If vegan and animal rights activists really want to change the way the majority of people eat, they might want to forget those PETA protests where half-naked women dress like tigers and sit in cages all day or those really depressing Humane Society commercials where slow-motion footage of abused dogs slowly morphs into close-ups of pouty-faced kittens. Instead, they could go down to Inglewood's Stuff I Eat, open since July 2008, and make co-owner Miss B the face of their movement.
In fact, they might want to make Miss B the body of their movement as well. Because although Babette Davis says she'll turn 62 in December, she looks not a day over 40. Maybe Miss B, the name she prefers, enjoys the sort of God-given beauty the rest of us wish we had. Or, perhaps, the 61-year-old's youthful exuberance and good looks have something to do with the fact that she went vegetarian in 1990 -- at the age, she claims, of 40 -- and vegan two years after that. Whatever the case, it's working for her, and the constant flux of people coming through for lunch and dinner prove it's working for her restaurant as well.
The good news for the rest of us is that the moniker Stuff I Eat isn't just the name of Miss B's business -- it's the actual food she's been consuming since giving up meat two decades ago, meaning maybe we've got a shot after all to look as good as she does.
Stuff I Eat's menu is completely vegan, but unlike downtown's Shojin or Mid-City's Rahel Ethiopian Veggie Cuisine, there isn't merely one type of dish on the menu. Instead, Miss B and her staff of five (four family members, including husband and co-owner Ron Davis, all of whom, according to Miss B, are vegan) serve the Southern-inspired Organic Soul Food platter (yams, macaroni and cheese, BBQ tofu, kale, black-eyed pea soup, cornbread muffin and potato salad or coleslaw with a mixed green salad), an array of salads including the Carrot Un-Tuna, four kinds of sandwiches and a slew of Mexican dishes such as the Enchilada Pie, Nacho Salad, burritos, tacos and two types of quesadillas. There's also a children's menu with macaroni and cheese, a nut butter-and-jam sandwich and nachos.
"I've got some of everybody's food on the menu," Miss B says. "There's no rhyme or reason to it. It's like, 'We like that, so put it on the menu.' I'm back there just playing with food, having a good time."
Regardless of what customers order, it's going to be tasty. It's also going to be large. Luckily, Stuff I Eat offers half-portions for many of its dishes, because only a stoned Andre the Giant (assuming he wasn't dead, of course) would be able to eat the regular-sized meals. Add the fact that many of these plates include beans, rice and tofu, and you've got yourself the sort of hearty meals not often associated with veganism, which Miss B attributes to her success.
"We have a low percentage of vegan customers," Miss B says. "I need everybody to like this food and I love that, because it's vegan, it agrees with most palates. I hate saying it like this, but it's true -- it just tastes like regular food."
To accompany this "regular food," Miss B has incorporated a different aesthetic than other vegan eateries. Sure, there are flyers near the door promoting vegetarian-friendly businesses and posters on the wall depicting the benefits of healthy living, but there's also the Sugarhill Gang and R. Kelly on the radio, funky paintings by local artists such as Joe Sims, Shiva Ghodsi and Paul Heussenstamm on the wall, and a chair that looks straight out of a Tim Burton movie.
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This comfortable, relaxed ambience puts Stuff I Eat between two worlds not often associated with each other -- veganism and Inglewood. Again, the blending of two seeming opposites is very much an intentional act for Miss B and her staff, as one of the main functions for Stuff I Eat is to serve as an educational resource for locals to learn about vegan food on a street with two barbecue joints a stone's throw away. Another function, Miss B says, is to bring outsiders to Inglewood to show how the city's perception and the reality of the neighborhood are two very different stories.
"We have an opportunity to share and to teach," Miss B says. "We're not rich and I don't need the diamonds, big house and big cars. What I desire more than anything is a successful business and the opportunity to turn as many people on to this lifestyle as I possibly can, and I'm in the perfect place to do that. They don't need me in Santa Monica right now. And they don't need me crosstown right now. And guess what? I like that you can come here and see that Market Street is not such a bad street. I don't see people walking down the street with their pants sagging down carrying rifles, ready to hurt people."