Phoney Baloney brand Coconut Bacon
Phoney Baloney brand Coconut Bacon

Portland, Ore., is the site of what a clutch of overwrought journalists are calling ‘the world’s first vegan mini-mall.’ But a vegan tattoo parlor? A vegan strip club? Really? Yeah — really.

It shouldn’t be surprising, but on occasion even those of us who’ve spent a career in journalism can be chagrined at how certain non-stories nevertheless seem to generate substantial news coverage.

All that’s needed is the right “hook,” and some relatively minor event can garner big-time pub.

Case in point: A story about “the world’s first vegan mini-mall.”

From the Tribune News Service to The Los Angeles Times to a slew of Oregon newspapers, suddenly the world has a vegan destination that, if you believe the media hype, is the vegetarian version of the Mall of America, or maybe The Galleria in Houston.

Uh, no.

Even though various reporters were falling all over themselves in an effort to take the veggie theme over the top (“A one-stop-vegan-shop paradise,” “The answer to every vegan multitasker’s dream”), what we have here is a failure to communicate.

This “mall” is actually a group of four stores in a nondescript building near downtown Portland (see photo) that share a devotion to vegan merchandising. However, any resemblance to an actual mall stops right there.

Look, more power to those entrepreneurs. I’m all for small business owners coming up with novel ways to find a market niche, because they certainly can’t compete with the big box stores or the outlet shopping centers or actual malls with national brand-name chain stores.

But along with exaggerated descriptions of a vegan-driven business trend, this media overkill is disturbing because the people doing business in that category are promoting an unsettling message: If you’re not buying vegan, you’re not living right.

As consumers we have freedom of choice, and there’s nothing wrong with exercising it by shopping at retailers who cater to specific preferences and values. If you believe that fish-free “toona” or fake non-beef “jerquee” is your contribution to a better lifestyle for yourself and a healthier society for the rest of us, pull out your VISA and go for it.

You’ll need that credit card, because you won’t be getting off cheap when you do.

Check out a sampling of the vegan mall’s wares:

  • Food Fight! This vegan grocery store offers such delicacies as Braised Gluten Tidbits, Garlic “Parmesan” made with walnuts and Vegan Toona made with textured vegetable protein (TVP), a processed extrusion of soy protein flavored to resemble meat, poultry of seafood. Hungry? The Phoney Baloney brand Coconut Bacon might sound appetizing — hopefully so, because it retails for $23 a pound.
  • Sweetpea. This vegan bakery ain’t where all those healthier-than-thou vegans are hanging out, because the absence of animal foods aside, virtually every item depicted on the store’s website is loaded with calories nobody needs. From Boston Cream Pie (minus actual cream) to New York Cheesecake (without any actual cheese) to donuts and cupcakes with buttercream frosting (minus the butter and the cream), Sweetpea is all about decadent pastries that represent the opposite of what dedicated vegans are always preaching about their super-healthy lifestyles.
  • Herbivore Clothing Co. As the name suggests, this store offers non-animal-derived clothing — no leather on the premises of this establishment. Which is kind of ironic, since the world’s most populous herbivore is the source of the very product Herbivore declines to sell. But if you enjoy paying $30 bucks for a cotton-poly blend t-shirt with such slogans as “Vegan for Good,” “Create Kindness” or “Love Life,” then this is your shop.
  • Scapegoat Tattoo. Is there such a thing as a vegan tattoo? Apparently so, since according to the LA Times, “Some tattoo inks can contain animal byproducts, particularly black inks, which can be made with bone char or shellac from beetles. Glycerin can contain animal fat. The tracing paper used to transfer outlines to skin can have lanolin in it, which comes from sheep.” Wow. Good to know that my next tattoo of writhing snakes or a snarling tiger or some flying dragon can be created without any animal by-products.

But here’s the best part of the world’s first vegan mini-mall: There is a vegan strip club next door.

That’s right. For all those morally superior vegans concerned that dancers might show up onstage in leather, fur or silk “garments,” fear not. The club strictly prohibits its performers from wearing costumes made from any of those materials.

Although I thought the whole idea of such “gentlemen’s clubs” was that the ladies are supposed to remove the clothes they’re wearing. I mean, does it really make an ethical difference if the panties the young woman who’s only earning money to pay for college tosses in your face are made of silk or rayon?

Just wondering.

Let me close with reference to a vegan alternative sold at Food Fight! that actually makes some sense: vegan haggis.

Made with rutabagas, lentils, kidney beans, soy protein, oats, peas and peanuts, veggie haggis sounds fairly appealing, at least compared with the genuine article Scotland has so generously bestowed on the rest of the world.

Next time I get a craving for big ol’ bowl of haggis, I just might go vegan.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator