A few weeks ago we published a guide to the vegan food scene in Long Beach, which is teeming with recent additions and a growing number of locals adopting a healthier and/or do-no-harm lifestyle. That transition was made easier than ever in 2018 with a half-dozen all-vegan restaurants and a dozen more places with more thoughtful animal-free options significantly upping the local vegan game.
German Rivera—aka Long Beach Vegan aka @lbvegan on Instagram—is a multitalented DJ, promoter and graphic designer. He’s also been vegan for 16 years. A few years ago, Rivera started documenting his food adventures on social media (he and a friend already co-founded the regional pop-up fest Green Saturday), then, he leveraged his DJ gigs at dive bars across Long Beach to bring in food from a sprawling network of new-era vegan pop-ups. Today, he runs the all-vegan Taco Tuesday at The Hawk and curates a monthly Vegan Social with a food court’s worth of vendors.
As part of an occasional interview series that will ask questions to community members on relevant newsworthy issues, Long Beach Post columnist Brian Addison—a committed omnivore—sat down in our office with Rivera, a Long Beach vegan so prolific, he owns the name.
Long Beach had a lack of vegan options for a long time, but we recently ran a roundup of the vegan scene and it felt appropriate to call it “massive.” What do you think has prompted this? Are you elated? You have to be.
Well I mean I’m definitely excited about the fact that we have so many options now. I live in an area where I can walk five minutes and pick three different restaurants to eat. That’s insane.
Was it different than just a year ago?
Yeah actually. And you know even just like in the last six months it’s been crazy to see how many new places are either popping up or adding vegan options to their menus.
Right after the list was published, we were inundated with other new options and I realized I couldn’t even keep up with it. What do you think about the fact that not only strictly vegan restaurants are opening up, but non-vegan restaurants are catering to the vegan crowds too?
I think a lot of those restaurants are kind of noticing the fact that, for lack of a better word, there’s money in this. You know so we have to get people out here. You know for the longest time I wouldn’t go to certain places just because I didn’t want to just have fries. I don’t want to sit there and just have fries and the fact, so the fact that you go into a place like Restauration and have a fully vegan sandwich, that to me is like amazing.
As far as our list goes what did you notice was missing?
Well, it’s hard because — I mean here’s the perfect example. Last night I went out to dinner at Anandamine, the chocolate place on 4th Street. They do a Monday dinner night and I was sitting there with a friend of mine who works for Seabirds and we were talking about Plant Junkie in downtown Long Beach that’s fully vegan. Most people don’t know that. They think it’s just a juice bar or whatever, but they just added a savory menu. And we talked about Congregation Ales. A few years ago, I used to go there because they were one of the few places we could get an actual vegan sausage. And their pretzels are vegan too, so a lot of people that are vegan right now and are kind of getting used to all the restaurants in Long Beach don’t know that. There are so many places right now where even if it’s not on their menu, you can actually ask for it to be modified a little bit and it will be vegan.
Let’s talk about your own history. Why did you venture into veganism?
So when I was in high school I was vegetarian for probably about a year and simply by choice. I’ve always been a bleeding heart for animals and animal rights and things like that. I realized in high school it was a lot harder, especially when I was going over to friend’s houses and I couldn’t eat anything that was being cooked. So I gave it up and later on, living on my own in Venice, I had a roommate who worked for PETA and she kind of was my gateway into veganism. It wasn’t something that I did gradually. I didn’t become a vegetarian first and then vegan. I woke up one day and I said I’m going to be vegan I never looked back. Obviously, I made a few mistakes along the way.
What’s the learning curve for that? How did you learn to learn where to shop and where you go? How to order at a non-vegan restaurant?
Luckily I lived with someone that had experience. She’d been vegan for going on five years you by the time we met and she kind of was guiding me. This was 16 years ago. But yeah, it was funny because I would like come home with something and she’s like oh that’s not vegan because it has like casing it and I had no idea what that was. I would read the ingredients but not know that it came from milk. So that’s the kind of stuff that you start learning and you start to learn how to read labels and what foods you can actually eat. I came home one day and I was eating M&Ms and she’s like, ‘You’re eating chocolate. There’s milk in chocolate.’ You don’t think about those things when you’re like just eating it. So it’s just some learning curve and it took one maybe two years for me to finally be like OK I think I know what I can buy, how to make my food without making sure that there’s no animal ingredients in it.
Were you always having to go to other places to get quality vegan food from a restaurant? Was it all in L.A. at the time?
I lived in West Hollywood for a while so it was easier. I had more access to it. I lived about a mile away from a Veggie Grill in West Hollywood. Before that when I lived in the Santa Monica Venice area, we had Native Foods in Westwood. It was a bit of a drive but I knew I could go there. There were a couple other places, but for the most part I had to venture out to places.
Long Beach has a growing vegan scene, but how does it compare to our neighbors, like Anaheim, Santa Ana, L.A.?
I feel like we have the most concentrated area of vegan food. I’m beginning to tell people that 4th Street, for example, I’m telling people it’s not only Retro Row, it’s the Vegan Corridor, from Viva Falafel to the Grain Cafe all the way up to Zephyr or what is now Ahimsa. There are so many places that you can eat on Fourth Street. You don’t have that in a lot of other places like Santa Ana or Downey, for example, which is actually up and coming when it comes to vegan food. There’s a lot of Latino restaurants that are adding jackfruit to their menus.
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Meat eating is synonymous with Mexican food. But there’s this burgeoning Mexican vegan scene that is so beautiful because it’s almost antithetical to the Mexican culinary arts. Would you say that Latinos are actually influencing the vegan scene more than other cultures?
So one of the events that we do is Green Saturday which is a marketplace at the Long Beach Petroleum Club. We have about 50 vendors there. and half of them are food. One of the issues that we kept running into was that about 50 to 60 percent of the food vendors were Mexican food. At some point we actually had to put a cap where we were like we won’t have any more than four Mexican vendors and we’ll find other types of food. About six months ago I went to an event and it was basically nothing but Mexican food and it was full of vegan families like vegan Mexican families, from the little kids to the abuelitas, with their t shirts that say “Soy Vegano” or stuff like that and it was kind of interesting to me to see that because it’s such a new thing that the Latino communities are kind of influencing this whole movement.
Some people are choosing to be vegan for animal welfare reasons; other are going vegan for health reasons. Does that cause a gap between those coming from a political angle versus those who are coming from a health angle?
Anything that guides you into being vegan is a good thing in my opinion. I know plenty of vegans who became vegan for health reasons. Back to the Latino community becoming vegan heavily in Los Angeles right now is this whole movement to move away from diabetes being the No. 1 killer among Latinos. When you find out that you can highly reduce your risk of diabetes by becoming vegan, it’s a good thing. Whatever your reason to be vegan, at the end, the result is going to be the same you’re helping the planet, you’re helping animals by becoming vegan. So I don’t think it should be separated.
I also don’t expect everyone to be like me. I don’t wear leather. All the products I use I make sure they’re not tested on animals or anything like that. I don’t consume honey. I’m very strict about it. But if I go to a vegan restaurant and someone walks in wearing leather shoes, I’m not going to say anything. It’s cool that they’re there.
It sounds like you’re a humanist vegan.
That’s probably the best way to describe the kind of way I live my life. I try not to judge anyone. I hope everyone would understand where I’m coming from but I understand we’re all different.
What’s your favorite vegan friendly restaurant in Long Beach and why?
In terms of proximity to me, that’s why I end up eating there a lot: The Socialist. Not only that but I have a lot of friends that work there and one of the things that I’ve had conversations with them about is the kitchen and how they manage to keep the vegan food vegan. And their vegan menu is great. You have stuff like flatbreads, burgers and the Green on Green. Their mushroom ravioli is actually really really good too. So that’s one of my favorite places.And I do love The Good Bar. I’ve been going there forever and I’ve done events there and I’ve seen their menu change and evolve. I think Blake was seen just recently how a big chunk of their sales it’s actually their vegan sales. I used to do a couple cheese plate vegan cheese plate nights over at 4th Street Vine and [Good Bar owner] Blake would usually show up because he’s always looking for that the perfect cheese to use as an ingredient. He was actually one of the competitors at the chili cook off that I did at 4th Street Vine too. He’s really into, like, how can we do this and what can we do that’s different than what other restaurants are doing?
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What’s your favorite vegan restaurant?
My favorite all-vegan restaurant is definitely Seabirds. When that opened it was like a whole new world of vegan food. Let’s see who else can do it better. One of my favorite things to do is just to go and get the grilled cheese and tomato soup. I love that. In terms of like their full dinner things, the bibimbap bowl it’s just to die for.
Would you say that it was your events and cooking vegan food at home that has helped you with these menu hacks? How do you how do you figure that out. And what are some of your favorite ones?
Well it’s more about knowing, like you said, cooking. I’m very knowledgeable of ingredients and stuff like that and I do tend to talk to people about it. I’m very open with a cook or when a waiter comes over a waitress comes over I ask them a lot about the kitchen and where do you guys fry this? How do you guys do this? And based on that I can do it. That’s how I come up with the hacks. In terms of favorite hacks, I like the Patatas Bravas at The Socialist. If you get it without the crema they’re just vegan potatoes.
Why is this scene suddenly blowing up right now? Veganism has always been around. Why now do you think people are connecting, both vegans and non vegans alike in creating a community in Long Beach?
I think it’s you know you mentioned people that were doing it for health reasons and stuff like that. There’s a lot of documentaries out there that are kind of changing people’s minds about the way they eat. And there’s also there’s a lot of athletes. It’s a big thing in the football scene right now. I believe there’s a team that half of the football players are vegan because. A lot of them went vegan and his wife basically makes meals for everyone in the team. So things like that are actually allowing people to be exposed to it and I think that’s what’s kind of causing this whole like scene. And as much as I hate to admit it, Instagram has a lot to do with it. There’s all these cool influencers that are out there posting about their awesome adventures with food and stuff like that.
Over the past five years I think it’s forced restaurants to up their game. Instagram helps connect niche communities. People who feel disconnected can find other people who share their interests and I’m sure that’s important for veganism.
If I wanted to do a Vegan Social four years ago, where was I going to find people to invite? I would have to print flyers and maybe put a couple of posters up and down hoping that someone sees that. Now I can create a poster, post it on Instagram and within 45 minutes I have like 300 likes on it. And people can tag other people and say hey we should go to this. So I think that has a lot to do with it. But I also feel like there’s a lot of chefs out there that are being really adventurous with their food whether they’re vegan or not. Again, Good Bar, Lola’s — places like those that are kind of experimenting with vegan options.
So what’s the future in your eyes of vegan food especially here in Long Beach?
I mean it’s definitely going to keep growing. There’s that new pizza place that just opened up, the 4th Horseman, and they have a good vegan option. I’ve known them from Phantom Carriage. I feel like there’s going to be more and more places. And I definitely see a lot more fully vegan restaurants being opened. I think the future is looking bright.
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