One bite at a time

Saving the planet by dining at My Vegan, Veggie & Tea House and Souplantation

By Erica Wayne 04/28/2011

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After a whole week of brisket and ham, matzo balls and jelly beans, stuffed kishka and chocolate bunnies (guess whose family is interfaith), we felt laden with saturated fat and realized the only green, red, orange or yellow anywhere near our plates for the past seven days had been the dyes on our eggs and the parsley dipped in salt water during our seder.
 
We felt especially guilty since this April not only includes Passover and Easter but is also Green Month — a time to celebrate the Jews’ liberation, Christ’s resurrection and the future triumph of eco-logic over those who rape and pillage our planet, leaving huge carbon footprints and clouds of greenhouse gases in their wake.
 
So, as soon our the last Peep was eaten, we hastened to repent by ignoring leftovers and eating at “green” restaurants several days in a row, hoping by the end of the month we’d be tippy-toeing around town with minimal carbon residue and a healthier ozone layer.
 
If you’d like to emulate our path, start at My Vegan. The name tells its story — no meat, eggs or dairy. Most dishes are Thai. Their tom yum soup ($8.95) is great — hot and sour with rice noodles, bean sprouts, chili paste, spinach, crushed peanuts and a sprinkle of scallions. We’re not keen on the pseudo-meats fashioned from soy, so we order their nice spicy curries and noodles ($8.95 with spring roll, salad and brown rice) with soft tofu, and finish off with delicious carrot cake ($4.50).
 
Then try the Veggie & Tea House. Not quite as pure as My Vegan, it’s vegetarian — with some vegan dishes — and much of the produce comes from the owners’ 400-acre farm. The menu at V&T is mostly Chinese (e.g., lettuce wraps - $9.99; fried house veggie rice - $7.99) and quite tasty. Nutritional info (and a cup of tapioca for dessert) is provided. Beverages include complex multi-ingredient veggie/fruit drinks ($5) and, as the name implies, tea. 
 
After several days of vegan and vegetarian dining, we felt cleansed enough to stray from the straight and narrow and head over to Souplantation, our favorite vegetarian-if-you-want-to-be-but-it’s-optional restaurant. Our love affair with Souplantation began years back, when my husband, despite a month-long bout of flu, managed to stop coughing long enough to gain 10 pounds.
 
He’d been touting the Atkins diet since dropping 60 pounds in about a day and a half eating nothing but cheeseburgers — hold the bun. Since then, he’s eschewed vegetables (unless disguised in pureed soups) and fruits (except as minor accompaniment to cheese). Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t joined our cats stalking birds and squirrels in the back yard.
 
I, on the other hand, prefer the balanced methodology of Weight Watchers — fruit, veggies, grains. So, after my equally painful weigh-in, we went to our separate corners of the kitchen and began our regimes. When we decided to dine out, he vetoed Italian and I, Burger King. He vetoed Chinese and I nixed McDonald’s. He vetoed Mexican and I 86’d Jack in the Box.
 
Finally, I suggested Souplantation, and, miraculously, he went for it. He’d forgotten the 55-foot salad bar showcasing the bulk of the offerings — fresh veggies and plenty of them — in the years since he’d been there. But their soups and chili were firmly fixed in his memory banks.
 
Pasadena’s Souplantation was one of the first 10. Now there are more than 120 and a slick Web site with daily menus for each location. And, for us planet-savers and dieters, there’s a breakdown of every item down to the last gram of fat, sugar, protein, fiber, etc. with an indication of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
 
With tray and plate you channel along one side of a dual-lane salad line with an overwhelming array of earth-friendly salads, fresh vegetables, croutons, banana chips and other garnishes before being confronted with a slew of herbal vinegars and salad dressings.
 
Then there’s the soup bar. We're not just talking "cup of soup" but eight or nine varieties of hearty, keep-you-warm-on-a-cold-winter-day-style soups like potato-rosemary, cream of mushroom, minestrone and split pea, most with a consistency akin to porridge.
 
Chili (a little on the mild side, but served with sour cream, onions and cheese) and chicken noodle soup are staples. A hundred or so others ro¬tate, like the numerous prepared salads, pastas, hand-crafted desserts and muffins (three or four varieties per day).
 
Pizza, foccaccia, baked potatoes and cornbread, and a bar with fresh fruits, fruit salads, jello, cottage cheese and yogurt. And, speaking of yogurt, frozen non-fat chocolate and vanilla, with vats of chocolate and caramel syrups, nuts and cherries. Underground parking is validated for two hours of “all-you-care-to-eat” dining.
 
We’re Souplantation regulars. The Atkins aficionado piles up denuded pizza crusts and downs bowl after bowl of soup and chili topped with cheddar tendrils, globs of sour cream and sprinkles of fresh chives. He loads up on greens doused with heavy-duty blue cheese dressing. But, even with these misguided choices, his animal protein is mostly confined to dairy products and small amounts of chicken.
 
I join him for vegetarian soups and fashion colorful, healthful salads of red cabbage, broccoli, shredded carrots, kidney beans, cauliflower, sunflower seeds and garbanzos. Instead of dressing, I drizzle on rice vinegar. Al Gore should be proud. 
 
We exit feeling full, flush (especially since we joined their online “Club Veg” and get email coupons for $6.99 lunches and $7.99 dinners) and pretty damned virtuous — except, perhaps, when a teensy muffin or a tiny dab of warm lava cake passes our lips. But little treats help soothe the soul in these troubled times. Vegan, vegetarian or “mostly” — we’re healing the planet one bite at a time. 

My Vegan
633 S. Arroyo Parkway #3, Pasadena
(626) 578-9017
No alcohol/Major cards

Veggie & Tea House
1055 E. Colorado Blvd., #102, Pasadena
(626) 440-0088
No alcohol/Major cards

Souplantation
201 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
(626) 577-4798
No alcohol/Major cards

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