The Daily Northwestern

National Vegetarian Museum opens exhibit at library

The National Vegetarian Museum’s exhibit at the Evanston Public Library. The exhibit will run through April 2.

The National Vegetarian Museum’s exhibit at the Evanston Public Library. The exhibit will run through April 2.

Alec Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Alec Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

The National Vegetarian Museum’s exhibit at the Evanston Public Library. The exhibit will run through April 2.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

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The National Vegetarian Museum opened its traveling exhibition at the Evanston Public Library on Thursday, featuring topics from the vegan diet to famous vegetarians.

The exhibit “What does It Mean to be Vegetarian?” will run at EPL through April 2. The display consists of three sections, each focusing on a different aspect of vegetarianism.

The first section explains what it means to be a vegan, describing the benefits the diet brings to animals, the environment and a person’s health. The second arrangement presents the history of vegetarianism, dating back to the ancient world. The last section is focused around the modern vegetarian community, giving details about the museum and famous vegetarians like boxer Mike Tyson.

“When I first started with vegetarianism back in the 1970s, it was really something people laughed at and thought it was a joke,” National Vegetarian Museum founder Kay Stepkin said. “As the years have passed, we have gotten more respect, but I think by people seeing this exhibit (they will gain) the depth and the breadth of our history.”

Stepkin founded the museum in February 2017 because “the world needed one,” she said. She added that there is no museum specifically focused on vegetarians, and she did not want their history to get lost.

The mission of the museum is to educate and demonstrate the “values and benefits” of vegetarianism and veganism, which improve “the well-being of all life,” according to the museum’s website.

Stepkin said she was originally under the impression that vegetarianism began in the early 1960s or 70s, but was “stunned” to find out that Chicago has a deep history of vegetarianism. She said Chicago was the epicenter of the vegetarian movement in the late 19th century.

The museum does not currently have a permanent spot, but has travelling exhibits that go around Chicago and nearby suburbs, Stepkin said. She said once the museum has a permanent spot in Chicago, it will be possible for the exhibit to travel around the country.

In Evanston, the exhibit will also feature a guest speaker on March 24. Robert Grillo, the author of “Farm to Fable: The Fictions of our Animal-Consuming Culture,” will speak about how the food industry influences food choices, according to a museum flyer.

Stepkin said vegetarianism as a movement is in the midst of a “massive explosion” and that as people see the exhibit, she hopes there will be a greater understanding of the history behind the movement.

“We can gain more respect (and) be taken more seriously when people see how many famous people are vegetarians today, how old are movement is and (how) it’s been around the world,” Stepkin said. “It will help strengthen us. That’s what I hope they gain from this and so is the exhibit.”

Twitter: @sn_handler