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Beyond Greens

Where to eat vegan and how it saves the planet

By BILL MCCARTHY
   Faced with the depressing statistics of our current environmental problems, there’s the inevitable question, “What can I do?” There are a number of helpful things we can do to be greener. Being vegan is one of them. Fortunately, in Chicago veganism is not only easy, it’s delicious. First consider a few reasons being vegan is a helpful way to be green, and then explore a small sample of the dining-out options for vegans and those curious to try something new in Sweet Home Chicago.
   Producing animal products for food and clothing puts an enormous strain on the environment. Consider three examples. (1) Animal production is very energy-inefficient. It takes on average 28 kilocalories (kcal) of fossil energy to produce 1 kcal of animal protein, as opposed to an average of 3.3 kcal of fossil energy per kcal of plant protein; animal production is on average eight times less energy efficient than grain production. (2) Animal production uses far more water than vegetable and grain production. A kilogram of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than a kilogram of plant protein. For instance, it takes 900 liters to grow a kilogram of wheat, but 100,000 liters to produce a kilogram of beef. (3) Animal agriculture produces massive amount of hazardous waste in the form of excrement. U.S. livestock creates 250,000 pounds of bodily waste per second, resulting in a billion tons of raw, unrecycled matter per year. Waste from animal agriculture poses a significant contribution to water pollution and is the number one cause of impaired rivers, streams and lakes.
   Perhaps you think that by going veggie, your food will be quite unfamiliar and unsatisfying, filled with little more than salads topped with twigs and berries, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, some of Chicago’s most successful and tastiest vegetarian restaurants capitalize on savory, home-style foods.
  
  
Karyn’s Cooked (738 N. Wells, 312-587-1050) is a gourmet vegan restaurant featuring delicious comfort foods set in an aesthetic décor that delights the eye. My favorite bite here is the grilled portobello sandwich. The thick, meaty mushrooms are marinated to perfection and topped with onions and peppers. Its creamy sauce adds a hint of tartness to the rich, full flavor. Karyn’s Cooked also features fabulous  such as a moist carrot cake and banana cake that must be tried to be believed.
 
  
The Chicago Diner (3411 N. Halsted, 773-935-6696) is a true classic. They serve smooth and satisfying shakes, entrees that would please any meat-eater, and legendary desserts. My favorite is the meatloaf, served with mashed potatoes and gravy.  It reminds me of my pre-vegan days with its “stick-to-the-ribs” satisfaction. The quesadillas with sweet potatos, salsa and guacamole are beyond description.
  
Veggie Bite, serving vegan and organic fast food, has two locations (1300 N. Milwaukee, 773-772-2483, 3031 W. 111th, 773-239-4367). I’m a fan of the fajita wrap, packed with chunks of fried seitan and veggies with a tasty tahini sauce.
  
Soul Vegetarian East (205 E. 75th, 773-224-0104) deserves mention. The South Side restaurant serves vegan meats, such as fried “chicken” fingers and vegetarian soul food. Their southern-style greens and cornbread are delicious. The collards are salted to perfection, and the cornbread is moist and satisfying.
   If you have a taste for ethnic flavor, there are many vegan options. Amitabul (6207 N. Milwaukee, 773-774-0276) is my favorite. This vegan Korean restaurant is so delicious it’s worth the trip if you don’t live close. My favorite dish is the Wolfman Dream Treat—a spicy dish with a rich red sauce chock full of sweet potato dumplings, small and tender house-made rice-cakes, sweet and white potatoes, radishes and seasonal vegetables served over brown rice. The layers of flavors stimulate the palate. A noteworthy dessert, simple but choice, is the red bean rice cake.  It is a small pastry of ultra-fine rice flour set delicately around a sweet red bean center.
   My short trip is only a primer as there are too many hard-working and delicious vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in our beautiful town to list. Veganism is more energy- and water-efficient and ecologically sustainable than animal production. That there are so many sensational veggie-dining options in Chicago is truly icing on the cake. o

Published: April 07, 2009
Issue: 2009 Spring Green Issue

Comments

the best
This food is the best, particularly that cake, it's gourmet, it's fancy and it's very classy.
Max, May-08-2016