Food for Thought Naperville's Veggie Fest Is a Celebration of Spirituality, Vegetarianism

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Byline: Annalisa Rodriguez By Annalisa Rodriguez

Naperville's [URL]Veggie Fest;[/URL] started out as an experiment, something organizers thought they'd try out, unsure if it would succeed.

The Science of Spirituality Meditation Center, which sponsors the festival, held roughly 30 classes a month teaching the community about all aspects of spirituality and vegetarianism.

It naturally progressed from there that organizers wanted some way to pull all of the lessons into a single event -- and so the Veggie Fest was born.

The experiment turned out better than organizers hoped. Now in its seventh year, the festival draws more than 20,000 people over its two days, making it the largest vegetarian food festival in the country.

"It was very small and then, all of a sudden, it just grew," event coordinator Jonathan Kruger said. "It surpassed our expectations."

Veggie Fest will run this year from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11 and 12, on the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Naperville.

Attendees can watch food demonstrations from restaurant and commercial chefs and cookbook authors and coaches. An international food court will feature roughly 30 different selections of vegetarian cuisine from around the world, and 100 vendor booths will provide information, products and services related to vegetarianism and an all-around healthy lifestyle.

Arjan Stephens, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nature's Path, will be at Veggie Fest with the company started by his parents in 1985 that has turned into the largest organic cereal brand in the country. Nature's Path will hand out free samples and representatives will talk with attendees about the company's products.

"At Nature's Path, we firmly believe in a vegetarian diet," Stephens said. "It's the healthiest diet you can eat. We only market and launch products that are vegetarian because we believe in that philosophy."

Kruger said there was a greater effort this year to ensure vendor booths were related to the vegetarian way of life.

"We're just raising the awareness," he said. "Many people have become vegetarian; many people have changed their diets."

One of those ways to introduce people to the vegetarian lifestyle is through the Vegetarian Challenge, where festival-goers are asked to try out a vegetarian diet for a week. Participants receive a goody bag, tips, restaurant lists and recipes.

In the past, roughly 2,000 people have taken on the challenge, and many have gone on to continue vegetarianism after the two weeks, organizers said.

Twenty-one speakers also will give presentations both days of the festival. The speakers include vendor representatives, health professionals and holistic doctors who will give healthy diet tips and talk about organic food, green living and spirituality. …