On September 15th 2015, a new cut of the eye-opening documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret from executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio was added to the popular movie streaming website Netflix globally. Just over a week after the launch, it has already had an impact on thousands of viewers who have pledged to go vegan for 30 days.
Gabriella Lopez and her husband Raj Attur were already vegan when they watched the documentary on Netflix about a week ago. At their award winning Mexican restaurant, La Blue Casa, in Arlington, Texas, however, they were still serving meat. After watching Cowspiracy, the couple had a change of heart and made the decision to transition to a fully vegan menu by February 2016. In addition, they started a GoFundme campaign to help educate more people about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
I spoke to Lopez to find out more about her, the restaurant and the decision to make such a drastic and – what may seem to some – risky change.
“La Blue Casa started as a food truck and the concept is based on the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo” Lopez begins. La Blue Casa (“the blue house”) refers to Kahlo’s famous house which is now a museum in Mexico City, exhibiting a lot of her work and personal belongings. Lopez and Attur’s restaurant is decorated in the same way as Kahlo’s house, with vibrant colors, yellow floors and blue walls.
“[When] my husband and I started this venture”, Lopez continues, “we wanted to bring the real authentic flavors of Mexico to Dallas, without the influence of ‘tex-mex’. After a year and a half of running the truck, we opened our first location on the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Campus.”
A week ago, the married couple watched Cowspiracy and came to the realization that it was time to change things at the restaurant. What is particularly interesting about this situation is that both Lopez and her husband were already vegan when they watched the documentary. After being a vegetarian for four years, Lopez had transitioned to a fully vegan diet about a year ago.
“Our reasons behind the lifestyle were more of an ethical nature, due to the treatment of animals and also of a spiritual nature (…) I believe animals were not put on the planet for us to eat.”
So, what did Cowspiracy teach them that they didn’t know before?
“The thing is (…), we were ignorant to the fact that animal agriculture causes so much [environmental] destruction. I think a lot of people don’t know the extent of the problem. Which is why we have launched our #govegan campaign, in an effort to educate our current customers and members of our community, on the importance of turning vegan.”
About her work, Lopez says “I love to be able to provide an experience more than a meal. When people come to eat with us, they always leave satisfied and happy. I love that about La Blue Casa.” The customers, she adds, love their dishes’ rich flavors, gourmet sauces and grade A fresh ingredients, all of which the restaurant will of course still be providing once it is fully vegan. Lopez’s personal favorite on the menu: The nopales (cactus) tacos with mushrooms, avocado, Pico and Chipotle sauce.
What did it feel like, I wondered, to be vegan and still cook and serve animal products on a daily basis? Lopez explains that for her, it was an internal conflict ever since she first started running the food truck. “But,” she says, “I’ve always been a free person that believes you make your own choices and you let others decide for themselves. I believe trying to impose your views doesn’t accomplish anything but intolerance. I always offered vegetarian options and left the choice to the customer. However, after learning the truth about the [environmental] impact of animal agriculture, I was astonished. I really had no idea. I think most people don’t. Ignorance is a big reason there aren’t more vegans out there.”
“I’ve always been a free person that believes you make your own choices and you let others decide for themselves. I believe trying to impose your views doesn’t accomplish anything but intolerance.”
Undoubtedly, the decision to veganize an entire restaurant comes with a lot of practical questions and concerns. How exactly is the transition going to look and what will it take for it to be a success? The first step, that La Blue Casa has already taken, is to offer a full vegan menu and to start a transitional campaign. “In this campaign”, Lopez explains, “we are going to allow our regular meat eating customers to get familiarized with the information. We are incentivizing our customers to try our vegan menu at a reduced price. We also started a Gofundme campaign to be able to host Cowspiracy screenings, offer free vegan food samples and reach out to people with a more aggressive marketing strategy so that we can educate our community about the importance of this change. (…) For our business, [the transition] has proven to be hard work, but I believe it’s doable. I think information is key, being able to explain to the public why we are making the change, and also, having support from the vegan community helps a lot.”
“For our business, [the transition] has proven to be hard work, but I believe it’s doable.”
[A few of La Blue Casa’s loyal customers.]
How does Lopez think people will react to the change? “They will be surprised, hopefully curious, and the ones that do not make the change, hopefully will give the menu a try and commit to eating a vegan meal at least once or twice a week.”
What can you do to help La Blue Casa?
Lopez: “Anyone can support our campaign by going to Gofundme.com/govegan2015 and donating to the cause. Even a 5 dollar donation adds to our efforts to reach out to our community. Also, sharing our posts, liking our page and spreading the word. Everything adds up.” With the campaign, they are hoping to raise a total of 12,000US$, which will be used to organize educational events and reach a maximum of people. With the restaurant being located on a university campus, Lopez says they have the potential to reach 40,000 students right at their doorstep. An impact that cannot be underestimated.
To support Lopez (seen here on the left with her husband) and La Blue Casa, go to www.gofundme.com/govegan2015 and follow them on social media: