AT FIRST GLANCE, vegan grocer Food Fight!, on SE Division St, looks like any other natural foods store. But between the organic fruit leather and the Tofurky Jurky, something seems out of step with the usual parade of tie-dye and Birkenstocks. Perhaps it’s the staff’s abundant tattoos or the "I (Heart) Hunting Accidents" T-shirt that owner Chad Miller proudly sports: There’s a confrontational edge here that could harsh the mellow of even the most placid patron.
"We’re not a hippie co-op, and this isn’t a health food store," Miller insists. "This is an activist business."
This month, Miller is banding together with three other vegan establishments and relocating to SE 12th & Stark. The "vegan mini mall," as they’ve taken to calling it, will house Food Fight!; Scapegoat Tattoo (no animal glycerin in the ink); Sweetpea Bakery; and Herbivore magazine, a stylish five-year-old publication dedicated to vegan culture. Miller and his fellow proprietors decided to move because they’d all outgrown their modest spaces as the number of vegans and vegetarians in Portland—named the most vegetarian-friendly city in the country last year by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—continues to grow.
Josh Hooten, the editor of Herbivore magazine, reckons that Portland’s vegan culture has evolved from a laid-back hippie scene to a more in-your-face variety thanks in part to the resurgence of political punk rock. "Punk teaches you to question everything," he says. Of course, increased awareness about cows’ contribution to global warming or the negative health effects of eating too much red meat might also have something to do with the shift.
The more aggressive approach to going meat-free doesn’t mean that these activist entrepreneurs will chase you down the aisle for sporting leather shoes, however. After all, there’s a bottom line to consider. "Fur, though," says Hooten, "that’s another matter."