ChattaVegan, a local nonprofit promoting veganism, is partnering with the city's Department of Youth and Family Development to offer vegan potlucks at YFD centers in areas known as "food deserts" where fresh, healthy produce is difficult to find.
The first event is being held at Carver Youth and Family Development Center in the Orchard Knob area Saturday, Jan. 27 from 3-5 p.m.
Started as a food blog in July 2016, ChattaVegan expanded its mission as its influence and the local vegan community grew, establishing itself as a nonprofit organization in 2017, said founder Corey Evatt. The group's goal is to promote the reduction and elimination of animal products in an effort to make Chattanooga healthier, more compassionate and more environmentally friendly, he explained.
"We hope to bring both veg veterans and folks that have never heard the word 'vegan' together in one space to connect over amazing food," Evatt said.
Evatt decided to go vegan because of his compassion for animals, first spending several years as a vegetarian after a personal revelation while volunteering at the Humane Educational Society. While his volunteer work was reflective of his passion for animals, he realized, his meaty diet was not.
"It clicked that an animal is an animal," said Evatt, who cut out all animal products about five years ago, losing 70 pounds and taking up ultra-running in the process. "It completely changed my life."
Aside from health- and animal-related reasons, another entry point to veganism is concern for the environment. Producing meat expends more resources than growing produce, he explained, making eating lower on the food chain more sustainable.
Evatt approached Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who has previously shown support for environmental issues, such as by joining mayors across the U.S. in committing to honor the Paris climate agreement despite President Trump's decision to withdraw, Evatt said. Berke encouraged ChattaVegan's partnership with the city's YFD department, which has the added benefit of drawing more people into the community centers, said Evatt.
"He realized the need to expose people to healthy food and the environmental impact of food choices," he said of Berke.
The partnership also connects the centers with people in the vegan community who can use their knowledge and experience to teach people in the neighborhood how to use some of the underutilized resources in the YFD centers, such as raised beds for community gardens and a donated pottery kiln.
"We're not just going to pop in, have a party and never have contact again," Evatt said.
The potluck is free and open to anyone, and attendees are welcome to bring a vegan dish free of animal products such as meat, eggs, milk, cheese and honey, or just come enjoy the food and meet members of the local vegan community. Attendees can sample plant-based meat alternatives donated by No Evil Foods, dishes from local vegan food truck The Green Tambourine, and vegan pizza and deep-fried Oreos from Home Slice Pizza.
Evatt said ChattaVegan plans to host at least one potluck a quarter at different YFD centers in underserved communities.
ChattaVegan also promotes local and regional businesses that offer vegan options through its website, and works with restaurants to update and develop menus with more vegan-friendly dishes.
For more information and to learn more about local restaurants offering vegan options, visit chattavegan.com or facebook.com/chattavegan.
Carver Youth and Family Development Center is at 600 N. Orchard Knob Ave.