Religious Veganism: Beyond a Diet
You probably wouldn’t guess that ‘Vegan Food’ was the top Google Search term among New Yorkers in 2016. With Vegan restaurant chains and specialty stores popping up worldwide, Veganism has become more than just a diet — it’s a lifestyle. And it seems to be beating out Paleo, Gluten-free and other diets to become the new food religion.
One Vegan chain stands out from the rest — and not for its veggie burgers and yam fries. Loving Hut claims to be the fastest-growing vegan franchise in the world, with around 140 outlets across the globe, and over 40 outlets in the US from California to Carolina. Yet, very few, if any, customers are aware of the unusual philosophy that the restaurant is founded upon.
Supreme Master Ching Hai, a 67 year-old Vietnamese businesswoman, is the creator of the Loving Hut chain and the leader of the Quan Yin method of meditation. She is the head of a business empire, Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association (SMCHIA), which encompasses restaurants, fashion and jewellery lines. She is also the spiritual leader of an estimated 500,000 followers who call themselves her “disciples”, and are known to compare her to ‘God’, pray to her, believe she can communicate with plants and animals, and have even bought her used socks for $800.
In order to be an owner of a Loving Hut restaurant, one must first become a disciple of the Supreme Master. Becoming a disciple is easier said than done. Prospective followers must be committed Vegans for at least three months prior to initiation, and then go through a series of interviews and multiple hours dedicated to reading literature and listening to lectures by Ching Hai.
Reporter Sydney Page visited Loving Hut, Williamsburg, and spoke to the restaurant owner, Lisa Wang, and many of her customers, to find out more. Mrs. Wang opened her first Loving Hut restaurant on 7th Avenue in 2008, which has since closed. This is her second Loving Hut venture.
Surprisingly, not many of the restaurant’s customers seem to be aware they are dining at a restaurant franchised by the Supreme Master, or owned by one of her disciples.
Reporter Taryana Odayar interviewed the restaurant’s Chef, William Chang, who is also a disciple of Ching Hai, on how he uses the Quan Yin method to prepare the food.
According to Ching Hai’s website, www.godsdirectcontact.org, as well as conversations with various Loving Hut owners and staff, the Quan Yin method demands approximately 2 1/2 hours of daily meditation and an adherence to 5 precepts. These involve following a Vegan diet which excludes dairy, eggs, meat and fish, and refraining from lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and consuming intoxicants like alcohol.
A TV is mounted in the restaurant, streaming Supreme Master TV — a free satellite channel and internet program broadcasting across 90 cable and IPTV networks, with over 40 language subtitles.
Since we were at the restaurant during lunchtime, we decided to try some of the food on the menu. The waitress, Becky Sukhathirom, brought over the restaurant’s so-called ‘Cheerful Curry’, which was a plateful of tofu and mixed vegetables with multigrain rice, as well as ‘Happy Dumplings’ which were seared and stuffed with leafy greens.
In many ways, Veganism seems to be the new darling of the health food world, with Vegan eateries becoming almost as commonplace as regular restaurants. Cosmic cookery or not, it is undeniable that Loving Hut has played its part in launching the Vegan movement. But the people and the philosophy behind the chain are also part of a movement — one that seems to be using carrot cake instead of clarion calls to attract more disciples.