Favorite veg dish at a nonveg restaurant? Credit: Andrea Bauer

I went veg in 2001. It was a decision motivated by health and, I’m not going to lie, a trending attitude among my clique of friends. At that time, free-thinking, twee undergrads—freshly emancipated from the iron fist of their parents—were making the seemingly unprecedented crusade for vegetarianism. And I climbed aboard.

Over the past decade, however, I’ve seen most of those friends and acquaintances revert back to omnivorism. Now, I’m not turning up my nose. I’m more curious if the microphenomenon in my social circle is an aberration, the result of age (because really, what isn’t?), or a telltale sign that in an era of goat-themed restaurants and duck-testicle appetizers, vegetarianism and veganism are on the decline.

Dr. Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, has also wondered about what he calls the “motivations of ex-veggies.” Earlier this year, he surveyed 77 former vegetarians about their move back to meat. In the June post “Why Do Most Vegetarians Go Back to Eating Meat?” on PsychologyToday.com, Herzog describes—and ranks—five primary reasons that people cited for jumping off the veg bandwagon: health, hassles, social stigmas, irresistible urges, and shifts in moral thinking. Health finished first, with 35 percent of respondents claiming that vegetarianism negatively affected their general well-being. One man went as far as to write, “I will take a dead cow over anemia any time.”

As someone who gave up meat for health reasons (and I’m not alone there), I’d like to call bullshit on that one. I’d also like to add a sixth reason to Herzog’s list of meat-eating motivators: trendiness. Just as vegetarianism was all the rage in my crowd a decade ago, whole-animal decadence is now very much in fashion, with bone marrow plates and blood sausages populating menus on the regular.

If you look at Department of Agriculture statistics, there’s actually been a slight decline in the amount of per capita meat consumption in recent years. But powers of observation will tell any Chicagoan (or New Yorker or Los Angeleno for that matter) that we aren’t exactly living in an age of restraint when it comes to animal parts.

So what does Chicago—capital of hot dogs and Italian beef, lover of steakhouses, a meat-packing monolith for over a century—offer the intrepid, unyielding vegetarian? And what good is a meat-free diet anyway? I figured it was probably worth asking about.

I recruited a handful of vegetarians and vegans (and a few omnivores) to harass with questions about all things veggie: health benefits and dietary vices, favorite restaurants and specific dishes, go-to cookbooks and quick recipes, must-visit grocers and under-appreciated resources. These chefs, entrepreneurs, dietitians, artists, and bloggers shared their insights and spilled their secrets. Some even let us snoop inside their fridge. They were good sports about it, and their contributions amount to an unorthodox guide to the city’s well of veg resources.

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Five favorite vegetarian meals at nonvegetarian restaurants

A dietitian, a chef and blogger, an organizer, and a seitan slinger share their staples

The Whistler’s perfect cocktail for a vegan Thanksgiving