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Opinion

Column: L.A.'s proposed vegan food mandate can’t see the salad for the greens

LOS ANGELES, CA -- WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2018-- Peruvian ceviche’s are known for their rich flavor in
Peruvian ceviche’s are known for their rich flavor in the fish; these Ecuadorian ceviches are vegan and made from all vegetables. The corn nuts, popcorn and chips compliment the vegetable ceviche.
(Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

Of all the dumb laws proposed in the United States this year — bearing in mind that Donald Trump is our president and the Republicans controlled Congress all year — few are dumber than what Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz wants to push on Angelenos.

He wants to require all concessionaires at city-owned properties, including all terminals at Los Angeles International Airport and the local Meals on Wheels program, to offer at least one vegan dish. But nanny-stating the public sphere isn’t enough for the three-term councilman. Koretz’s motion also calls for privately owned movie theaters and large-scale entertainment venues in the city, like Dodger Stadium and Staples Center, to “provide at a minimum one vegan protein entree food option on their menus.”

So it’s not good enough to sell a salad, or vegan popcorn, or maybe a slice of bread with a hefty helping of air. Koretz is even requiring what kind of vegan option must be made available.

Two recent developments show that eating veggies is no health or ethical panacea.
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Koretz’s wife and daughter are vegan, but his communications director says he identifies as a “reducetarian” — someone committed to “mindfully and gradually” cutting animal products out of one’s diet, per the Reducetarian Foundation. The District 5 representative reasons that L.A. should scale back on the steaks, Korean barbecue, Double Doubles and carne asada not just for health reasons, but because of the “greenhouse gas emission reduction, animal welfare, and air and water quality issues.”

I have no problem with veganism at all, or even with his environmental and social critique of eating meat. The livestock industry should live up to the ideal described by the late food critic Jonathan Gold: Raise animals so they have comfortable lives and one bad day. I don’t want to mock vegans, either. My favorite Southern California combo plates are Indian thalis, which consist of little cups of curried or spiced veggies arranged around a plate of rice and naan so that everything looks like an edible solar system.

Koretz’s idea, however, reminds us what happens when politicians can’t see the salad for the greens.

This proposal is government overreach, of course. It also seeks to introduce yet another regulation to an industry drowning in them. Koretz wants to force restaurants — which usually operate on single-digit margins — to add an item to their menus that they would’ve already offered if their customers clamored for it.

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It also shows how out-of-touch he is: At a time when Angelenos yearn for solutions to homelessness, traffic and widespread poverty, Koretz goes all-in on an issue that resonates only with his wealthy, Goop-reading constituents.

Proposals like this imply that a plant-dominant diet is the most woke dining lifestyle out there. But two recent developments show that eating veggies is no health or ethical panacea.

The first happened around Thanksgiving and made national headlines: The U.S. Department of Agriculture told Americans to stop eating romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak. They eventually loosened the ban, but still currently recommend that consumers avoid any romaine grown on California’s Central Coast from Ventura to Monterey counties.

Although researchers still don’t know what caused this contamination, vegetable recalls happen again and again because our agricultural system is wack — both in the peon wages paid to the people who pick crops, and in how nearly all of our food supply is entrusted to corporate Big Ag. Koretz wants to make the connection between food and social and environmental issues, but his vegan measure ignores this larger broken system. For him, only meat is evil.

That leads us to the second development that happened last month: a near avocado apocalypse.

In the Mexican state of Michoacán — the source of 90% of the avocados we import and a state awash in narco violence — farmers went on strike to protest low wholesale prices brought on by a flood of competitors from other states. They blockaded truck routes, and left aguacates ripening on trees. Sources showed me videos of farmers running over piles of seized avocados with steamrollers, producing perhaps the angriest guacamole ever.

Many restaurants in Southern California stopped serving avocados for a couple of days because of the ensuing price spike. For about a week, produce brokers had to tell stunned clients that they had no ripe avocados in stock.

I expect such manufactured avocado shortages will become a routine thing now that drug cartels have muscled into Mexico’s agriculture industry. Already we see annual springtime price gouging on limes, also stemming from cartel-related volatility in Michoacán. California sits on some of the richest soil on Earth — but instead of thinking about how to feed ourselves locally, we pave paradise and depend on increasingly volatile international markets to feed us.

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None of the above fits into Koretz’s vegan narrative. He makes a mistake that many meat-haters do: pretending that fruits and veggies just emerge from the soil with no impact to the environment or humans.

Sure, it’s nice to get more dietary choices. But what we truly need to do is reform our food system, from where and how we source what we eat to how we treat the people at every rung of the food ladder.

If Koretz wants Angelenos to have more vegan options, he should incentivize restaurants to add that to their menus. Give places that offer plant-based meals a tax break, or a shout-out on Facebook. But forcing businesses to subscribe to his reducetarian worldview is as obnoxious as bros hating on soyrizo.

mexicanwithglasses@gmail.com

Twitter: @GustavoArellano


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