Taking a walk in the rain with a vegan

Did you know there are three dozen vegan — not vegetarian, but vegan — restaurants in Philadelphia?

I didn’t, nor did I know that Philadelphia was an early center of American vegetarianism, and remains a center of veganism today.

Tour guide and American Vegan Center director Vance Lehmkuhl (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)
That’s among the things I learned during an 80-minute tour, mostly in a light rain, led by Vance Lehmkuhl, director of the American Vegan Center, 17 N. 2nd St., directly across the street from Christ Church. [Personal disclosure: Once upon a time, Vance was the online editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, where we were colleagues and friends, and he wrote a popular vegetarian column for the paper.]

The tour opens at 2nd & Market with an anecdote about Ben Franklin, who was an on-again, off-again vegetarian.

Lehmkuhl points to where Franklin arrived in Philadelphia, and had a vegetarian meal — three loaves of bread. No, he didn’t intend it to be a vegetarian meal, but that was what he could afford, Lehmkuhl confesses, but the elder statesman did experiment with his diet over the years.

He was fascinated with the tofu he discovered in England, when he represented the Colonies. He found how it was grown from plants, and sent some to Philadelphian John Bartrum, a leading American botanist, but that experiment didn’t blossom.

Philly’s early vegetarians often were abolitionists, Lehmkuhl says, concerned with both human and animal welfare. 

Anthony Benezet was such a man and campaigned to end slavery and to expand the idea of not eating animals.

Perhaps the most notable, and aggravating, abolitionist/vegetarian was Benjamin Lay, a hunchback, dwarf and Quaker who harangued and embarrassed the hell out of Quakers who owned or traded in slaves.

He was right, of course, but was kicked out of the Philadelphia Quaker meeting for embarrassing them. Or exposing their hypocrisy — your choice. 

In 1817, the Bible Christian sect came over from England dedicated to the idea that God did not want man to eat animals, according to the Bible. Unfortunately, the Bible had plenty to contradict that idea. But they were the launching pad for the nation’s veg movement.

There were many others mentioned by Lehmkuhl, but this isn’t a history lesson. I do want to mention Caroline Earle White, a particular hero of mine for her love of animals.

White led the effort to create watering stations for animals, such as this one at Washington Square. (Photo by Stu Bykofsky)
She co-founded the Pennsylvania SPCA in 1868, but was banned from the board because she was a woman. She then opened a branch of that as an animal shelter, existing today as the Women’s Animal Center in Bensalem.

I am an animal lover, and many decades ago I swore off veal when I learned how baby calves are tortured by being held immobile and shot full of drugs so their flesh will be tender for you.  Read this to learn more, if you dare.

I next quit eating pork products to protest factory farming, which is inhumane and denies these intelligent creatures the natural behaviors they crave.

We may have to kill animals to eat them, but we don’t have to torture them.

I have been bothered by the treatment of all food animals, but I hesitated taking the next step.

Today, I am taking it.

I will no longer eat the flesh of any mammal. I ban beef and sheep from my menu, along with pork and veal.

I will also replace as much chicken as I can with plant substitutes.

At the American Vegan Center, I bought a spicy jerk chicken burger. It did not taste or have the texture of chicken, but it was delicious, thanks to the spices, which originally were eschewed by vegetarians, Lehmkuhl explains. Starting in the ‘70s, they were added, and the taste improved greatly. My breakfast “wake and steak” short roll had excellent egg and cheese substitutes.

I look for fake meat or plant products at the supermarket.

What I am doing may not be enough, but it’s what I can manage now.

More later? Maybe.

Vance will understand.


If you are interested in a 90-minute vegan tour, summer hours are Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 4 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. Tours leave from the American Vegan Center at 17 N. 2nd St. $23 per person, $12 per student, group rates available. Call 267-665-7753. 

16 thoughts on “Taking a walk in the rain with a vegan”

  1. I’m a ‘second stage’ vegetarian: the cattle eat the grass and I eat the cattle. (We have to remember that genetics plays a huge part in one’s life expectancy. My dad (Italian descent) ate lots of heavy, Italian meals — sausage, beef, pork, veal, etc. and lived to be two months shy of 101 years old. All of his siblings lived into their mid- to late nineties. Except one, who fried his liver with John Barleycorn.)

    I admire those who have the commitment to vegetarianism or veganism. Good luck with it, Stu.

  2. I have needed to live a vegan lifestyle for the past 2.5 years due to health issues, and I have been struggling to make it work. I am very grateful that you wrote this column and will be reaching out to the Center for more information. Thank you so much, Stu!

  3. Thanks for the post, Stu, and the play-by-play, and thanks for taking another step away from animal injustice! Hope to see you back at the AVC sometime – we carry an amazing chicken salad that might lead to another step, who knows?

  4. My ideal “plant-based” diet: At least one item in every meal comes from a meat-packing plant.

  5. I am in a “mixed marriage.” My wife is a long-time vegetarian and I am an inveterate carnivore. Every night, we make essentially two dinners. Her entree is usually my side dish. I’m the cook in the family, and for family dinners, we are usually charged with bringing the vegetarian dishes. My in-laws also have a smattering of vegans, so for Thanksgiving and the like, there are usually three categories of food. (Are you going full vegan, or will you continue eat eggs and dairy products?). Vegetarianism is one thing, but vegan is hard. I doubt my wife could survive without cheese, and I would never give that up either. On the other hand, she absolutely will not eat any of the fake meats, because, well, they taste too much like meat. I won’t eat them, because they don’t taste like meat at all to me. (If they did, I’d happily eat them–except they are usually also more expensive than meat.) Similarly, our experience with vegan fake cheese is equally disappointing.
    On the cruelty front, you might have seen that the Supreme Court has upheld California’s pork restrictions on minimum confinement sizes, which will probably require changes to the entire industry. I’m also ready to adopt the lab-grown meats. We have the technology. There are over 100 start-ups working to bring it to grocery store shelves. See, e.g. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/lab-grown-meat.

    Finally, as I like to point out, if everybody became a vegetarian (unlikely), it would result in virtual genocide of domestic animals. Who’s gonna pay to feed and keep pigs when they are just useless, yet voracious animals? Pets, maybe? We would still need dairy cows, unless everyone went vegan. Then, also, not worth it to feed them. So, here I am, a “Humanitarian Meat-eater” doing my part to prevent these animals extinction, or at least the prospect of reducing their population by millions. Though I confess that the real reason I eat meat is the same one given by the late founding editor/publisher of Vegetarian Times, who started eating meat after 20 years: “Man… this is good.” “https://www.marketwatch.com/story/vegetarian-times-founder-who-later-liked-a-good-steak-has-died-at-age-66-2018-07-02

    1. There are challenges to any restricted diet. Yes, the “fake’ foods must improve. I commented in Facebook about how the “conservative” Supreme Court took the side of the animals over Big Ag, and the massacre you fear (that now happens daily) would not happen. Farmers would simply stop breeding animals that could not be used for food. The existing ones would be consumed before any law took effect.
      All of which is pretty unlikely in our lifetime.

  6. Thanks for being willing to explore a meatless diet. As usual, there are several comments from those reactive folks who immediately feel a need to boast that they will continue to eat animals. I guess their defiant anti-vegetarian attitude is intended to demonstrate that they will not be intimidated by tales of animal suffering. No point in trying to change their minds or their diet. I just want to make the point that a person does not have to “become” a vegetarian or vegan or any other dietary label. Every meal, every bite, is a choice. Even flesh eaters probably eat an apple or potato once in a while. After all, flesh eaters choose between beef (cow) or chicken or pork (pig) or fish. When faced with a menu that has plant based options, maybe choose one, just for a change. Some people choose Meatless Monday, and others give up “meat” for Lent. But it doesn’t have to be a “sacrifice” to give up animal bodies for a meal. A lot of vegan dishes are really delicious. I used to eat some kind of animal at almost every meal, until January 23, 1973, when someone said, “You love animals. Why kill to eat?” That was the last time I ate flesh, 50 years ago. At first, my diet was pretty bland, but I started trying different recipes and cuisines, and I discovered how wonderful food could be if an animal wasn’t the centerpiece of my plate.

    1. Thanks, Maureen. Good advice that every meal is a choice, and you can be “right” much of the time, even if less than 100%. I guess that’s where I am.

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