Leading vegan restaurant now serving meat, says plant-based eating isn't enough to save planet

Sage Vegan Bistro, one of the leading vegan restaurants in the country that’s based in southern California, shook the plant-based community this week with its announcement that it was changing its menu. 

Chef Mollie Engelhart said her restaurant will shift from its all-vegan focus to focus on "regenerative farming," which will include serving meat, dairy and eggs

Engelhart said the transition was a necessary one for her restaurant mission because of what she’s learned about regenerative farming over the last seven years. 

"What I discovered is that most of the fruits and vegetables that we love are not "vegan," they are fertilized with animal byproducts," she wrote in an open letter

She says she learned animal integration is "crucial" when it comes to restoring desertified soil and improving the quality of topsoil. 

"As I continued farming, I realized what’s possible with the partnership of man and bovine on grass," she said. 

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Engelhart, who said she’s been a vegan her whole life, said this was "a really hard pill to swallow." 

"I realized that what I had been promoting and committed to for all these years was not the best path forward. It was a path forward, but the reality of regenerative agriculture … made so much sense," she said in a social media video alongside Realfoodology podcast host Courtney Swan. 

"In a town where everybody has vegan options at their restaurants, I want to offer regenerative options at what was my vegan restaurant," Engelhart added.


FILE - A sign for vegan food in the window of a cafe. (Photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Engelhart knew her decision wouldn’t be popular with the plant-based community, which has been supporting her restaurant for the last 13 years. 

Her video on social media – which was posted on Earth Day with the announcement – was flooded with negative and angry comments from people saying they were "heartbroken" and "sick to their stomachs." 

Engelhart did speak with the Los Angeles Times about the decision, and mentioned finances did play a role in her decision as well. 

According to Engelhart, who operates Sage with her husband, chef-owner Elias Sosa, in years past their restaurants would do $7 million in annual business – but they haven’t been profitable since 2020. 

"I think that the next step forward is regenerative agriculture, and for that to move forward it needs to be in the zeitgeist, it needs to be in our everyday conversations. And this is my way to contribute to that, to give people options," she told the newspaper

Her new menu starts May 29. 

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What is regenerative agriculture?

In theory, regenerative agriculture is a holistic way to look at the earth, animals, and water — and how they all interact.

The main goal is to restore the soil and keep it thriving, which isn’t typically the case after prolonged use of chemical fertilizers and other conventional farming methods.

Strategies can include planting crops alongside trees, planting cover crops, rotating herds to different pastures and using fewer synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.

With more complexity, much of regenerative agriculture also has to do with storing carbon.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture invested $300 million to begin monitoring carbon levels in soil.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.