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Vegan eatery now serving meat sparks backlash. But owner believes this is the future

“I think that to have the stance of ‘no animal should ever die’ is a fantasy that I used to live inside of, but it’s not realistic,” chef Mollie Engelhart tells
sign outside vegan eatery Sage.
The sign at Sage Vegan Bistro.Courtesy Talia Dinwiddie
/ Source: TODAY

A Los Angeles-based restaurant announced a move sparking heated discussion on plant-based eating.

On April 22, Mollie Engelhart, chef and owner of LA eatery Sage Vegan Bistro, posted a video announcement on Instagram: Her plant-based restaurant would soon become Sage Regenerative Kitchen & Brewery, placing meat and dairy from farms using regenerative agricultural practices onto the menu.

Then, thousands of her customers and folks across the country started revolting in the comments section.

“Today, on Earth Day, we’re making a very special announcement: We are shifting what Sage Vegan Bistro will be,” Engelhart said in the nearly three-minute long video. She went on to explain the restaurant would be transitioning to one that focuses on regenerative agriculture, which is a rehabilitative approach to farming where grazing livestock are used to renew the soil that’s growing crops.

“That means that we will be shifting from an all plant-based menu to a high-quality protein from only the highest quality, most integrity, regenerative farms,” she continued. “To some this may seem shocking or upsetting.” 

Engelhart said over the last seven years she learned “so much about soil and nature” as she moved toward regenerative practices at her farms Sovereignty Ranch and Sow a Heart Regenerative Farm. She runs the farms while simultaneously operating her three California restaurants in Echo Park, Pasadena and Culver City. 

“I realized that when I started Sage Vegan Bistro, I thought a vegan diet was what was best,” she said. “And after seven years of regenerative farming and learning about how the bovine has such a profound effect on soil, I’ve changed my mind.”

In her caption, Engelhart listed the suppliers from which she will source meat and dairy, which include Vital Farms, Origin Milk and others.

Although the chef explained she made the announcement on Earth Day for “humanity and the earth,” many people online saw it as an affront to the holiday, leaving angry comments and flooding her post with objections to her reasoning.

“Shameful that you would announce this on earth day,” wrote one Instagram commenter, with another adding, “was just going to say this. How tone deaf.”

“Will your dishes come with the names and photos of the animals who died for them?” asked another angry commenter. “Feel like we’re in a twilight zone. Heartbroken.”

Others called the post “bizarre,” “deeply disturbing,” a “PR disaster,” “Stupidity overload,” “a spit on the face on the most sacred day for the planet” and much more. One even declared the restaurant would “no longer be a safe space for vegans.” 

Several people have taken to Engelhart’s other accounts, including her personal Instagram and both farm accounts, with comments like “hypocrisy” and “Sellout.”

Engelhart tells she did expect the backlash, and has respect for those who are outraged. 

“They’re attacking my children, my husband, my best friend who passed away, none of it is too low,” Engelhart says. “My father always said, ‘What are people really saying if they’re yelling, or passionate or frustrated? What is underneath that passion?’ And so what’s underneath that passion is a pure love for the animals, and I have so much respect for that.”

Still, the restaurateur is holding fast to her belief that she doesn’t think a fully plant-based society is the way to go, even though she personally abstains from eating meat.

“I think that to have the stance of ‘no animal should ever die’ is a fantasy that I used to live inside of, but it’s not realistic,” Engelhart says. “If people are going to eat meat, we should be raising meat in the most humane and close-to-nature ways possible, and regenerative farming is that.” 

Some of the comments theorized the restaurant was making the switch for profit. While Engelhart tells there are economic factors at play, she stressed it was secondary to her passion for regenerative farming.

“When I opened, that was one of the only full-service vegan restaurants with a bar and all of that in Los Angeles,” Engelhart says. “And now, every single restaurant has vegan options and many restaurants have organic options.”

An announcement now appears on the eatery’s website as well, noting regenerative meat, dairy and eggs will be on the new menu, which includes bison burgers, venison burgers and more. According to the site, the new menu will use grass fed beef and buffalo from Force of Nature, fully pastured chicken from Big Bluff Ranch, regenerative flour from Oatman Flats and more. 

Amid all the backlash there were some folks who applauded the big change, with one commenter writing, “I am so proud of you for standing in your truth and sharing it despite the hate.”

“People are vegans for a variety of reasons, some just feel better about eating plants only in their diet, and others make a very political statement about whether or not animals should be sacrificed for humans,” Tom Baum owner of Hidden Waters, a regenerative farm in Pikesville, Maryland, tells “My response is that it occurs, regardless.”

He and his business partner Joe Shaffer have been following Engelhart’s story closely, and understand the fraught nature of discussing this topic in a public forum. Baum also adds their farm grows organic produce — broccoli, turnips, tomatoes, sweet corn and more — using nitrogen from chicken feathers and cattle dung to grow it, like many other organic farms. 

“We have nothing against vegetarians and vegans, people should eat however they feel that makes them feel better,” he says. “But what we know is that regenerative farming is better for the environment.”

Still, research is split on whether that’s actually the case. 

While studies have shown regenerative agriculture may be better for the environment than factory farming, it hasn’t yet proven to result in a net loss of greenhouse gas emissions.

“I want to be able to change my mind. And I want people to say, ‘I don’t like what she’s doing, but she’s been my friend for years and I still love her,” Engelhart says, reflecting on the attention her announcement has gotten. “I think we need to be able to have that kind of discourse in life where we don’t have to agree on every single subject to have love present between us.”