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Vegan Living: How Not to Market a Vegetarian Restaurant

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In two recent interviews, Amanda Cohen seems to think she's going to boost business at her East Village restaurant Dirt Candy by calling vegans unimaginative weirdos with terrible taste in food.

I don't like to draw lines between vegetarians and vegans. We do have our differences: vegetarians don't eat meat whereas vegans abstain from meat as well as eggs, cheese, milk or foods containing those products. Vegans also don't wear leather or wool or other animal products and most of the vegetarians I know do wear those materials. But when it comes down to it, we're all in this together. We want to help animals and do our part in protecting them from exploitation.

Cohen, however, wants to drive a wedge between the two groups, and in doing so she alienates both vegetarians and vegans, the very people who would come to her restaurant. She also shows that she has no problem throwing every other vegetarian restaurant under the bus in the pursuit of promoting her restaurant. When prompted by The Feedbag that vegetarian restaurants are terrible, Cohen agrees. "Always! They're horrible. Horrible! And you know why? Because they don't have real cooks. The people who cook there have no culinary background."

Wait, you're thinking of McDonald's, where high school students heat the food in microwaves. Vegetarian restaurants do in fact have real chefs who plan the menu and invent new dishes. Cohen should know this since she worked at Angelica's Kitchen, Teany, Pure Food and Wine and consulted for Blossom. Also, if I had just opened a vegetarian restaurant, I would not go around telling people how awful they are.

Besides having a real chef, Cohen also explains that what sets Dirt Candy apart from those other vegetarian restaurants is that she uses cream and butter, and lots of it. She says patrons react to her food with sentiments like, "'Ooh! I'm eating something that's so dense and heavy and fattening but it's so good.' And that's not something you get in a lot of vegetarian food, particularly because they don't use dairy."

There she goes again, stepping on this generic vegetarian food that she has lumped into one category to raise herself to a higher position. As Cohen gushes about her love of cooking with cream, she says other vegetarian restaurants are not "as innovative as they could be." There is nothing innovative about using ingredients that have been used before to make dishes that have been made before. Where is the challenge? An innovative recipe uses new ingredients and experiments with taste and texture, like Isa Chandra Moskowitz's broccoli quiche, which uses no eggs and, sorry, Amanda Cohen, no cream or butter.

Cohen, who eats fish, also explains that other vegetarian restaurants are "really not vegetarian: they're vegan. . . They are more or less supporting a lifestyle and a diet. I'm really not trying to do that. I'm just trying to make good vegetarian food." She adds, "Unfortunately I get a lot of weirdos. But we're not a weird restaurant."

Why does she feel the need to convince anyone that her restaurant is not weird? Vegetarians will check out a new vegetarian restaurant, but it seems she's appealing to the meat eaters here. And not just appealing to them, but begging them to give her restaurant a chance while putting down other vegetarian restaurants and vegetarians. Amanda Cohen clearly wants to distance herself from the vegetarian community, so maybe the vegetarian community should distance themselves from her.

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