When Vadim Metta founded the ChicagoVeg Meetup group in 2009, no one showed up to the group’s first event.
Now hosting 30 events each year, the group has more than 5,800 members and closed out 2017 with a new title.
In its End-of-Year round up, Meetup — an online networking service that helps individuals and groups make like-minded friends — found thatChicagoVeg is the third largest Meetup group in the world for vegetarians and vegans, making Chicago the third friendliest city for plant-based eaters.
The ChicagoVeg group, also called Chicagoland Vegetarian, Vegan, & Raw Foodist Community, celebrated the vegan friendly title by whipping up all their best vegan recipes for a potluck in Uptown late last month.
Serving up more than 20 vegan dishes including chili and lasagna, members kicked off the event with a toast to their new ranking. This was the first time Chicago beat out Los Angeles, which took fourth place this year.
New York tops the Meetup list with over 13,000 members in its group, followed by London, in second place with 7,600 members.
At the Chicago celebration full pates of colorful vegan food and desserts like soy ice cream bars, members exchanged recipes for everything from nacho cheese to eggs Benedict without the use of animal products.
Metta, who has been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and vegan for nearly a decade, said the mission of the group is to support local vegetarians and vegans, and to education the public about the advantages of a plant based diet.
The group became a 501c3 non-profit in 2011, and Metta said he hopes it continues to grow.
Each month, ChicagoVeg hosts multiple events like film screenings, lectures and cooking demonstrations, that combine education with socialization.
Longtime ChicagoVeg members Pauline and Brian Sharpe said they enjoy attending vegan events in the city, including chili cook offs and classes with local chefs.
For the potluck, the couple made pulled, smoked trumpet mushrooms served in wontons.
Vegan for eight years, Pauline Sharpe said each ChicagoVeg event they’ve been to is unique and gives them a chance to learn new recipes from fellow vegans.
“It’s fun to see the variety”, she said, “None of the recipes are ever duplicated.”
For Dileep Kini, new to veganism and Chicago, the group has been a great resource for learning new recipes and making friends.
“I don’t have any vegan friends so this is a really nice place to meet up with people who are vegan of vegan-curious and connect with them,” said Kini.
Some of the group’s most popular events are the “dine-outs” where members meet at a restaurant.
Dine-outs range from off-the-menu and family style meals at vegan restaurants, to prix fixe menus and all-you-can-eat buffets at normally non-vegan restaurants that partner with the group for a night.
“Every cuisine you can think of they’ll do it,” said ChicagoVeg member Denice Shuty said of the outings. “I’ve had Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, Sushi, Ethiopian, soul food on the South Side. All of it vegan.”
According to Metta, the group mixes it up to help raise awareness of vegan eaters.
“We want to support dedicated vegan and vegetarian restaurants because we want them to thrive,” said Metta, “But we also want to show other restaurants that there is a vegan and vegetarian demand.”
The group recently launched a new campaign to help further this cause, leaving green ChicagoVeg cards anywhere they find good vegan and vegetarian options. The purpose of the cards is to let more restaurants owners know that having veggie menu options are appreciated.
For more information about ChicagoVeg, or for upcoming events, visit www.chicagoveg.org