Some restaurants have vegan menus, but consumers have to know to ask for them. Other restaurants, such as Cashew, provide plenty of vegan dishes, like the one pictured above. (Photo: Contributed)

A new nonprofit that started as a blog is working with eateries and city community centers to promote and educate about veganism.

ChattaVegan founder Corey Evatt has partnered to organize an upcoming potluck event at Carver Youth and Family Development Center in the Orchard Knob community. 

The free event is slated for Jan. 27 from 3 to 5 p.m.

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Attendees are welcome but not obligated to bring a vegan dish to share, and there will be plenty of food available, in part thanks to partnerships with businesses, Evatt said.

Vegan food truck The Green Tambourine will be on-site to provide eats.

Asheville, North Carolina-based No Evil Foods is also donating food, and Chattanooga’s Home Slice Pizza is donating pies and deep-fried Oreos.

Evatt said he hopes the partnership with YFD centers continues and that he can host similar events at facilities across the city in underserved communities and food deserts. 

“That partnership, I think, is going to be a really big one for us this year, for sure,” he said. “This will be a test event. We’ll see how big or small it is. It’s kind of looking like it might be bigger than we realized. There will probably be some lessons learned. We’d like to do one at least quarterly.”

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From personal effort to public resource
A Chattanooga native, Evatt has been a vegan for about five years after a few years of vegetarianism. 

The change came one day after he’d been working with animals at the humane society. He’d left work and ate a chicken sandwich, but that didn’t feel right.

An animal is an animal, he said. And so he cut meat out of his diet cold turkey.

After he got married, he and his wife both became vegans.

The couple likes to eat out, but it was a challenge to figure out how and what to order that would meet their criteria.

The duo naturally gathered information about the best vegan menus in town and, in 2016, started sharing it via ChattaVegan.com.

Evatt and his wife had different motivations for their life change.

His wife was mainly focused on the health aspect, while Evatt said his motives had to do with animal welfare.

“That’s the thing about veganism,” he said. “There are so many different entry points.”

Whether consumers are concerned with health, animal welfare or environmental sustainability, veganism connects to all that, he said.

“Eating lower on the food chain is a huge win for sustainability,” he said.

Over the past year, as the blog and its social media accounts grew, Evatt got more into “info-activism,” he said. 

“We wanted to effect change and felt like the most effective way was [locally],” he said. “We already have these resources; why not morph it into something for good?”

Evatt reached out to a friend who was working with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on an array of issues, including Meatless Mondays at city schools.

After getting some advice, Evatt reached out to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who suggested he work with the city’s YFD centers, which are aimed at improving citizens’ lives through education, recreation, social services, leadership and career development.

The local vegan community already has the habit of getting together for fellowship and food, so with the YFD events, Evatt wants to invite others into that group.

It’s an effort to educate, include and expand the vegan community.

“We don’t have a vegan crusade; we are not going to go into neighborhoods and say, ‘Everybody’s got to be vegan now,'” he said.

In addition to opening people up to new eating options, Evatt hopes to connect members of the community who can benefit each other.

YFD centers could use more volunteers, and vegans might be able to provide that help, he said.

“We can get people who are motivated to help exposed to these [centers] and make some connections,” he said.

Evatt hopes to help people understand that vegan isn’t a “dirty word.”

He wants to take the word back from any connotation of judgment or other negative implications.

Being vegan isn’t about being perfect, he said. It’s about doing the least amount of harm.

And in promoting veganism, Evatt wants to meet people where they are comfortable. Maybe that’s eating one vegan meal a week. Simple changes add up to benefit health and the environment, he said.

He also said:

In reality, a vegan is someone making a conscious choice three times a day to act on conviction. They are compassionate, motivated people … I think a lot of people hear “vegan” and they assume judgment [or that] somebody’s going to look down on them for what they are eating. We are just about effecting positive change in whatever way that specific person is willing to do at that time.

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