When you think of historic Philadelphia, images of the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence and the Betsy Ross House might come to mind. Now add the genesis of the vegetarian and vegan movements to that list, says the American Vegan Society (AVS).
On June 15 the national nonprofit held a soft opening of the American Vegan Center at 17 N. 2nd Street in Old City to enlighten Philadelphians and tourists alike about our rich vegan history, as well as the role Philly continues to play in the nation’s vegan movement.
The idea for a venue came in 2015 to Vance Lehmkuhl, AVS’s marketing and communications director, and a now-AVS colleague as they meandered along South Jersey’s shoreline, covering its vegan eateries for Lehmkuhl’s “V for Veg” column, which ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer for 16 years.
The core of the center’s offerings will be a walking tour in the Old City vicinity, highlighting Philly’s vegan history. Lehmkuhl, a Philadelphia-based vegan writer and historian, has developed the tour after years of research.
The tour, he says, will offer context for how America’s vegetarian and vegan movements began.
“Vegan thinking isn’t something that just arose in the last few years,” he says. “There’s a long historical thread.”
Lehmkuhl has meticulously mapped out where vegans around Philly have made their marks over the years.
The tour goes over interesting historical threads, such as how the Hermits of the Wissahickon, a 17th-century German mystic and his followers, were connected to the vegan movement.
Women, abolitionists and other notable Philadelphians contributed to the vegan movement and established organizations and societies that exist to this day, such as the Morris Animal Refuge that was borne out of the Women’s Humane Society.
With its historical location, the American Vegan Center hopes to capitalize on foot traffic, especially tourists who are not normally connected through social media channels.
“People are going to see the word vegan. They’re going to see that there is a vegan center and are going to have to think, ‘Wow, is veganism really so mainstream now that there’s actually this place that you can just go and get vegan info?’ And yes, it is,” says Lehmkuhl.
“The intent is to serve people today … whether they’re vegan or just interested in trying some of the latest vegan food.”
A storefront with vegan books, cooking classes, presentations and discussions will be opened at the 2nd Street address at a later date.
How will Philly learn its history if you don’t name it? The googlable name of the "17th-century German mystic" is Johannes Kelpius,