The Taste of Chicago needs to continue making strides for the Vegan Community to feel welcome
The Taste of Chicago is one of the city’s biggest family-oriented food festivals that gives the public diverse food options to enjoy. This year, the Taste of Chicago had a total of eighty-two vendors, including five-day vendors and pop-ups. Twenty-seven gave vegan options, and eleven out of the twenty-seven were just desserts, sending a message to those looking for vegan options that the Taste of Chicago may not be the festival for them.
Chicagoan Bailey Wolters said she didn’t feel like coming back again after her experience at the Taste last year.
“Last year wasn't that great and it was hard to find things to eat,” Wolters said while waiting in line for Yvolina’s Tamales, a five-day vendor that served vegan and vegetarian options.
For Wolters, it was pure circumstance that she ended up at the Taste this year.
“I think, like the only reason I came today is because some coworkers are like, ‘hey, we're going to go during lunch.’ I didn't have, like, a drive to come, I guess. But, if there were more options like that, I definitely would have had more of a sentiment to come,” Wolters said.
Despite views like these, it seems this year the Taste of Chicago made a breakthrough in the vegan community. Many first time vendors featured this year had several vegan options for the public to enjoy. Yvolina’s Tamales, A Place BY DAMAO and Kitchen 17 were three major vendors that made it a point to majorly feature vegan options, an increase from last year.
Wolters went on to say that for her, incorporating vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options is extremely important.
“You have to meet the needs of the people who want to come and eat this food. I think part of it this year is they have a lot more local people here,” Wolters said. “I think that the local people appreciate the needs of the community. Because last year was more tourists.”
Beat Kitchen was also a vendor that offered a vegan option during the Taste this year with its vegan sandwich. Leah Hall, a worker at Beat Kitchen talked about how having that option on the menu was good for business.
“Actually, a lot of people remember us for it; a lot of people come asking for it,” Hall said.
For some first time vendors, offering vegan options means more than just having a variety to choose from. It’s also about incorporating their own culture into the food.
Araceli Bock, a worker from Yvolina’s Tamales talked about how passionate her boss is about making traditional mexican dishes vegan.
“[Yvonney] said that her mom will teach her the recipe,” Bock said. “Probably with the traditional chicken, I'm sure and she was like ‘oh like, why can't everybody enjoy this? We don't have to make it so hard.’”
Other vendors also had a personal history that made them proud to serve plant-based foods.
“Actually, we've got a lot of, you know, vegetarian dishes in China,” said Tom Oh, from A Place BY DAMAO, the pop-up vendor which featured mostly vegan items. “And that's one thing that I'm very proud of my country.”
On Friday, July 12, the third day of the Taste, Maisha Wynn, author of “The Wynning Way: A Guide to Creating Success Your Way,” did a culinary demonstration at the Taste doing vegan dishes. She gave her insights on how the vegan community was being represented.
“It makes me feel like we're making strides because last year I was here and there were only like one or two [options]. So we're making strides in the right direction,” Wynn said.
To Wynn and several of the vendors, being vegan and being represented goes far beyond incorporating a variety of food options. For her, it’s also key to educate others about the vegan lifestyle.
“I think it is very important that I share with people about the vegan lifestyle, because it's not only sustaining our minds and our bodies, but also our universe, and our animals,” Wynn said. “And so if you truly desire to live abundantly, if you truly desire to live over seventy-five years old, if you truly desire to be more mindful about what you put in your mouth, it begins with what's on your plate.”
Wynn and some of the vendors have suggested ways to make these changes and further incorporate the vegan community into the Taste of Chicago.
“I think they should have like a bonus point if that restaurant offers vegetarian, because to my knowledge, when I apply, I don't have to, you know, check boxes for vegetarian,” Oh suggested.
Wynn also said that it starts with everyday people. “The way to make that happen is for people to take action and actually email and reaching out to the city to let them know that it's needed.”
While the Taste of Chicago has increased the representation of the vegan community within the festival this year, Wynn and many others are still hoping to see more changes in the future.