Sarma Melngailis, the American chef and businesswoman behind the New York raw food restaurants Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck, played an integral role in bringing veganism into mainstream America. The Latvia-born entrepreneur dedicated herself to a vegan lifestyle, promoted a vegan raw food diet, and became something of a poster child for the movement’s benefits and rewards. As a result, her spectacular fall from grace was all the more horrifying. Reflected in the title of Chris Smith’s new Netflix documentary series Bad Vegan , Melngailis caused a scandal not only by falling under the spell of her con-artist husband Anthony Strangis and defrauding her investors, staff and business out of millions of dollars, but by sullying the wholesome image of vegans everywhere. That the pair were eventually apprehended after ordering a Domino’s pizza only added insult to injury. Bad Vegan is just the latest in a stream of documentaries and drama series chronicling the fraudulent exploits of shady business owners and con artists. From Inventing Anna to WeCrashed , The Dropout to The Tinder Swindler , these enigmatic, obsessively driven chancers successfully scammed overeager investors out of vast sums of cash with vague promises of huge profits and extravagant lifestyles. Will Smith hits Chris Rock in the face on stage, then wins best actor Oscar To some, Sarma Melngailis was just another victim of such a swindle, brainwashed by her husband’s outlandish tales of otherworldly wealth and power in return for escalating transfers of cash. Strangis even claimed he would make Melngailis’ dog immortal, though it transpired the money was merely feeding his unquenchable gambling addiction. To others, however, Melngailis was very much complicit in the grift: lying to investors, draining her business’ funds, even defrauding her own mother out of US$500,000 dollars. Some viewers have interpreted the ending of Bad Vegan as supporting this hypothesis. In a phone conversation recorded in 2019, 22 months after Melngailis was released from prison, she can be heard laughing and joking with Strangis, despite everything that had happened between them. Does this prove that the pair share culpability for their crimes or are plotting to resume their illegal activities? Not at all. But this interaction does confirm Strangis’ continued interest in charming his ex-wife, and her vulnerability to his seductions. The climax of Bad Vegan raises other, even more interesting questions. After pleading guilty to charges of grand larceny and criminal tax fraud, but before serving her four-month prison sentence, Melngailis began chronicling her ordeal on camera, even sitting for an interview, just in case “something like this [ Bad Vegan ] might happen”. Comparisons are also made to Patty Hearst, the American publishing heiress who was kidnapped in 1974, yet subsequently took part in a bank robbery alongside her captors, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Melngailis appears throughout the four-part series, and her testimony provides the backbone to the narrative. Strangis is, by contrast, notably absent, seen and heard only in archival and news footage – and worryingly, now at large once again. Is her cooperation a form of damage control? A way of massaging the facts in an effort to resuscitate her public image? Bad Vegan leaves it for the viewer to decide how one should judge Melngailis, but one suspects the vegan community has long since lost their appetite. Bad Vegan is streaming on Netflix.