#FIRSTLOOK: “BAD VEGAN: FAME. FRAUD. FUGITIVES”
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Sarma Melngallis, who propelled to the top of New York City’s food scene just over ten years ago. Her Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck restaurants served buzzy vegan cuisine, frequented by celebrities. We learn Alec Baldwin was smitten by her as a frequent patron at Pure Food and Wine, and wanted to court her even.
Four-part Netflix Docu-Series BAD VEGAN: FAME. FRAUD. FUGITIVES. chronicles her downfall after meeting and marrying then-husband Anthony Strangis who would deceive her into giving him large sums of money in hopes of receiving even larger returns back. This drained profits from her successful businesses, placing her in severe debt. What resulted was her workers being unpaid, refusing to work, and then on the guidance of Strangis, swindling potential investors to buy into her brand, eventually leading to them being on-the-run, controlled in a cult-like manner by him. As it turns out, her ex-husband gambled away all the money, all while she stood by as a passive by-stander picking-up his fast food for him. The irony, considering the health food she became known for. Melngallis would face a guilty sentence for fraud, tax evasion and criminal tax fraud, landing her four months in prison.
Director Chris Smith, who brought us Tiger King, once again delivers a very fascinating story, though it perhaps could’ve been told more succinctly. While there aren’t big personalities nor much spectacle, and an admitted lack of Strangis‘ actual involvement, we do find ourselves feeling compassion for Melngallis, who to this day doesn’t even know why she did some of the things she did. We do get a sense of her shame, embarrassment, yet hopefulness through it all and this is her chance to tell her side of the story even when headlines and those victimized by the crimes aren’t forgiving of her. And ultimately, the Series explores the perils of what it means to not be in control of your own life and destiny.
BAD VEGAN: FAME. FRAUD. FUGITIVES. streams March 16, 2022 on Netflix.