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Alicia Swanstrom/MEDILL

Miss Chicago joined The Chicago Diner to promote their vegan Thanksgiving dinner carryout menu, now available for pre-order.


Chicago vegan restaurants take Thanksgiving turkey off the table

by Alicia Swanstrom
Nov 13, 2012


TURKEY2

Alicia Swanstrom/MEDILL

Beefy Wellington, one of the three holiday entrees available at The Chicago Diner, is filled with a meat substitute, seitan.

TURKEY3

Alicia Swanstrom/MEDILL

An alternative take on a traditional turkey roast, this veggie turkey is free of animal products, made of tofu and a variety of seasonings.


Alicia Swanstrom/MEDILL

Chicago Diner has teamed up with PETA and Miss Chicago 2012 to preview its Thanksgiving meatless entrees, now available for vegans who opt out of the traditional turkey.


Next Thursday, families around Chicago will sit down to a turkey dinner with rich gravy made from roast drippings, fluffy mashed potatoes whipped up with butter and savory stuffing held together by eggs. Or not.

With a growing number of people ridding their diets of animal products, the city’s staple vegan restaurant, The Chicago Diner, has teamed up this year with People For Ethical Treatment of Animals to let people know Thanksgiving can be animal friendly, hassle-free and even tasty.

The North Side diner, which has been preparing meat-free meals since it opened 30 years ago, previewed its Thanksgiving carryout menu Monday. Even Miss Chicago 2012, Marisa Buchheit -- a vegan for 10 of her 22 years -- dropped by to help this year’s rollout, wearing a PETA tee shirt. The diner’s menu, now available for pre-order, offers options for those who might not know how to make Thanksgiving special without the turkey this year.

“Our menu makes it very easy if you have a family that does enjoy their turkey and sausage stuffing,” said Maggie de Leon, The Chicago Diner’s public relations manager. “It’s a way to introduce similar items that they may try.”

Rather than traditional turkey, the diner offers a veggie turkey roast made from a mixture of tofu and seasoning. Instead of beef, the diner’s “Beefy” Wellington is filled with seitan, a wheat protein meat substitute. Pumpkin ravioli is another substantial entrée.

The sides and desserts aren’t lacking either. Heaps of green bean amandine, mashed sweet potatoes, herb stuffing and gluten free wild rice stuffing filled plates during the preview.

“In previous years there were fewer options. I think because now the vegetarian and vegan movement does seem to be taking a firm hold in communities there are a lot more options for people,” de Leon said.

Over seven million Americans follow a vegetarian diet, and of those, one million are vegans, according to a Vegetarian Times 2008 study. Vegans refrain not just from meat, but from all animal products, including eggs, dairy and even honey.

The Chicago Diner isn’t the only restaurant in the city catering to that movement. Native Foods Café, Karyn’s Cooked and Karyn’s Raw are also offering vegetarian and vegan Thanksgiving dinners to go.

The newer generation of vegan and vegetarian restaurants is building on a foundation created by a number of ethnic cuisines which, while they don’t necessarily advertise it, have traditionally been based on vegetarian principles. Indian, Ethiopian, Thai and Japanese restaurants are additional options Chicago residents can turn to throughout the year.

“Today, there’s just no reason to eat animal products,” said Danielle Katz, a PETA manager.

Beyond the animal cruelty that her group says is an inherent part of “factory farming” and commercial meat production, Katz cited health issues and environmental concerns as the top reasons she refrains from eating animal products. She’s not alone: Of the U.S. vegetarians surveyed by Vegetarian Times, over 50 percent cited a desire to improve their overall health, with 47 percent mentioning the environmental impact of eating meat.

“There are a lot of different things that we could do if more people were vegetarian or vegan,” said the Chicago Diner’s de Leon. “It could really make an impact on the environment. So we try to do our part.”