A local vegan group is claiming that faux meats served at Bamboo Garden may not be vegan, as advertised.
A local vegan group is claiming that faux meats served at Bamboo Garden may not be vegan, as advertised. ASK

Bamboo Garden has been a fixture in the vegan community for more than 20 years. Many of the Queen Anne restaurant's dishes are comprised of fried, ball-shaped pieces of faux-meat coated in a tangy glaze. And while that might not sound appealing to you raw vegan types, it's damn delicious – and fairly affordable, to boot.

Because of this, it's understandable why a number of vegans in Seattle are concerned about recent claims that the beloved restaurant is actually serving up animal products. (As the blog post indicates, an anonymous group of vegan diners originally reached out to The Stranger to dig into the story, but it was put on hold. When we visited the restaurant, waitresses told us that the owners were traveling abroad. Other restaurant representatives did not return later calls for comment at the time. Since I posted this story earlier, a representative from the restaurant returned my call. See the update below.)

So the vegan group took matters into their own hands. Earlier this week, the group went ahead to publish their findings and announce that there's a chance that Bamboo Garden's meatless specialties might contain animal products after all. To be clear: Bamboo Garden's website (as well as the restaurant's outdoor sign) does indicate that the restaurant is vegetarian. However, the restaurant has drummed up quite the vegan following, likely because of what they once stated on their website: "All 'meat', 'poultry', and 'seafood', menu items are made from vegetable protein products and 100% vegetable oil. All dishes have no cholesterol ... Only the fortune cookies contain eggs." The restaurant is also certified Kosher.

According to their blog post, after eating at the restaurant, some diners in the vegan group suspected that their food contained eggs. So, naturally, they went dumpster diving in the restaurant's designated waste bin. The diners, who did not identify themselves on the blog site, found a number of food wrappers, which revealed that a number of food items, from the fake meats themselves to wonton wrappers, contained dairy, egg, and honey ingredients.

To confirm their findings, the group sent off five food samples from freshly made dishes for testing at IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, which is based in northern Seattle. The lab found that four out of five foods tested positive for being contaminated with dairy and egg allergens.

Courtesy of Vegan Diners

The bloggers reached out to Sergio Sanchez, vice president of IEH, who explained the test results.

Some of the results are presented as ">" (greater than) because the tests were set at a fine resolution looking for any trace amounts of the allergens, Sanchez explained. Due to the sensitivity of the tests, they become overloaded when a reasonably large amount of the allergen is present. There is no upper limit on the potential amount of the allergen present in the results that are presented as ">," but this level, Sanchez feels, it is extremely unlikely to be caused by cross contamination.

In other words, according to Sanchez, it is a somewhat safe assumption that the results that are presented with a ">" actually have the allergen—in this case, eggs and dairy—as an ingredient.

He elaborated that the 8.9 for the chicken could possibly be from cross contamination and the 2.1 and the 3.3 have a higher possibility to be from cross contamination. An egg is about 13% protein, Sanchez said, so one would have to extrapolate up from the given PPM (parts per million) of the egg allergen PPM to derive a PPM of "egg" as a whole.

According to the website, local woman named Sally Smith (not her real name) reached out to the restaurant to comment on the blog's findings.

"They said we absolutely could not go back in the kitchen. They said no managers were present and the owners don't speak English."

Smith pressed about the faux meats and asked whether or not everything was vegan. "They said it wasn't, but when we pressed about which things were and which weren't, they would not elaborate," she said. "And they really didn't seem to care. We asked to see packaging and read labels and they refused."

Since the group went public with their story, Bamboo Garden's Yelp page has seen a deluge of one-star reviews from angry customers. A handful of commenters cited the blog post in their negative reviews.

One reviewer, who says she can have severe allergic reactions to dairy, expressed disappointment that Bamboo Garden hadn't disclosed that some of its food contained milk.

Despite the fallout from the blog post, the vegan bloggers maintain that they are not out to get Bamboo Garden shut down.

"We're not on a vengeance quest," Smith said. "We don't want to hurt anyone and we don't want to ruin a family business. Some of us are business owners ourselves. But people have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. Informed consent and all that." ...

"At the very least," Smith said, "people should know there's a pretty good chance that they've been eating animal products at Bamboo Garden. We know this can have ethical and/or medical consequences for people. We desperately want to believe it's not true, but the evidence is making it pretty tough."

UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: According to a Bamboo Garden representative, the restaurant does serve a non-vegan faux chicken, but customers can request the vegan meat instead. Customers ordering vegan dishes will not be served non-vegan meats, they said. As for the food wrappers, the rep said that some of the wrappers were likely from employees eating non-vegan foods during breaks and others from neighboring restaurants.

Jessica Fu helped translate this interview. This post has been updated since its original publication.

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