8 Fun Facts You Should Know About The World’s First Vegan Museum

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Last month, the National Vegetarian Museum in Chicago changed its name to The Vegan Museum to better reflect the organisation’s mission to promote vegan lifestyles for health, the environment and all animals. It represents the only institution of its kind, dedicated to documenting the deep and rich history of the vegetarian movement in the U.S. with travelling exhibitions and events displayed across the Chicago metropolitan area. Now, if you’re wondering what you might learn strolling through the halls of the museum, here are 8 fun facts about the museum and things you should know about the history of vegans.

1. The Vegan Museum has the first edition of The Vegetarian Times

Paul Obis began selling his magazine The Vegetarian Times off his bike when he first founded it. After many years, it grew into a major publication providing the public with a news source for the vegan and vegetarian scene. And the first ever edition of the magazine is displayed at The Vegan Museum, containing many articles written by Obis himself!

2. It’s the only museum solely dedicated to plant-based history

While other museums may include vegetarianism or veganism as part of their exhibitions, The Vegan Museum is the only one dedicated to preserving specifically the history of the topic and educating visitors about the multitude of benefits that come with living a vegan lifestyle, from saving all animals from exploitation to our own health, and the planet’s too.  

Kay Stepkin, founder of The National Vegetarian Museum, which has recently been renamed The Vegan Museum (Source: The Vegan Museum)

3. The Vegan Museum was founded by a vegetarian restaurateur who thought she opened the first ever vegetarian business in Chicago (she wasn’t!)

Kay Stepkin started the museum after realising that she did not open the first vegetarian eatery in Chicago. After learning that Bread Shop wasn’t the first meatless business in the region (it holds the title of being the first modern vegetarian eatery), she found out that Chicago in fact possesses a rich history of vegetarianism that dated as far back as 1893. It inspired her to create the museum to educate more people about the vegan movement. 

4. The name change coincided with Donald Watson’s birthday

The National Vegetarian Museum changed its name to The Vegan Museum on September 2, what would have been Donald Watson’s 110th birthday. Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, coined the term “veganism” and the museum decided it was the perfect timing to honour his work and more accurately reflect the organisation’s mission. 

Interactive Map of Illinois’ vegan history (Source: The Vegan Museum)

5. The museum has created an interactive story map to document vegan history in Illinois 

The interactive story map shows viewers Illinois’ history in vegetarianism and veganism, from an old advertisement for Chicago’s first vegetarian restaurants to vegetarianism appearing at the famous fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. A companion story map is now being compiled to chronicle the development of the plant-based movement across the entire U.S.

6. One of the earliest commercial meat alternatives came from the Midwest

Called “Protose” and known as “vegetable meat”, it was one of the first commercially available meat substitutes to appear in the U.S. and was developed in the Midwest by J. H. Kellogg. It primarily contained peanuts and wheat gluten, and the museum says that recipes are still available today! 

Pythagoras (Artwork by J. Augustus Knapp, circa 1926)

7. Pythagoras was a vegetarian 

Among the facts that you’ll learn at The Vegan Museum is that Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher famous for the Pythagoras’s theorem and other mathematical and musical developments, was a vegetarian. And it was known that anyone who wished to study with him had to adhere to his diet. 

8. The Vegan Museum hosts lots of events around Chicagoland

As a travelling museum, the organisation hosts different speaker events, documentary screenings, food demonstrations and more! They’ve even held a children’s book reading by international author Hélène Defossez. Among some of the speakers featured at the museum include author Victoria Moran, chef and educator Jill Keb, and Robert Grillo, an animal welfare activist and director of nonprofit Free From Harm. 


Lead image courtesy of Markus Spiske / Unsplash.


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