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Meet the Mind Behind L.A.'s First All-Vegan Coffee Shop

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(Photo courtesy of Antoanet Aburto)
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In honor of National Vegetarian Awareness Week, LAist is running a series of features and Q & As with our city's most prominent meat-free personalities. Stay tuned throughout the week for more.

Antoanet Aburto (a.k.a. chef Toni) was born and raised in Lima, Peru. She moved to Florida at the turn of the millennium, and spent 10 years working there before moving to L.A.

She currently manages M Cafe on Melrose, and in her spare time runs her own meat-free Latino catering business called Pacha Vegan Peruvian and a similarly-themed blog called Chica Vegan. Her goal is to promote vegan alternatives to Latinos, and Latino alternatives to vegans. She's currently working on opening the first 100% vegan coffee shop in Los Angeles called Evolution Cafe.

She took time to speak with us about environmentalism, ethics, and why she misses Cuban food.

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1. Tell us about when you went vegetarian/vegan, and why?

I went vegan on January 2010. Brendan Brazier (athlete / author / founder of Vega) came to Whole Foods, where I was working at the time, to starting promoting the coming of his book “Thrive” to the US. I stopped by out of curiosity, but that speech changed my life.

He didn’t speak about animal cruelty at all. He spoke about the human body and how it’s built herbivore and not carnivore, and also talked about optimum health, athleticism, digestion, allergies, headaches, sleep problems, and so many other topics that were directly related to our diet. I had never thought about them that way. I never thought you could prevent diseases merely but eating what your body is meant to eat. That simple.

I tried it that week, and never looked back. I stayed vegan for ethical reasons. Eating vegan just makes sense. It’s the right diet for the human body, and our environment as well. The amount of waste that the animal farming industry produces is stupid. I simply don’t care how “tasty” something feels in my mouth if it’s going to cause that many problems to our planet. It's selfish. I can’t do it.

2. You're working on creating the first plant-based coffee shop in LA, Evolution Cafe. What are some of the challenges, and what's easier than what most might expect?

The only challenge is opening people’s minds. Dairy does pair well with coffee, I’m not going to lie. The casein in cow milk gives it that special texture in the foam you want in a traditional cappuccino. But cow milk shouldn’t be the only way to enjoy coffee. Not anymore. We’re in the year 2012 and we all need to start evolving in our food culture, the same way we have evolved in our technology. I mean, we just took some awesome photos of Mars. Why are we still eating and drinking the same way than centuries ago? The same way before we even built cars? I don’t get it.

You can easily pair up great coffee with great non-dairy milks like almond, hazelnut, etc. The same goes with pasties and sweets. For example, Chloe Coscarelli won Cupcake Wars with her vegan cupcakes against traditional one, easily, because we simply don’t need those animal products to create great culinary experiences.

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3. What is a restaurant in L.A. that's not exclusively vegan or vego that has incredible options for folks who are on a plant-based diet, aside from M Cafe, of course?

I could list every vegan restaurant in LA! I love eating out! But I know they’re sometimes challenging to non-veg diners. I like Green Peas on the Westside. It’s an unknown casual spot on Sepulveda Blvd. that has great both veg and traditional sandwiches, soups, etc. They’re all so well prepared, so well seasoned. I just love it there.

Balcones Del Peru in Hollywood is probably one of the best Peruvian restaurants in LA. I went there once with a friend, and was not expecting to find anything to eat for me, but the owner himself came out and offered me some vegan options and made them for me. Best meal I’ve had in years. Even before I went vegan. And the service is just superior to most places in LA.

4. What about living in L.A. is fulfilling as someone who is meat-free?

Absolutely! We’re definitely spoiled here. When I go back to Peru to visit my brother, or even here in the US when I go to Florida and visit my parents, I have a really hard time dining out. I have to only cook for myself. There is no vegan culture in most places. We have maybe a hundred or more restaurant options in LA as a vegan.

5. What are some of the foods specific to an Angeleno diet that you really miss?

Good Cuban food! Good Latin food in general, other than Mexican. Can’t find it anywhere here!

6. Any inspiration you'd like to share with someone who might be considering adopting the lifestyle?

Know why you’re doing it and stick to it. Some of my veg friends do it for animal rights reasons, some for their own health. I personally do it for environmental reasons. If you truly have a good reason, why would you go back?