Bad Vegan, Good Watching: Netflix’s New True Crime Documentary Shines A Light On Sarma Melngailis’ Fall From Grace

3 Mins Read

Netflix has unveiled a new four-part series looking at a controversial figure from the restaurant industry. The latest in its collection of true crime stories, “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” tracks the case of Sarma Melngailis, former “Queen of Vegan Cuisine”. The series unravels her fast rise to popularity, followed by a descent into crime following a ‘lovebotomy’.

Melngailis’ case proved as strange as it was captivating. A former darling of the New York restaurant scene, she was a successful business person and a poster child for healthy vegan living. She rose to fame after appearing on the front cover of a co-authored cookbook with her then-partner Matthew Kenney, with who she owned Pure Food and Wine. When the relationship broke down, she kept the eatery and things soon spiralled.

From vegan to villain

Once a favourite haunt for celebrities, including Bill Clinton, Tom Brady and Woody Harrelson, Pure Food and Wine became synonymous with high-end vegan dining. It served up raw dishes and excitingly ‘health-focused’ cocktails. Alongside, Melngailis opened three juice bars. The documentary looks at how such a successful person went from celebrity friends to a cell. The crux of the issue appears to be a new relationship.

Melngailis met her future, now ex, husband on Twitter in 2011. Anthony Strangis, according to Melngailis, used cult-like techniques to gain control over her behaviour and finances. Notably, he claimed he could make her beloved dog immortal, if she passed a series of tests. The result was almost $2 million being stolen from the restaurant, to fund Stangis’ gambling habit and lavish lifestyle. Employees, taxes, investors and suppliers all went unpaid.

People who knew Melngailis were quick to claim that her relationship was the catalyst for a total personality switch, akin to a lobotomy. Melngailis herself has also claimed the same and that she was coercively controlled. The couple were arrested in 2016, after almost a year on the run. They were caught, holed up in a hotel after Strangis ordered Domino’s pizza and chicken wings. The inauspicious capture led one investor to famously say, “she is guilty of conduct unbecoming vegan”.

“It’s the worst nightmare you can think of,” Melngailis told The Post when she was arrested. “If I had terminal cancer, it would be better than this, because at least [then] I did not cause it.”

The Bad Vegan Netflix documentary was created by Chris Smith, executive producer of the 2020 Netflix docuseries, Tiger King. It traces Melngailis’ descent from society restauranteur to arrest for tax and labour fraud, theft and grand larceny. She now lives in Harlem, with Leon, and is keen to revive her restaurant business, after finishing her memoirs. She told the New York Post that if an opportunity to open a similar restaurant presented itself, she would “do it in a heartbeat”.

Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives is released for UK Netflix viewers on March 16th.

Image by Netflix.

Netflix’s library of vegan documentaries

Netflix has sought to solidify its position as a streaming service for social change documentaries. Alongside fiction films focused on climate change, including the successful Don’t Look Up, it has provided a platform for numerous vegan releases.

Seaspiracy, launched last year, looked at the destructive consequences of commercial fishing. It provided insight into the rapidly depleting under-sea ecosystem and made audiences aware of a frequently overlooked environmental disaster. The film was backed by Cowspiracy executive producer Kip Anderson.

The Game Changers proved to be a hit for the streaming platform in 2019. The celebrity-packed film looks at how meat is not essential, even for professional athletic performance. It gained critical acclaim for its heavy reliance on scientific research, not emotive animal welfare-based rhetoric.

Lead photo by Netflix.


  • Amy Buxton

    A long-term committed ethical vegan and formerly Green Queen's resident plant-based reporter, Amy juggles raising a family and maintaining her editorial career, while also campaigning for increased mental health awareness in the professional world. Known for her love of searing honesty, in addition to recipe developing, animal welfare and (often lacklustre) attempts at handicrafts, she’s hands-on and guided by her veganism in all aspects of life. She’s also extremely proud to be raising a next-generation vegan baby.

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