Teenaged dread heads slurp water out of young coconuts, while Middle Eastern families listen to a keynote speaker famous for spiritual wellness. This weekend, Naperville, Ill., hosted the biggest free vegetarian food festival in the country. The weekend event drew in a diverse crowd of Chicagoland vegetarians, vegans and anyone interested in healthy food samples and holistic healing.
I visited the fest with my omnivore folks, and helped them discover an eco-savvy underground culture in the suburbs of Chicago.
The veg fest, located at the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center, emphasized good food and healthy living concepts. Over 20,000 visitors celebrated the vegetarian diet with music, instructional cooking demonstrations, educational speakers and activities for kids.
"It's been an annual event this past couple years," said one local volunteer.
Among the international visiting speakers was H.H. Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj. The best-selling author spoke about incorporating spiritual wellbeing into the vegetarian diet.
Another famous performer was Howard Levy. The world's most advanced diatonic harmonica player jazzed out in front of veg eating crowds.
My parents and I sat in front of the stage enjoying vegan carrot cheesecake and coconut water.
The fair's food court featured other delicacies from raw chocolate to vegan sushi. There was a little bit of everything, from Indian cuisine to farm fresh foods. Many of the vendors enticed customers with free samples of unique fruits and vegetables, all using earth friendly materials like forks and containers.
In addition to food, the event featured several health and beauty providers and products. Yoga Vidya (Iygenar yoga) yoga for seniors, meditation for kids, eyebrow threading and meditation tents featured informational booths and free classes. Chiropractors, dentistries and holistic healing clinics gave free demos. And the Science of Spirituality Center offered consultations and seminars on wellness.
The Veggie Fest kept the little vegetarians busy, too. In the Kidzone, little tykes played "Guess the Unique Veggie," a game involving jicama, ginger root, boniato, malanga, yucca root, bitter melon and chayotes, just to name a few. There was an arts and crafts area featuring paper plate watermelons and pizzas, beaded bracelets and face paintings. A variety of photos of vegetarian animals hung throughout the zone, educating kids about being a veg-head.
Finally for the organic shoppers, different products and clothes were available for purchase. Visitors bought vegan cookbooks, cloth baby diapers, essential oils and all natural dog treats. I bought soap nuts — dried fruit berries which create a natural soap when agitated in water. Found in India and Nepal from the soapberry tree, the nuts clean and soften laundry the natural way
This festival was a true diamond-in-the-rough treasure. Among Target superstores and commercial malls of a big suburban neighborhood was a community of people sharing their culture for food that truly has become a lifestyle worth living. For more information involving the vendors involved, check out the website