simple ignorance; however, festival organizers asked vendors to comply with a rule to serve only vegan food, so Mi Patio owners did know what to expect and what would be expected by patrons.

Screenshots show Mi Patio telling multiple, separate individuals that animal meat was indeed served to patrons including a 1-year-old baby.

Witnesses described a festival organizer yelling at the truck owner after being alerted to the issue. The signs for non-vegan menu items were removed as a result, but apparently this action didn’t necessitate the end of their animal meat sales.

Pictured here is the full menu (top) served at Mi Patio until they were ordered to remove non-vegan items (bottom). The top menu includes dead chicken, pig, cow, shrimp and their fluids in the form of butter, parmesan, shredded cheese, and butter. The 4-6 supposedly vegan food items (white signs) may have been cooked in animal broth or on the same grill as animal meat, which would make them not even vegetarian.

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However, one attendee noted:

At first they where saying that the white menus was vegan and the orange ones weren’t and the corn and churros weren’t white. I know the corn had mayo, and cheese and the churros probably butter

Very disappointing and unacceptable that they made the CHOICE to serve whatever they wanted instead of showing respect to the trusting event audience and hard-working organizers.

Mi Patio Response

One attendee with his 8+ member family patroned the business but wasn’t aware they’d been served animal meat until messages with Mi Patio illuminated the truth. This man reached out to Mi Patio after the festival to inquire about their menu for potential event catering. This conversation was held after Mi Patio was scolded by the festival organizer on-site, so they had plenty of time to formulate whatever story they wished to tell.

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It sounds like they brought extra real chicken “in case anyone asked,” and when a vegan asked for chicken (assuming it was vegan because of course they would), they handed over an actual dead chicken.

So far, further correspondence with Mi Patio on this issue has been on their end marked by condescending explanations.

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“With shame,” they are the victims. “This was just something to try out” — just an experiment.

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I guess the problem was veganism, and it’s too difficult to simply not serve animal meat at a vegan festival. They “tried.”

Freebirds, Which Wich, Pepperoni’s, and Govinda’s are several of many non-vegan businesses who showed up with only vegan fare for festival attendees. They tried. And they made a killing (without killing, ironically) — their super-hungry, super-foodie vegan customer base will be a strong return crowd going forward. See, it isn’t that hard.

Later Mi Patio altered their story in responses to other messages. Here they contradict statements made in private messages earlier that day, in which they admitted to serving dead animals as food. If they only had vegan meat and “things that were vegan” according to this version, why were they publicly berated by a festival team member who forced them to take down most of their menu?

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Mi Patio shared this attempt at an apology on their Instagram account before deactivating.

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The most recent post on their Facebook page was a photo of their black bean burrito offering. The following comments were made:

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What on this good-godly Earth were they thinking? I hate to think the worst of anyone and so I will give benefit of the doubt here. I will have to chalk Mi Patio’s behavior up to three driving factors: 1) an eye for profits, 2) a lack of understanding about the sanctity of animal-friendliness in the vegan community, 3) a misconception of veganism as a flexible diet choice instead of a moral compulsion.

Did they know non-vegan food wasn’t allowed? Yes, they knew. Did they bring it anyway with intent to sell? It sure seems so. Their messages, albeit confusingly worded, indicate that they handmade several options they considered to be vegan and listed those along with their regular menu items as if that would suffice. Why would they still offer additional non-vegan items? They mention budgetary and timing concerns (handcrafting new vegan options would take more time and cost more money than using up leftover meat products on hand). A little greedy, are we? I’d say so.

I think this new business got way ahead of itself. If they wanted to provide vegan options along with their regular menu, that would be fine and perhaps even warmly welcomed by vegans — literally anywhere else. Bringing meat into a vegan festival is one thing (they mention their truck being the natural place for storing their animal meat — well, alright? Poor planning much?), but then offering it as a legitimate menu option is quite another.

And when ordered to remove the animal meat from their offerings, they took this to a whole other level by continuing to sell it “as necessary” — in other words, upon request. But who’s to say a customer expected animal products when asking for a perfectly veganize-able dish such as elotes, especially at a vegan festival?

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I can only speak for myself here, but I wouldn’t attend a traditional Texas barbecue festival presuming to find seitan cutlets for sale. I also wouldn’t expect anyone to be prepared to accommodate my meat-free needs at such an event.

Meat-eaters will certainly survive one meal without animal products. Amazingly, they won’t miss or physically crave meat even spending a few hours apart from it at a vegan festival. Mi Patio’s ignorance of this fact shows how little trust they have in the effectiveness of veganism, and it’s sustainability as more than a food trend.

I vibe something dirty and sneaky here too, given the contradictory responses between upset individuals and the timely mentions of what sounds like the existence of a too-convenient faux meat packet (why would a business bother buying only a single packet of mock meat to feed hundreds or thousands of patrons? Wouldn’t this cause additional hassle for the employees after emptying said packet, to then have to clarify how the food is no longer vegan? Or to explain why one person’s chicken tastes one way and his friend’s quite another?). This is where that tea-sipping Kermit meme comes in handy, I think.

Mi Patio deactivated their Facebook and Instagram pages on Sunday, preventing more messages or questions coming through. The pages are still deactivated as of June 6th.

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Why It’s a Big Deal

I know it can be hard for a non-vegan to empathize with a vegan who has unknowingly swallowed what non-vegans consider to be perfectly acceptable “food.” One vegan compared the possibility of eating Mi Patio’s meat dishes to finding a used condom on her plate. A stretch? Honestly, not really. The juices of a decomposing carcass don’t sound any more edible to me, personally.

Yet having been non-vegan for most of my life, I understand the widespread normalization of animal slaughter to generate marketable and profitable nuggets, strips, steaks, patties, and links. I understand why many can’t fathom how “just pick it out” or “just put it to the side” is an impossible task to fulfill. I think most non-vegans wouldn’t appreciate a slice of human flank bordering their green peas, or cheek of dog chopped into their rice, but it can take overcoming deep cognitive dissonance to view these offenses with the same horror vegans experience when noticing a stray shred of cow cheese on a salad — a symbol of maternal suffering, of the genocide of youth, forgotten and ignored by many on its way to this plate, but not overlooked by the vegan for whom it’s a reminder that we cannot truly escape the ongoing cruelty that will produce more of these tiny shreds, until more of us start seeing them for what they are.

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When a vegan sees meat on a menu, she’s being informed about a holocaust. I read “bacon” and I can’t help but think about the pig whose life ended far too soon, born to a mother on death row, grown for the purpose of being cut right back down, shredded and crisped and sold to make money for this to happen billions more times.

I see floppy ears twitching, listening, eyes searching for separated family. I see a once wet snout that never slept in natural, instinctual position nose-to-nose with loved ones, as pigs do — a snout hacked off and dry-processed into a cheap dog chew, tossed in a bucket nose-to-nose with the others, finally, in a most gruesome, postmortem nightmare kind of way.

I see an advertisement in a restaurant window showing a headless, skinned body covered in grease so the camera’s light catches it just sickeningly right. I think about what happened to him or her — to the ‘him’ or ‘her’ who once inhabited this now mutilated body. I’ve seen the videos. I know exactly what happened to them, and I’ll never be able to unsee it.

When a vegan accidentally finds himself in the grocery store deli, his heart stops. A lump forms in his throat. He sees a graveyard. He chokes down something like panic, sensing that this isn’t a safe place, like a horror movie where everyone is shopping for bloodied bodies, casually strolling the aisles in a trance, laughing to each other about how her husband can’t wait to stick knives into these corpses over a fire and how his wife found a great section of discounted buy-one-get-one-free flesh so thanks for the tip Judy, and the children were waiting at home to be fed, smiling and salivating over advertisements that panhandled disembodied arms, legs, breasts, guts, ribs, all cleverly disguised in basting sauce and peppercorn spices and herbs and molded into shapes recognizable to the youngest among the brainwashed.

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When vegans dine in mixed company with non-vegans, we try our best to hold our shit together. But it gets harder and harder the longer we’re vegan. We may politely assure them we aren’t offended or we don’t mind, but we are offended and we do fucking mind. It’s a gross disturbance to the psyche to witness a body being consumed when we know it didn’t need to die for this in the first place. It feels like we’re drowning in our silence when social norms and relationship pacts say we must respect this choice made by another (a choice we made many times ourselves in non-vegan days, so who are we to judge).

So then imagine how a vegan feels when he unwittingly takes part in this tradition — when he’s duped into spending his hard-earned money on continuing this cycle of violence? When he accepts it as part of a meal, under the illusion that it’s cohesive with his morals and spiritual beliefs and dietary needs and restrictions like allergies or the vegan’s typical lack of gut enzymes for processing meat? How do you think he feels when he absorbs and digests these carcasses — not this food, but these carcasses — to become part of his own living body? When this happens without his informed consent, will, or knowledge?

Presenting animal products to a crowd who believe they’ll encounter only naturally vegan food, vegan food substitutes, and vegan food alternatives is dangerous, irresponsible, unethical, and not in the least bit funny.

It’s time to take veganism seriously.

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Vegandale Response

Vegandale’s response to a slew of upset activists on Instagram:

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I reached out to Vegandale’s media team via email for a comment. Director of Vegan Operations Eva Lampert wrote:

“[Our] vendors are strictly prohibited from selling anything that isn’t 100% vegan, so when our team was made aware of an incident early into the Houston event, we made sure the vendor ceased sales of animal products immediately. Our terms and conditions of participation strictly forbid animal products, so we were as disappointed as our guests for this blatant deception.”

In my opinion, this is not strong enough penalty for the serious breach of contract. The truck was allowed to continue their business for the rest of the day — for many hours — instead of being kicked off the property immediately, a move that would’ve sent a firm message to fellow vendors about the graveness of these guidelines. And to attendees: a heartening message of solidarity and concern for our well-being.

Lampert did maintain that Mi Patio will be prohibited from returning as a future vendor (I assume along with several other vendors who didn’t adhere to the vegan-only guidelines — namely, an Asian-theme food truck whose sign warned about recipes containing milk and eggs, and a popsicle stand whose frozen treats contained bee honey [in an exchange with one individual, their representative issued an apology that sounded sincere; my own requests for comment have been read but remain unacknowledged]).

Eva Lampert continued:

“Our vendors are made aware of the regulations when we pre-approve their menu choices before offering a space, through our terms and conditions during the checkout process when they purchase their space, and a third time when they confirm their attendance one week before the event. We will continue to remind all non-vegan participants that only vegan options are allowed at our 100% vegan event. For those who did not adhere to our guidelines, there will not be a chance for participation again at future events.”

Mi Patio is also now suspiciously missing from the Houston vendors list on the Vegandale website. (These are not the same graphic. I included the first only to demonstrate where one would find Mi Patio among the vendor list).

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After the event, several vendors reread their agreement papers and subsequently claimed nowhere in the 45 pages did there appear to be any explicit mention of forbidden foods. Throughout the document, it is supposedly made very clear that this festival would be marketed as vegan-friendly. Vendors were required to provide a list of items they would be selling, but it’s not known whether these items were verified as vegan-exclusive in any way.

Whatever is the case, I don’t believe this incident was the Vegandale team’s fault.

The Vegandale team was misled just like attendees. I think the main troubles with their response were failing to address concerns quickly enough, and allowing Mi Patio to remain on the premises for sales. I imagine they wished to formulate carefully thought out responses, as accusations of false advertising can be perilous territory in the food industry.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • You can never be too careful about what you put in your body.
  • Opportunities for education are everywhere.
  • Vegans are willing to show up in large numbers to spend large amounts of money on food.
  • Unethical businesses will be found, exposed, and lose customers.
  • Vegans are compassionate and forgiving, but first and foremost we are warriors for animals and protective as hell about our human families and friends.
  • As veganism becomes more mainstream, vegan-run organizations need our help and support more than ever.

How Vegandale can prevent this from happening next year:

  • Ensure there is a clause in the vendor contract stating that all items sold or donated must be 100% vegan.
  • Further explain in the contract what constitutes “vegan.” It should cover items considered “controversial” to non-vegans (for example, bee honey is not vegan but its lack of animal friendliness still causes confusion for many non-vegans). Suggestions for popular vegan-friendly alternatives could be offered (in this example, apple honey, agave, or maple syrup as a bee honey replacement).
  • Thoroughly vet all vendors.
  • Employ event staff to visit each vendor prior to opening to check whether their set-up meets the code.
  • Impose a fine or other form of enforcement if non-vegan items are sold or donated.
  • Vendors who break the rules must leave immediately and forfeit all costs.

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I had a great day at the festival (incidentally I was lucky to not have purchased anything for my family at Mi Patio) and hope to attend next year should they choose to return. The music was awesome, the crowd maintained enthusiastic energy despite the insane heat index, and the unaplogetically vegan AF art installations were quite a thrill to behold.

That said, next time I will take it upon myself to be responsible for confirming ingredients in any purchased items, or patron only known fully-vegan businesses. I feel a bit naive thinking this would be some kind of impenetrable, heavenly vegan bubble where everyone would be on the same page about respect for veganism. I guess we have a few more years (or decades) before that might become a reality.

Plus this was a vegan festival in arguably THE most carnivorous North American state. There is so much barbecued flesh here, keeping it off 10,000 people’s plates on the first try would be quite an impressive feat. Oh, Texas… sigh.

So, I still fully support this festival. It would be a shame to let one rotten apple spoil the bunch and to hatchet the whole festival down at the knees because of one businesses’ poor choice.

In the wake of the news about Mi Patio, one local animal rights activist Dani Alexander opined: “This is why I’d much rather be doing activism then going to vegan food festivals.”

It is sad that Mi Patio was so discouraged that they say they won’t cater to vegans in the future. I believe this incident only more strongly proves how important events like this are to raising awareness about veganism, in addition to the regular animal welfare activism that suits our interests and talents.

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5 thoughts on “Mi Patio Cafe: Serving Animal Products to Unaware Vegan Families Isn’t Ethical

    • No, because vegans eat plant-based ‘checken’ all the time. Since this event was billed as “100% vegan,” and all vendors were only allowed to sell vegan food, it would have gone without saying that ordering a chicken fajita (for example) would result in being given a vegan chicken fajita.

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