Chicago Opens First Vegetarian Museum In The USA

by | August 9, 2018

Kay Stepkin, founder of the National Vegetarian Museum wanted to tell the world about Chigaco’s neglected history of vegetarianism. 

Kay Stepkin, a sprightly 75-year-old, founded the National Vegetarian Museum in 2016, and it made its debut last year in the Lincoln Park library. Although the name makes you think of great ambition, it is still a rather humble display at present. The first traveling exhibit, entitled “What Does It Mean To Be Vegetarian?” has been on a city-wide tour of libraries across Chicago. Although it is still a small display, it is made up of a dozen panels filled with persuasive facts about factory farming and the environment, quotes from notable vegetarians (including Einstein) and archival materials including a reproduction if the debut 1975 issue of Vegetarian Times.

The display also includes a video installation tracing plant-based eating through the ages, from the present-day dating the whole way back to Pythagoreanism in the 6th century B.C.

Stepkin, a longtime vegan who was raised in Chicago, knew how tough it would be to successfully open and run a vegetarian museum in the city, as it’s culinary history is deeply rooted in slaughterhouses, being the capital of the US meatpacking industry. Stepkin however, saw the potential in the museum as she discovered more about the forgotten chapter of Chicago’s food history. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the city emerged as the center of the vegetarian movement in America. During this time there was a surge of vegetarian restaurants, stores and social clubs emerging all over the city.

During the summer of 2012, Stepkin was writing a vegan recipe for her regular column, “The Veggie Cook” for the Chicago Tribune and stumbled upon some unique pieces of vegetarian history in the city. Stepkin had previously served as president of the Chicago Vegetarian Society (1994-1998) and the experience and her newfound knowledge planted the seed in her mind to curate the countries first National Vegetarian Museum.

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