It’s Just the Veganning: Veganism on the Rise in LB

Vegan options in Long Beach are on the rise! Whether it’s a vegan restaurant, pop-up event, or festival, you can find vegans and non-vegans enjoying delicious, animal-free food everywhere. With the 3rd Annual Long Beach Vegan Festival approaching on Saturday, July 7, here’s a look at Long Beach’s growing vegan food scene.

Anji Bee, a well-known, local YouTuber and podcaster, went vegan in 2008 and started sharing her tips and tricks for living a healthy vegan lifestyle on social media with her husband, Ryan. Now, the joint social media account, Happy Healthy Vegan, has about 65 thousand followers on Instagram and 197 thousand subscribers on YouTube.

Anji recalls that even just 10 years ago, it was difficult to eat out without feeling like a burden to the restaurant. Before adopting a vegan diet, Anji first became a vegetarian in the ‘80s because many weren’t knowledgeable on veganism.

“It used to be really weird to ask about the ingredients at a restaurant. They’d give you a lot of attitude and say they didn’t have anything vegan, because people think vegan stuff is something weird,” Anji said. “It’s not though, it’s a lack of putting animal products into it. Bread can be vegan and it doesn’t have to be made by a vegan manufacturer. For example, sourdough bread is naturally vegan.”

Now, the grassroots business culture that is well-known in Long Beach exists in the vegan scene as well. Many restaurants started as small kitchens serving their products in coffee shops, to friends, or at a local farmers market.

The first restaurant to pioneer a full vegan menu in Long Beach was Zephyr, which is now Ahimsa Vegan Cafe. Since Ahimsa first opened its doors in 2013, the number of vegan restaurants has dramatically increased. Five years later, I Love Vegan, Under the Sun, Seabirds, and The Grain Cafe can be added to the list of completely vegan restaurants.

“It seemed the first vegan restaurants were more focused on health and now, it’s the party to be at,” Anji said. Anji also says that she prefers to eat at vegan restaurants, rather than places that have vegan options, because it supports small businesses without worrying about cross-contamination.

“If someone says an option can be made vegan, sometimes you wonder, ‘Do they really understand what that it is? Do they know that the noodles can contain dairy?’ And at a vegan restaurant, you never have to worry about that,” Anji said.

According to the Top Trends in Prepared Foods report, six percent of people in the United States identified as vegan in 2017, compared to one percent in 2014! And today, Long Beach offers an array of flavors and vegan food options from all cultures. Vered Azari, the owner of The HipPea, knows all too well how great this movement has been.

“Many spots in Long Beach are trying to capture a part of the vegan crowd because more people are looking for animal-free options,” Vered said.

After opening The HipPea on Fourth Street in 2016, a crowd can always be found at this small hole-in-the-wall regularly to taste their delicious falafel, which is made using a family recipe that has been passed down for generations.

Raj Patel, the owner of Tru Nature, can also attest to the growing vegan culture. The restaurant, which sells vegan açaí bowls, smoothies, and juices, added a second location on Pine since first opening on Broadway in 2014.

“There was a lack of something fresh,” Raj recalled, which sparked the idea for Tru Nature. And since its opening, the local vegan community has been supportive of the business.

“The area around Broadway is a gem. People know about us and love coming by,” Raj said.

Currently, most vegan restaurants reside around Downtown, Retro Row, and Broadway, but that might be changing as more vegan restaurants start to open.

This fall, the popular vegan restaurant that started in San Diego, Plant Power Fast Food, will open a location in Long Beach. It will reside on the corner of Clark Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, where University Burger once stood, and will serve animal-free burgers, sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and shakes. Restaurant-goers will have the option to dine in or go through a drive-thru. And as a vegan fast food restaurant replaces a burger joint, this might be a symbol for changing attitudes in the Long Beach community.

“Right now, a lot of vegans and vegetarians feel blessed for all the options in Long Beach, but more stuff is definitely coming,” Anji said. “A lot of spot