Dashing south in our Tesla we were off to Los Angeles for a weekend sail to Catalina. The better half and her witty wonder had to stop in Highland Park— this was all due to the fierce urgency of vegan chow— we wanted to visit Maciel’s— this is a specialty foods delicatessen; the owners describe their almost one-of-a-kind store as a plant-based butcher shop. Whatever that deli thing is, those row upon row of meats and cheeses, all the variety of salads, all these new-fangled dishes— we were all about it, this is what we wanted, a heaping grocery bag full of new food items that we’ve never tried before.
There were no excuses for our arriving after closing time, to that end we had to plead our case through locked doors while pantomiming through the glass windows our passion for first ever food experiences— like knee pads, parakeets and natural wine who knew that would be a thing— then we tried making our most pitiful dejected faces— the proprietors relented and reopened.
Maciel’s opens another chapter in the quest to replace conventional factory farmed meats, this is what it means to be a vegan butcher shop, they offer alternatives to beef, pork and chicken— vegan meats have a role to play if we’re to work our way out of the corner we’ve walked the world into. These new self-created gourmet products open an entire new front in the uncharted realm of plant-based meals.
Further north in Berkeley I’ve been sampling the offerings from another vegan joint, The Butcher’s Son. The concept is the same. To my taste Maciel recipes are ahead of the game, Maciel’s products appear to be more evolved, their ingredients are dialed in, there is nothing casual or random happening. Competition is a good thing, both vegan joints are on the playing field, the games just gotten underway, there’s much to learn and more to explore.
While moored as guests aboard our friend’s sailboat out on Catalina we tried their plant-based turkey, pastrami and salami. The pastrami was the favorite, turkey next and then the salami. Next visit I’m trying the chorizo and adobo ribs. We used multigrain bread, vegan mayo, mustard, pickles, red onions and lettuce. We sampled their jalapeno cheddar spreading some over a slice of bread as we each built our own sandwiches.
At a gathering prior to sailing our friends barbecued salmon for dinner, their southbound Highway 101 faux leather clad pair swapped out the salmon for Maciel’s near note perfect crab cakes. If you hadn’t been told you likely would have never known you were sampling vegan crab cakes. There was nothing lacking, the flavor was fetching, they sated our hunger, after we were full and content, that’s not always true, Maciel has quite the wizards touch, the items in the store are creations from her recipes, her research, her years of chasing down the right blend of ingredients, then betting she could stir her customers palette’s and win them over.
The ingredients in their salami include wheat protein, red beets, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, spices, tomato paste, garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, red wine, liquid smoke, rice flower, white pepper, black pepper and salt.
Maciel Bañales Luna has gone all in on the project. Once you venture off into the arena of plant-based foods it is a one-way street, few go back, no longer always stuck planning meat-centric meals, the alternative plant-based dishes you prepare take over, it becomes a way of life, a lighter on the earth and compassionate form of eating.
Tag team partner in this one-two punch new food adventure is husband Joe Egender, the more talkative of the two rang us up at the cash register. Joe’s swift of wit, art brained and droll, bantering back and forth with his plant-based enthusiast, the lanky one-time San Franciscan was quick to get my nut ball style and interest in their new store. I’m all about fixing the-fix the world finds itself in, climate change is no longer some abstraction, it’s not some far off emergency happening to us out there in the faraway future, it is happening to us right now and what we eat impacts the world we live in, these plant-based products use less water and produce a much smaller carbon footprint, and that lesser pressure on our natural resources is part of the climate crisis— we are in a race against time to break the habit of eating the food our good and loving mothers introduced us to.
We tried their Mama’s potato salad and for dessert her Mexican Chocolate Mousse. The dessert is made from silken tofu, bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and chili powder. Maciel’s mousse was every bit as delicious as any conventional mousse and best of all it is better a better product, better for you, better for earth.
Eating a whole food plant-based diet has opened doors to unexplored corners of a world I had no contact with until I embarked on a journey to take better care of myself. I had no clue what was waiting. The trick to the fun is to get out and try new things. Life is many things including packing a basket and heading out for a picnic, eating deli style foods while sprawled out atop a piece of grass on your favorite blanket, and now with Maciel’s good work, because of the innovative products we can stay on track, remain within bounds of what we want and don’t want to end up on our plate. If meat is a gas-powered car, then the modern vegan deli is an electric automobile.
Maciel’s New out of this World butcher shop is a three-alarm fire wrapped in mustard— the pickle is free— the fascination is grand slam. Like solar panels we not only can make electricity in a whole new way we can make plant-based delicatessen sandwiches that are great tasting and all that much easier on our planet to produce.
There are behind closed-door discussions underway within the government about creating a new executive level department to take on the issue of climate change. Among the many things to do this climate change secretary would be charged with tackling water scarcity, one such fix is replacing hydroelectric power stations with renewable energy systems. Another piece of this puzzle is introducing new food production systems, and one spoke on the hub of that wheel is delicatessen style vegan cheeses and meats. Our food production system will be moved incrementally, it will be unexpected, surprising and these new products will make all the difference.
Circumstances in the American West are growing more difficult by the year. Even if our politics are deadlocked the same is not true of the researchers trying to bring to market food products that use less water and produce less carbon emissions.
Incumbents will try to hold onto their market share, that’s to be expected, they won’t be any happier than any other legacy enterprise that’s finding itself disrupted by the emergence of new technologies. Like solar or wind renewable energy systems they are gaining market share because they make sense, they’re the low coast leaders in the energy sector.
The lack of water in the American West has got a choke hold on the region’s economy. Analysts have long fingered the spike in oil prices for derailing the global economy, the higher the price the slower the economy moves. If I told you, we could produce the same amount of food using 90% less water and 90% less land wouldn’t you think it a good idea to give that new technology a try?
Maciel’s Plant-based Butcher Shop is a key marker— an inflection point— this is part of the answer to eating in a style that is in harmony with this climate stressed world. The good news from Highland Park is that a gifted food creator husband and wife team has set roots down right here in the dynamic food movement culture of Southern California. The vegan butcher shop is an ingenious answer to our future, and it is more than just about food, it is a response to this precarious moment— with new delicious solutions, especially those never-before-seen new foods that bring to the world a flavor all their own.