Meditation and yoga tents, live music, vegan food, and educational courses are all at Chicago’s summer and fall vegan fests.

What do vegetarians eat? Visit vegan food festivals to find out

My 18-year transition from omnivore to ‘accidental vegetarian’

Enjoying Chicago VeganMania in 2013 and 2017: (center) Vegan S’mores Chocolate Cake, (right) Vegan Tacos with Soy Meat and Tofu Pad Thai

When I first became an on/off vegetarian back in 2001, I had no idea what to eat. I’d already dropped from a size 14 to a size 6/8 simply from taking a weight training class and walking up and down Jefferson City, Missouri hills. I had no interest in being a vegetarian, but I stopped buying meat once I started buying my own groceries. I was an accidental vegetarian. That is, until I came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks from college, and remembered what my mother’s food tasted like. When I returned to college and my own off-campus apartment, meals became meatless all over again. By the time I graduated from college, I’d decided to make vegetarianism permanent.

Shortly after I returned home, I remember my grandfather telling me, “I’ll drink soy milk when I run across a soy milk.”

“I’ll drink soy milk when I run across a soy cow.”

He still went with me to at least three vegetarian restaurants, primarily to give me a hard time but wouldn’t admit he was curious, too. I wasn’t home from school more than a year before I saw soy milk in his fridge. I raised an eyebrow, looked at him and asked, “So what was it like when you met the soy cow?” He changed the subject.

The hard truth about transitioning to vegetarianism: The weight gain

Lining up at one of the booths of Taste of Vegan 2017 (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

What people don’t tell you about going vegetarian (or vegan) is you can gain a lot of weight if you’re not careful. You don’t hear about the Vitamin D loss from not eating dairy or where to get B12. I had a fainting spell coming home from my first editing job and thought, “Forget it. I’m eating meat again. I can barely walk a few blocks.”

I shot back up to a size 12/14 because I was loading up on potatoes, rice and bread to make up for all the meat I wasn’t eating. And it wasn’t like there were a whole lot of African-American vegetarians around to tell me how to make vegan soul food. So I didn’t know how to eat a balanced meal, and doctors are not trained to give you nutrition advice. I was advised to take B12 vitamins and fish oil pills, and that was the extent of it. At that time, Beyonce wasn’t showing us how to make vegan meals, and I was just guessing my way through it all.

Inviting your vegan and vegetarian friends out to eat

Years later, I found out about Soul Vegan food at Whole Foods and ate Soul Vegetarian East in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood. I dined at Quentin Love’s (now closed) Quench and Vegetarian Life restaurants. When I wanted Thai food, I had the time of my life at Alice & Friends (now Alice & Friends Vegan Kitchen). And I started going to a boatload of food festivals, such as Veggie Fest, Chicago State University’s Taste of Vegan, and Chicago VeganMania.

Veggie Fest 2016 (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Although some do, I wasn’t the kind of vegetarian (and vegan for one year) who would lecture you about animal rights and slaughterhouses. Honestly, I would never have become a vegetarian if someone lectured me about it all the time. But I definitely asked my loved ones and friends to come along with me so we could test the food out.

Why you should go to vegan and vegetarian annual festivals

What festivals like Veggie Fest, Taste of Vegan and Chicago VeganMania do — and apparently “soy cows” in the form of granddaughters — is educate you more on what you can eat, why you should eat healthier, how to not ruin your health trying to go meatless, and help you learn more about mental and physical health in the process.

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While there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a White Castle’s Impossible slider or the usual black bean burger at your favorite restaurant, there are a laundry list of other vegan and vegetarian food brands I wish I knew 15 years ago: Quorn, Morningstar Farms, Gardein, Amy’s Kitchen, LightLife, Tofurky, Daiya and more. I found out about most of them from grocery shop testing and going to food fests. What vegetarian festivals and vegan festivals also do is introduce you to lesser-known that cannot easily be found in grocery stores like Whole Foods Market and Target. If you’re into it, maybe visit the monthly vegan/vegetarian cooking classes at the Science of Spirituality, too.

Hanging out with my mom at the yoga tent at Veggie Fest 2017 (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

I have never gone to any of these festivals with another vegetarian, so it’s definitely something that you can bring an omnivore friend or family member to.

I have never gone to any of these festivals with another vegetarian, so it’s definitely something that you can bring an omnivore friend or family member to.

At all three events, there are plenty of animal-friendly clothing and cosmetic care (including vegan shaving cream), educational courses to get your dietary questions answered and fun giveaways. I’m pretty partial to the meditation and yoga tent at the Veggie Fest, but you better dress comfortably for it instead of trying to be cute. (Or, pull out your favorite gym club attire to do both.) And the bands usually slap, too, so bring dancing shoes.

Veggie Fest 2016 (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Veggie Fest has returned to Lisle (approximately one hour away from the city of Chicago). It may be quite the commute for Chicagoans, but entry is free. Show them a little love next week at Danada South Park from August 10–11, 2019.

For more information on any of these vegan and vegetarian festivals, visit:

Do you live in Chicago and want to add yours to the list? Leave a message in the comment section with the time, date and location.

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Check out her five Medium publications: Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit to read about her.

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