At the end of April, the River Forest Sustainability Committee launched VegOut Meatless Wednesdays to highlight meat-free menu items at participating restaurants in River Forest, Oak Park, and neighboring communities. These restaurants will highlight offerings that embody the VegOut mission of reducing beef consumption just one day a week to support individual health and the health of planet Earth.

The River Forest Sustainability Committee will highlight participating restaurants — and their vegetarian menu options — on the village of River Forest’s social media pages and website. Plant-based menu items are available at participating restaurants throughout the week, but on Wednesdays, they become a kind of house special.

I like beef; my favorite food is a hamburger; I barbecue steaks all summer long — my very first client as a freelance writer was the National Cattleman’s Beef Board. Still, it’s starting to feel like maybe it’s time to eat less beef.

It’s not that beef is bad nor that it should be, god forbid, banned. Many of us would agree, however, that maybe we have become too reliant on red meat in our diets. I don’t intend to stop eating red meat, but I do intend to eat less, and many others are getting behind this movement. 

Epicurious, the online food magazine, has decided to stop publishing recipes for beef; Daniel Humm of New York’s internationally recognized Eleven Madison Park is now presenting an almost completely vegan menu, and closer to home, Buona Beef is now offering an Italian Beefless sandwich.

Restaurants are signing up to be a part of VegOut right now, and so far the following River Forest and Oak Park restaurants are participating: La Parrillita Mexican Grill, Schoolhouse (formerly Sugar Beet Schoolhouse), Jerusalem Café, Sushi House, Munch, Tre Sorelle, Little Gem Cafe, Katy’s Dumpling House, Poke Burrito, Hecho en Oak Park, Kettlestrings Tavern, and Buzz Café. This list is expected to grow considerably over the coming months.

Cary McLean of the River Forest Sustainability Commission told us, “I still eat red meat. I’m just trying to eat less beef, and my main interest in VegOut is planetary health.”

Supporting McLean in the VegOut initiative are two student commissioners, Ellie Raidt and Charles Roeger, who wrote in VegOut’s public announcement that “if our communities want to be sustainable, then we need to encourage community members to eat less meat by making meat-free options abundant. A common misconception is that to truly alter your carbon footprint, especially with regard to animal agriculture, you have to completely change your lifestyle. In truth, you could dramatically decrease your emissions simply by going meat-free part of the time. A study by Oxford University concludes that if a person decreased their animal product consumption by one half, they would be decreasing their carbon footprint by 35%.”  

VegOut, says McLean, “is a community awareness campaign. Maybe in the coming year we can have a VegOut food truck rally, but for now, many restaurants already offer some fantastic vegetarian options. Rustico, for instance, has an incredible carrot taco and even Carnivore has that great ramp cream.”

There are a lot of good veg-forward options in River Forest and Oak Park, and there are more coming. At La Parrillita in River Forest, owner Jackie Kotarba says she’s working to get her recipe for a vegetarian burrito just right and serving really good vegetarian food is probably the surest way to encourage more people to try — if only for one day a week — to go without beef and eat more vegetables. 

With summer close at hand, vegging out for a day or so every week becomes a more attractive — and delicious — option.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...