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Spring rolls with a side of doom, please

A vegetarian restaurant chain aims to ‘save the world’ with TV footage of disasters


 

 

Spring rolls with a side of doom, please

Photograph by Sandy Nicholson

 

At first glance, diners might be forgiven for thinking Toronto’s Loving Hut is just another little vegetarian restaurant. But few other eateries are as devoted to serving messages of imminent doom with their food.

“We have only 884 days left to save the planet,” intone the entertainment-system-sized televisions on either side of the room. The screens show footage of flooding in North Korea, China, Pakistan, northern India; a brick apartment building crashing down, as in the middle of an earthquake; and a dead-looking child with half a dozen flies on her face. On a recent weeknight, several people look up, then continue on with their spring rolls, “sweet and sour fireballs” and “spicy cha cha.”

The doomsday restaurant is run by the spiritual followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, whose aim is to scare the world into vegetarianism. Hai, 60, a Vietnamese-born restaurateur, avid vegan, painter, poet, fashion designer, fundraiser and entrepreneur, also goes by “Suma,” from SUpreme MAster, or simply “Master.” Four years ago, Hai, who now lives in Europe but whose group is headquartered in Taiwan, told her followers to ditch their jobs, quit their regular lives, and set up the Loving Hut chain.

There are now 169 Loving Huts around the world, including two in Canada. Hai’s devotees also run dozens of similarly themed vegetarian restaurants worldwide (at least three in Canada) that aren’t part of the chain, but also promote a potent combo of death, destruction and fried tofu.

The restaurants are staffed mostly with volunteers or those paid a mere stipend, to keep prices down and promote the spread of vegetarianism. At the Eglinton Avenue Loving Hut in Toronto, for example, non-devotees get normal wages but most workers are either volunteers or investors who share in the profits—and a dedication to “serve humanity.”

Tsung Lin, 56, used to work as a software engineer before he ceded to “the Master’s call” in April and became manager of the Alhambra, Calif.-based Loving Hut. He says, “The Master told us the planet is in big trouble so we should do what we can to help.”

Hai issues strict orders about the operation of the restaurants. Loving Hut walls must be painted yellow, to “reflect the kingdom of God,” says Lin. The furniture must also be bright and light to embody higher values.

Staff at the Eglinton location wear yellow and turquoise uniforms and hats that say “Am a vegan and green save the world [sic]”—despite divinity, grammar doesn’t seem to be one of Hai’s strengths. No alcohol is served—it’s against the sect’s teachings. At the Eglinton restaurant, a wall is dedicated to “the vegetarian and vegan elite of the world,” with colour photos of stars like Pierce Brosnan, Carrie Underwood and Richard Gere in fake gilt frames. The restaurants also hand out free doomsday recipe books with pictures of tornadoes, scarred African slaves and a makeshift morgue.

Hai has her own TV channel, which plays on a continuous loop at the restaurants. As well as the doomsday messages, there is information about how much she gives to alleviate various natural disasters (from several hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars). She makes her money through donations and an extensive list of “divinely inspired” merchandise, explains Joe Szimhart, a media consultant based in Birdsboro, Pa. A holy couture ensemble, for example, could set devotees back $10,000 or more. Hai is also a popular author. Her latest book, The Noble Wilds, topped Amazon’s bestseller list, as did her earlier two books, The Dogs in My Life and The Birds in My Life.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, customers tend to appreciate her followers’ unequivocal devotion so long as it means cheap, delicious Asian vegetarian fusion cuisine. Some, like photographer Monty Jain, who frequents the Eglinton Loving Hut, agree with the essence of Hai’s vision, although he thinks her facts are a little biased.

Others are more skeptical. Andrew Micak, an environmental consultant and a regular at the similarly themed Green Earth Vegetarian Cuisine in Toronto, finds the “propaganda” is “weird and culty” but adds, “their spring rolls make it totally worth it.”


 

Spring rolls with a side of doom, please

  1. From what I have seen of Supreme Master Television, it is a very high quality TV channel with dozens of cultural shows, entertainment programs and interesting news … not all this doom and gloom as you have indicated. I think that is just your way of picking out what you want to use, then writing it in a negative slant, which is unprofessional reporting in my opinion. Those "doom" reports are to inform people of global climate change disasters that are increasing all the time (like the recent Russian fires, Pakistan earthquake etc). But according to your article we should dismiss all these terrible weather related events as "fear mongering"? Re: Ching Hai trying to scare the world into vegetarianism, I would politely say that is utterly false and totally misguided. So again, you are saying that Dr. Rajendra Pachuri, Chief of the UNIPCC, Sir Paul McCartney, Greenpeace International, and many more are trying to scare everyone into veganism? The answer is "unequivocally no". They are merely relaying important information they have discovered to the public. It seems like Ching Hai is saying the same thing as they are.

  2. And according to my thinking: selfless living and volunteering should be respected and looked at favourably, not denounced as you hint at. A quick side note: Ching Hai just received a Volunteer Service Award from US President Barack Obama for over 20 years of serving unconditionally, but I guess you chose not to inform your readers about this.

  3. Back to the article — am I correct in noting that you "take a crack" at people or establishments that don't drink alcohol?? "No alcohol is served—it's against the sect's teachings” Not exactly a positive statement for people who choose to live without a substance that is responsible for injuring and killing uncountable human beings. And not disrespecting Monty Jain, but are you trusting his opinion on what is fact and what is not regarding climate change? He is a photographer, not a scientist! Plus … you give credence to the next door vegan restaurant's opinion of Loving Hut's environmental information as ‘propaganda'. Please refer back to the UN, NASA, EU etc. and don't try to give your readers a false impression just to suit the tone of your article. This is serious stuff you are writing about. Goodness gracious, please interview or research much better next time you want to attack or oppose a person, place or thing. So at least you can present a decent argument. THIS article was doomsday not the restaurant. Pass the springrolls please…

  4. I am very happy to see this new chain called Loving Hut. It is high time that we start carefully considering what we are putt into our mouths. Climate change is the most serious issue facing our planet right now. And what is the primary cause of climate change? According to the UN, the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases is livestock production. We are now slaughtering 55 billion animals each year worldwide. Also raising livestock consumes 70% of all our freshwater, and half of the world's grain supply, while 1 billion people are starving. So we must carefully consider what we are doing to our world. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is the important step towards a peaceful, sustainable way of living. And many thanks to Loving Hut for showing people how delicious vegan food can be.

  5. I have been to other Loving Huts and they have been quite courteous to me and friends. I agree with the article, the food is pretty good. I thought the posters of the Vegan Elite were cool myself. I have been vegetarian for over 10 years and vegan one year. Recently, I have learned that choosing vegan can actually help the environment greatly. I have read lots of stats on the internet and seen lots of YouTube videos that prove raising animals is extremely water and energy intensive and have convinced me that I am doing the right thing and I feel great about it. I hope there can be many more vegan restaurants like Loving Hut in Toronto and across Canada.

  6. Dear Macleans,

    How on earth could you write such a low profile article? It is so unprofessional! Did the meat industry pay you well for this piece of trash? And why are you contradicting yourself? Last March, you did the same thing as Loving Hut: http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/03/30/save-the-plane… inviting your readers to save the world by stopping eating meat, then six months later, you decided to attack that very idea. What should we, your readers, believe? It is sooooo unprofessional and sooooo phony! I thought so much more of you in the past and I used to have great respect for your magazine. YOU SOUND LIKE A CHEAP TABLOID now, yikes! Would President Obama recently give a Volunteer Service Award to someone who is the leader of an obscure sect? If you would do your homework better, much much better, you would learn that many progressive, famous leaders, scientists, medical practitioners, environmentalists, actors, and other key people all over the world admire and respect Supreme Master Ching Hai and her selfless work. You really should have done better than to write such a low, low profile article. You convinced me not to buy your magazine any more. Wishing you good luck with enhancing your style with integrity and professionalism, and for heaven's sake, hire a journalist with more than a grade one education, assuming that it's that high!

  7. Predicted increase in natural disasters is already unfolding. Every day we watch or read how climate change is harming many parts of countries including Canada, causing human fatalities, property damage, water and air pollution, extinction of plant and animal species, and disrupted personal life and business. Government disaster declarations worldwide for floods, storms, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. have risen manifolds. How many citizens of the world are fully aware of the major threat of our very existence. Surveys show that many of us want to know what personal actions to take to deal with climate change. Based on scientific facts, Master Ching Hai and Loving Hut restaurants are good examples to bring awareness to people between the meat diet and climate change. These are positive actions and do not harm anyone but your own preconceived and negative reception to these positives trends of helping people and saving the planet. Try to bring the best out of people which is a good business practice. This study was just released by Canadian scientists at the Dalhousie University of Resource and Environmental Studies: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/1010

  8. they were merely stating what is already on the uniform.. look at the picture maybe?

    • It's pityful for a respected journal like Mcleans to pick up a phrase like that and attack it with ill-intention. There is more disrespect than disagreement in the way Mclean wrote about this. Not a very decent way to report.

  9. Why focus on such petty issues like the colour of the restaurant or what's on the TV screen. Why can't the journalist focus on the positive things that are being done by such an establishment like providing an alternative menu rather than regular ho-hum boring things we get to eat around Toronto and a menu that is earth friendly. Why can't you go into McD's and put the same vitriol on their bloodied burger big macs and their genetically modified so called tater?

    What is more important Macleans- ensuring that we still have a planet that is liveable for everyone or what the restaurant looks like, or who this spiritual teacher is? At least she and her students are trying to make this a better place to live instead of warring with each other and promoting negative attitudes.

    One day you will count your lucky stars you walked into Loving Hut!

  10. Switching to a animal-free diet is the best decision everyone of us can take to reduce our footprint. This franchise, which is also operating in Paris, France, does simply remind this: our current meat diet is NOT sustainable. So let's change it. McLeans, try the vegan diet for a month; I'm sure you'll change your mind and the tone of your articles ;)
    Bon appétit…

  11. just went to this loving hut. tasty food. yummy. and i saw the TV… totally disagree with this rubbish article. Stories on the TV were cool to me!

  12. Whether you like or dislike Supreme Master Ching Hai does not matter. If you actually take the time to watch Supreme Master Television you will see that is is NOT just reporting about doomsday. In fact, it is one of the most positive news reporting channel out there – not to mention that it is free, 24-hour and international.

  13. I've just recently learned of the Loving Hut restaurants and am very impressed that a vegan chain has gone global and is also now in Canada. It's about time!! I've been vegetarian for 21 years and vegan for the past year and wholeheartedly embrace this concept which is long overdue. I was struck by the pettiness and negativity of your article. It's very poor of you to be criticizing the founder and the programs she airs while customers dine. Global warming is NOT propaganda. Factory farming IS cruel and inhumane and results in a very unhealthy diet to those who eat meat and animal products. You've reported on all these issues in the past and I was impressed you had done so, then you publish something as rude and meanspirited as this. Wake up MacLeans! There's a new mindset out there – people are becoming aware of the horrors of the meat industry – to the animals and to themselves. Maybe you'd consider publishing an article about the film that was nominated for the 2010 Oscar for best doc "Food Inc." (BTW "The Cove" won – which was also an incredible expose on the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan). That is if you can find an unbiased, intelligent and honest journalist to do the story.

  14. My husband and I went to the Loving Hut tonight for the first time. It's was a real treat! We both had the Golden Rice Bowl and for appetizers he got the Rainbow Salad and I had the pumpkin soup. He got an ice tea and I had the hazelnut latte. For dessert we shared the chocolate cake. The food was very tasty and the mock meats were amazing. I think they were chicken, beef and of course shrimp – I'm guessing seitan? The miso sauce was soooo good. We're really glad we went and are planning on going again. I'm very pleased the LH now has restaurants in Canada.

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