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Raw Vegan Eats Nachos in Fells Point

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 7/5/2006

"Maybe it’s a bit trite to be calling out one of the people interviewed in the article last week about hardcore raw vegans, but it was just too funny not to write."

So begins Lyndsi Mayer’s June 26 letter to City Paper, in response to freelancer David Morley’s June 21 cover story about Baltimore’s "raw vegans," a community that adheres to a radical diet that eschews not only milk and animal products but also any cooked or heated foods.

Meyer goes on to explain that she read Morley’s story during a slow shift at Fells Point’s Waterfront Hotel, where she tends bar. A photograph of the story’s main subject, raw-vegan evangelist Michael Harris, prompted Mayer’s transformation from mild-mannered barmaid to exclamation-point-crazed whistle-blower.

"[The photograph] struck me," she writes. "The reason he seemed so familiar is because he was one of my customers recently! And what he was consuming was far from raw or vegan. I served Michael Harris nachos and beer! FRIED nachos that are cooked in the same grease as our chicken wings and fried fish! COOKED nachos that are smothered with CHEESE . . . from a moo-cow!"

In a follow-up phone conversation, Mayer says she had some misgivings about outing the "cheating" Harris, but that the opportunity to offer an object lesson in media relations was too good to pass up. "If you’re going to be a big vegan in public, you should probably not go out to bars and eat nachos with cheese on them in a place where a stack of City Papers sits at the end of the bar," she says.

And so the nacho-noshing raw vegan joins gambling moralist William Bennett and pill-popping paladin Rush Limbaugh in that awkward space where self-anointed purity invites public scrutiny.

"I guess that’s one risk you take doing this kind of thing," laughs Harris, who readily cops to the nacho-eating incident, and even confesses to an illicit encounter with rosemary fries at Mount Vernon’s Brewer’s Art restaurant shortly after the cover story was published. "I can only be honest in terms of what I’m doing at
the time," he says. "And when David [Morley] did that article I was as completely 100 percent raw vegan as I am now." He adds, "I’m 100 percent vegan 90 percent of
the time."

Harris says he never claimed absolute adherence to the raw-vegan lifestyle. Indeed, though Harris is depicted in the story as a raw-food zealot and potluck organizer, writer Morley hedges his portrayal of Harris’ commitment, describing him as "frequently 100 percent raw vegan."

Harris also says he told Morley about the nacho-eating session, which occurred the Sunday before the story was published—that is, after the story was completed, but two days before it went to press. Morley disputes that account, writing in an e-mail: "I don’t recall having heard about the nachos. Nacho cheese would have stood out in my memory." If he had known of it, Morley says he would have consulted an editor about incorporating Harris’ "stumble" into the narrative, which is structured around the author’s own personal failure to stick to the diet for more than three days. "I would have asked the editor to advise," Morley writes, "since it opens up a different level to the story: it’s not just some schlemiel who can’t make it raw for a week (me)—it’s one of the key proponents of the diet who stumbles."

City Paper editor Lee Gardner says such an 11th-hour change to the story would have been impractical and not necessarily warranted, in any event.

The only raw foodist in Morley’s story who is portrayed as 100 percent committed to the diet is Katrina Bland, who has "been raw" since last November. But the chances of an eagle-eyed bartender catching her in the act of chasing a fried snack with cold beer on a hot afternoon are "slim to none," Bland says, laughing. "First of all, I don’t go to bars, I don’t drink beers, and I don’t do dairy. So I wouldn’t have been doing nachos, unfortunately."

Unfortunate is right, according to both the Waterfront whistle-blower and nacho-sneaking vegan, who describe the nachos there as "awesome." And though pepper jack-drenched corn chips wouldn’t qualify as health food in even the most forgiving diet, bartender Mayer points out that the oil in which the nachos are fried contains no trans-fats.

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