Bad Vegan: A Meditation in Whiteness

Five minutes into Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives., I knew what Netflix was selling me, white supremacy, and I knew I wasn’t buying it. Bad Vegan is a story centered around Sarma Melngailis, a raw food restaurateur, and Anthony Strangis, the man who defrauded her by telling her he could make her dog immortal and promising her she could enter a realm of spiritual beings by enduring several tests, many of which included giving him thousands of dollars.

About ten minutes into the series, Sarma had been referred to several times as beautiful and was called a “super hot blonde” by Howard Stern. These adjectives prompted me to tweet the following: “One of the greatest examples of white supremacy is barely pretty white women being considered beautiful. #BadVegan” This tweet quickly prompted this response from a, most likely, white person: “@sarma She looks amazing , & do you know how many goddamn black people I’ve seen today try & turn this into a race issue some how some way ? White this white that , Yall muthafuckers try & make everything racial. My god.”

Now, Sarma is by no means ugly, but as I said, she’s barely pretty. But because she’s a white woman with blonde hair in a white supremacist society, she was seen as the next Angelina Jolie, which in turn played into her ability to defraud people as you’ll see shortly.

As the docuseries continues, it’s revealed that a man by the name of Jeffrey Chodorow gave Salma the money to buy out her partner, Matthew Kenney, when he became hard for her to work with because of tension caused by their breakup. The restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, was doing well at the time, so I’m sure helping Sarma seemed like a good investment at the time, but Kenney also contacted Chodorow and asked for the money to buy his partner out and Chodorow chose to help Sarma. Even though Chodorow says he did it because Sarma had attended Wharton like he did and Kenney had a shady financial past, I think it would be naive not to acknowledge in a society where white men are socialized to believe protecting white women is one of the main reasons they exist, Chodorow’s desire to help a white “damsel in distress” factored into his decision-making.

As the series continues and Sarma gives Anthony more and more money, she eventually isn’t able to cover the paychecks of her restaurant employees. The first time this happened, she was able to borrow the tens of thousands of dollars needed to cover payroll. Living in a white supremacist society means when you are white, more often than not, you have easy access to large sums of money, either from your own bank account or the accounts of your parents, other family members or friends.

It’s eventually revealed Strangis even stole $400,000 from Sarma’s mother because she thought she was giving him the money to help her daughter. If your parents aren’t celebrities, most Black, Brown and Indigenous people don’t have mothers with $400,000 of disposable income.

As Sarma continued to take money from her restaurant to give to Strangis, she was forced to borrow money from several members of her network to cover expenses for the restaurant and, I’m assuming, pay her rent, etc. As we’ve seen from what happened with the Fyre festival, Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Sorokin, being white in a racist society comes with an inherent trustworthiness. You can steal millions of dollars from people and it will take years before people realize it, yet Black people are followed around retail and convenience stores for fear we’ll steal items worth less than $20.

As the docuseries continued, it was clear to me Netflix wanted me to feel sorry for Sarma: it was mentioned several times that Strangis “brainwashed” her and she likened being with him to being in a cult. Netflix’s tactics have worked on many, probably mostly white, people. I’ve seen sympathy for Sarma on Twitter, in articles and even two of her white employees that she stole from who worked for her for at least a month without getting paid expressed sympathy for her in the series.

I’m not surprised by this because whiteness always protects itself. White people will always see the good in other white people first because part of the belief system of white supremacy is that white people are inherently good, moral and just.

I, however, have zero sympathy for her. She was an adult when she willingly gave over a million dollars to Anthony Strangis, much of which she stole from working-class people who worked for her. To this day, Sarma has not shown significant remorse for what she did, seemingly, because she believes she was brainwashed and therefore, isn’t wholly responsible for her actions. In a recent People article, she said, “There was no actual gun to my head so it will be said that of course I had a choice. I get that. However, the response that I must be crazy and/or stupid is an easy, reductive one. I’m not stupid and I’m not crazy. I am humiliated and shamed by all the damage caused, but have been working to rebuild a strong foundation of self-reliance and self-awareness.”

Notice Sarma doesn’t admit she did in fact have a choice and she chose to steal from others for Anthony Strangis. Sarma says she’s not stupid, yet she believed Strangis when he said he could make her and her dog immortal? Notice Sarma says she feels “humiliated and shamed,” but not remorseful or guilty. It’s the lack of accountability for me, Dawg.

When Sarma and Strangis are finally caught in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee after attempting to run away from all the people they stole from, they were taken into custody without incident. This is after Sarma was thought to have stolen $1.5 million from investors and her employees. I don’t have to spell out the inherent white privilege and supremacy in this because as you recall, George Floyd was assassinated in front of all of us over $20.

Eventually, Sarma pled guilty to criminal tax fraud, a scheme to defraud and grand larceny and was sentenced to four months in jail and five years probation. And here white supremacy and the particular privilege white women have to be seen as delicate and easily manipulated is on full display as Strangis also pled guilty, but was sentenced to more jail time and had to pay restitution. By the time he was sentenced, Anthony Strangis was given time served, because unlike Sarma, he could never make bail after he was arrested. So even after Sarma stole from countless people around her and her husband at the time stole from her mother, she was still able to find people to post her bail. Does white privilege know any bounds?

When I finished Bad Vegan, I couldn’t ignore the taste of the white supremacy I had just been force-fed in my mouth. Learning that Sarma used the money she made from the docuseries to pay back her former employees is the only thing that washed it away. If you’re like me, you find these stories of white women behaving badly interesting, but be vigilant. Every single one of these stories is served with a side of white supremacy. It’s up to you whether you ingest it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s