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One Small Step for Vegans

A vegan mini-mall sprouts in Portland, Oregon,offering some unexpected vegan products and services.


The corner of 12th and Stark Streets in Southeast Portland, Oregon, is home to what may be the world’s first all vegan shopping mini-mall.

For those not in the know, a vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) does not consume dairy or eggs, and does not use fur, leather, wool, down or any other product that is from or tested on animals. A vegan is one who adheres to a “philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practical—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose,” is the way the Vegan Society explains it.

Vegans see their lifestyle as a natural extension of vegetarianism. The mini-mall in Portland, in the northwest United States, is the brainchild of a group of dedicated vegans who were inspired to create a one-stop shopping location for the sizeable and growing vegan community in their city.

The vegan mini-mall pales in comparison with the ubiquitous, sprawling 100-store malls found all over suburban America, in that it only has four stores. However, a generally accepted axiom of marketing is that complementary businesses are likely to do better when they are clustered, especially in an area such as Southeast Portland, where personal philosophical convictions are tightly linked to discretionary spending decisions.

Thus, by melding lifestyle preferences with sound marketing strategy, the Herbivore Clothing Company, the Food Fight! grocery, the Scapegoat Tattoo parlor, and the Sweetpea Baking Company came together and founded the mall in 2007. The mall is located in a gray concrete, one-story, corner building nestled among brick buildings and residences built in the 1940s and ’50s. The neighborhood has classic, traditional blue-collar roots but has evolved in the last 20 years to encompass a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles, some considered “alternative.”

What vegans don't eat

  • Meat
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Honey
  • Gelatin
What vegans do eat

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu/Bean curd
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts

Each vegan establishment has its own unique focus: customers can buy their groceries, eat a cupcake, or even get a tattoo (a starter piece or installment add-on), while supporting their vegan commitment. The Food Fight! grocery operates like any other neighborhood grocery but it only sells vegan food. The products that Food Fight! stocks on its shelves are vegan in that they “do not contain dairy, meat, eggs, honey or any of the other non-vegan filler-ingredients that are put in most foods found in traditional American supermarkets, which means they are both good tasting and good for you,” according to store owner Chad Miller. The aisles are filled with soy curls, tofurkey jerky, and different types of soy vegan cheese, vegan marshmallows, and every other pantry staple at comparable prices to the non-vegan equivalent found in a common grocery. Miller comments that his “store sought to break stereotypes of vegan food as being…‘healthy’ tasting or ‘hippy’ food.”

While a controlled diet regime is the most widely known aspect of veganism, it is actually only one facet of the full-spectrum commitment required to live a true vegan life. So just how wide and comprehensive is the full vegan spectrum? Well, consider something normally not even remotely thought of as being either vegan or non-vegan, such as a tattoo. The Scapegoat Tattoo parlor within the mini-mall honors its commitment to the total vegan lifestyle by “not using any animal products in creating (inking) designs for its clients,” notes Scapegoat’s owner, Brian Wilson. Traditional tattoo inks generally contain glycerin, which can be acquired from two sources: animals or vegetables. “I just make sure that we always use vegetable glycerin,” explains Wilson. “Black tattoo ink can contain bone char or shellac (resin from a Lac bug), and the ointments used in applying a tattoo can have lanolin, cod liver oil and petroleum jelly filtered through bone char. Scapegoat uses only ointments made of plant-based oils and waxes.” Scapegoat’s philosophy and art are appreciated by those outside the vegan community. Wilson says he probably has more customers who aren’t vegans than who are. This makes the mini-mall a shopping destination that caters to more than a select sub-group.

The two other vegan mini-mall establishments are the Herbivore Clothing Company and the Sweetpea Baking Company. Lisa Higgins, owner of Sweetpea, became a vegan for animal rights reasons after “learning how animals were treated, kept and slaughtered.” She initially started baking vegan products as a hobby in her spare time but quickly realized that she could readily sell her products in the community. The rich smells of savory pies and freshly made doughnuts fill the bakery as vibrant colored cupcakes, gourmet cookies and custom made cakes decorate the display case. From classic and elegant to whimsical and fun, the food conveys the message that one can indulge a sweet tooth without sacrificing convictions or quality. Herbivore Clothing Company sells creative and stylish vegan clothes, accessories (no leather, wool or silk), vegan lifestyle magazines and books. Their focus is to create wearable and stylish clothing that also contains messages: one of their popular zip-up sweatshirts sports the aphorism, “Wings are for Flying not Frying.”

 

The reception by the neighborhood has “been awesome,” says Wilson, a Nevada native. The “City of Roses,” as Portland is known due to its famous rose gardens, has a large group of vegans. Portland is a city also known for its large number of micro-breweries and distilleries, and its coffee fanaticism.

“A lot of people appreciate us as a place they can buy natural products instead of getting the usual, widely recognized name brands that almost invariably contain non-vegan ingredients,” Wilson says. The mini-mall has attracted a broad spectrum of customers, such as non-vegan Erica Williams. She feels it’s great to have an alternative to the usual chain grocery stores, but in the final analysis, she shops at the mall for the same reason she repeat shops at any store—she likes the products, prices and services. She picks up specialty items at the grocery that she can’t find elsewhere, and always makes sure to stop by Sweetpea bakery for a German chocolate cupcake on her way out.

The four establishments are trying to do more than simply make a profit. The owners say they are seeking to contribute to a better world. Less than one percent of Americans claimed to adhere to the vegan lifestyle in 2009, says the Vegetarian Resource Group.

The Vegan Society says that a vegan diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity. “As with any diet, it is important to ensure that the vegan diet is well balanced,”. This can be achieved by eating a minimum five portions of fruits and vegetables each day to ensure a range of health-giving vitamins and minerals; opting for whole grains instead of refined grains; avoiding hydrogenated fats and choosing ones which contain omega 3, like rapeseed oil. Vitamins are also “readily available in fortified foods such as yeast extract, soya milk, breakfast cereal and margarine,” it adds.

Many, however, are quick to note that malnutrition is possible if essential vitamins and supplements are ignored. Fruits and vegetables are definitely a major part of a healthy diet, but ingested alone they won’t keep you completely healthy. Meat is a source of iron, magnesium, zinc, niacin, selenium, riboflavin and B-vitamins that help your body turn food into energy. Additionally, “milk, cheese and yogurt are naturally nutrient-rich foods providing calcium, potassium, other minerals, vitamins and protein essential for children’s growth and development,” according to the Illinois-based National Dairy Council.

The owners and employees at the vegan mini-mall believe that by their actions they will contribute to more people “becoming better educated about what veganism is, what buying meat and dairy does negatively to your body, to animals and to the world, and to see more and more people go vegan,” says Miller. Eating a vegan diet is only one part of living a vegan life—“it’s just a starting point to a domino effect of caring for more than just yourself,” he says.

 

Kaitlin McVey is a writer based in Seattle, Washington.