“Our sacred enterprise, Cafe Gratitude, is sometimes accused of being a ‘cult’ because the perception that we ‘make’ people be grateful.” writes the married pair, both in their 60s. “Apparently the god of materialism, the Hungry Ghost, finds thankfulness threatening. But we are not threatened.”
They graciously conclude: “It’s a joy and a privilege to hold this seat, to invite the sacred to live through us and our Cafe Gratitude community.”
That community’s loyalty is now being tested.
Recently, animal rights activists unearthed the unthinkable, as far as vegan icons are concerned: a blog post announcing the Engelharts’ “transition” to eating meat after 40 years of vegetarianism. The post was published more than a year ago, but it had slipped past the notice of most, buried in a series of ruminations on the website for the couple’s Be Love Farm, in Vacaville, Calif.
The post did not offer a reason for the couple’s change of heart, but rather mused about mortality:
While I would clearly say we are in transition and that transition is happening deep within our beings, we know it is a necessary and important part of our own growth as well as the sustainability of our farm. Certainly a part of us wants to either deny the inevitability of death or simply not let ourselves get present to the reality of it, for our animals as well as ourselves.
Accompanying photos showed several Mason jars filled to the brim with beef broth, as well as a freezer stuffed with pastured beef — “our pastured beef.”
In a subsequent post, Matthew was shown in a photo taking a bite out of a hamburger, allegedly his first in four decades. He went on to explain that their choice to revert to meat-eating was influenced by the destruction that agriculture wreaks on the planet. Cows are, in turn, necessary for cultivating healthy grass.
“Herding ruminants are our best tool to restore fertility to the earth, keep the earth covered, and reverse desertification and climate change,” Matthew wrote. “We need cows to keep the earth alive, cows make an extreme sacrifice for humanity but that is their position in God’s plan as food for the predators.”
The Engelharts explained in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that it was all part of a movement called “regenerative agriculture,” which focuses on soil health through animal “residue.”
The vegans were not having it.
The couple’s original post has since been publicized on a Facebook page calling for a boycott of Cafe Gratitude and its sister restaurant, Gracias Madre. The responses indicate that the Engelharts’ former fans are out for blood (in a vegan way, of course).
“I think it’s outrageously hypocritical for you to pretend you’re a caring vegan restaurant while you raise animals on your farm for slaughter and call it the ‘Love Farm,'” said one status update. “Wow, where does your soul live, a fiery hell?”
Protesters outside of the Cafe Gratitude restaurant in Venice, Calif., over the weekend carried signs that read “It’s not food/It’s violence” and “No animal is grateful to die.”
One poster depicted a cow hanging from a rope with the speech bubble “No gracias, madre!” A stick figure of Matthew held up a knife over a pool of blood and said, “I love you…”
The Engelharts told the Hollywood Reporter that they have been receiving death threats.
“People have taken up the mob mentality,” Matthew said. “It saddens me that the choices we made in the privacy of our home would lead people to feel so betrayed that it’s elevated to threats on our lives.”
He added that they “harvested” (read: slaughtered) several of their cows but never sold them for profit.
Some celebrity vegans have entered the fray.
The musician Moby denounced the Engelharts’ decision in a Facebook post: “I have great love for the people at [Cafe Gratitude and Be Love Farm] but I sincerely hope that they discontinue their practice of raising and killing animals for food.”
In a post that has since been deleted, Jason Wrobel, a vegan chef on the Cooking Channel, outlined his disappointment.
“People feel misled, deliberately lied to and that a business they’ve so lovingly supported for many years has lost its way,” he said. “I feel that my hard-earned money has been used for purposes that are unethical, cruel and out-of-alignment with my values.”
Wrobel added that he thought news of the change should not have been “tucked away in some obscure blog post.”
A week later, Wrobel replaced those thoughts with a post titled, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” in which he iterated his disagreement with the Engelharts’ lifestyle choice but urged people to stop the death threats.
Matthew told the Hollywood Reporter that they didn’t sign up to be the “mom and dad of some vegan movement.” He noted that many vegan establishments are run by non-vegans.