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Parade celebrates all things vegetable

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Veggie Pride Parade

When: 11 a.m registration; parade steps off at noon Saturday

Where: Columbus Drive and Balbo, Grant Park

Info: chicago.veggie

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Updated: July 1, 2014 6:35AM

Vegheads, unite! On Saturday, vegans, vegetarians and animal rights supporters will rally in Grant Park for the third annual Chicago Veggie Pride Parade.

The event, which starts at noon, is as much about educating the community about the benefits of a vegetarian diet as it is about building up the ever-growing community in Chicago, said Leolin Lopez, one of the event’s organizers.

“We’re proud of ourselves and our lifestyle,” said Lopez. “We’re really proud of the change that we’re making in our culture and we’re trying to educate others.”

Except for the name, the Veggie Pride Parade draws only a few comparisons with the more famous “pride” parade for the LGTB community in Chicago on June 21. But like that big event, supporters are encouraged to dress up and strut their stuff with artistic flair. Think of someone flaunting a “Hail, Seitan!” T-shirt or dressing up as a tomato or a sunglass-wearing tofu steak.

“It’s fun to see what people think up,” said Lopez who owns a vegan health, wellness and beauty company and writes a blog, Beauty Shouldn’t Hurt (

The Veggie Pride Parade movement can claim its roots back to 2001, when the first parade was held in Paris. The idea has sprouted all over the world, and similar events to Chicago’s parade on Saturday can be found in New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Calif.

Building up the community means more vegetarian and vegan options for everyone, organizers said.

Here in Chicago, one of the event’s featured speakers includes Karen Calabrese, who runs the nation’s longest-running raw food restaurant and has built an empire catering to vegetarian diners.

A vegan for more than 40 years, Calabrese said she’s seen dramatic changes in how Chicago has embraced vegetarian and vegan culture.

“I remember people walking past my first restaurant pretending they were sticking fingers down their throats,” she said, adding that the only way to get tofu was by visiting an Asian grocery store and bringing her own bucket.

Aside from three vegan restaurants in Chicago, Calabrese, 67, now is in the process of rolling out her prepared raw foods at various grocery stores.

Celebrity dedication — or even fleeting fascination — to the vegan lifestyle is probably helping the rest of the population get on board, even in the meat-and-potatoes land of Chicago, Calabrese said. Stars Beyonce and Jay-Z went on a 22-day vegan diet last year, and during time in Chicago, the “Crazy in Love” singer and her daughter visited with Calabrese at Karyn’s Cooked, 738 N. Wells.

Calabrese, who made the shift for health reasons after seeing her overweight mother and grandmother die young, vowed to make education an important part of her life’s work, along with running the restaurants.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be sick or tired,” she said. “Once you understand and get a clearer picture of what you’re doing, and why you’re doing something, you’ll make changes.”

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