Supporting Portland's Vegan, Vegetarian, and Veg-curious Community

Northwest VEG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Portland, OR that works to educate and encourage people to make vegan choices for a healthy, sustainable, and compassionate world.
Become a Member
Dining Guide
Business Supporters
Vegan Movie

Portland and the Veg Scene-20 Years Ago

Tweet Share on Facebook

January 28, 2010

By Charley Korns, Contributing Writer

Starting a new decade makes me ponder the past. Where was I 10 years ago? Better yet, 20 years ago? Living in Washington, DC, I was not yet two years into my job as an editor for a construction trade journal. Although I'd been vegetarian briefly as a teenager, it had been many years since I'd last abstained from eating animals. Later that year, 1990, I sold my '64 Pontiac Tempest, packed and shipped 18 boxes of belongings, and booked a one-way ticket to the West Coast, destination Portland. Within the next year, I would read John Robbins' Diet for a New America and decide not to eat red meat and, soon after, birds. Five years later I stopped eating all animal flesh.

Twenty years ago in Portland, the Trailblazers made it to the NBA finals for the second time, losing to Detroit, 4-1. The Oregon Convention Center, future site of Portland VegFest, opened. The median home value was slightly under $60,000, whereas today it's just above $250,000. The mayor was J. E. "Bud" Clark, who was succeeded two years later by Vera Katz.

Portland was far from the vegan mecca it is today, but there were some hopeful roots in place. The vegetarian People's Food Co-op turned 20 that year. Daily Grind, a vegetarian grocery and cafeteria-style cafe on Hawthorne, turned 17--and lasted another 17 years. Another vegetarian eastside veggie joint was Happy Harvest on SE Ankeny near 24th. Ananda Portland, which founded New Renaissance Bookshop, also ran Song of the Rose, an elegant vegetarian cafe on NW 23rd that closed its doors early in that decade. The veg-friendly Old Wives' Tales restaurant turned 10.

A local volunteer-powered group, Portland Vegetarians, was active with regular potlucks and a newsletter but would not survive the decade. Turtle Island, based in Hood River, celebrated its 10-year anniversary, though the TofurkyŽ was not born until 1995. A 2002 Willamette Week article by Caryn B. Brooks ( reflected on the veg scene, including quotes from local restaurateur Bruce Carey, co-owner of Zefiro restaurant on NW 21st. Carey recalled that when Zefiro opened in 1990, vegetarian orders were rare. When the even- more-rare vegan order was placed, Carey said the kitchen staff was less than pleased. "They'd say, 'What a freak--why are you even eating out?'" But when Zefiro closed a decade later, it regularly offered vegetarian dishes.

Portland's first vegan restaurant, Counter Culture, opened eight years later, although initially with a vegetarian menu ( Today, 15 vegan restaurants, food carts and bakeries provide a delectable montage of cruelty-free tastes throughout the city. Among U.S. cities of similar populations, Portland excels in the vegan arena. Good for me, since I quit eating eggs and dairy years ago. I'd like to acknowledge all the men and women who started veg businesses in the past 20 years. Thanks to the risks you took, we are much better off.

Click here for the latest news.