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updated: 8/11/2011 8:07 AM

Veggie Fest in Naperville spotlights health, spiritual benefits of vegetarianism

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  • The number of people who come to Naperville for Veggie Fest has been growing substantially for the past six years. This weekend, 25,000 people are expected to attend, making it the largest vegetarian food festival in the country.

      The number of people who come to Naperville for Veggie Fest has been growing substantially for the past six years. This weekend, 25,000 people are expected to attend, making it the largest vegetarian food festival in the country.
    Courtesy of Veggie Fest

  • Veggie Fest features a food court where people can try a range of vegetarian dishes along with demonstrations of vegetarian cooking. The festival runs Saturday and Sunday in Naperville.

      Veggie Fest features a food court where people can try a range of vegetarian dishes along with demonstrations of vegetarian cooking. The festival runs Saturday and Sunday in Naperville.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Meghan Keenan
mkeenan@dailyherald.com

Are you a vegetarian or vegan?

If not, have you ever wondered what it would be like? What you would and wouldn't eat? Whether it would be worth it to sacrifice some types of food for a healthier lifestyle?

If so, you may be among the 25,000 people expected at Veggie Fest this weekend in Naperville. The festival began six years ago and has grown into one of the largest and most successful vegetarian food festivals in the country, organizers said.

Jonathan Kruger, the event coordinator, says he thinks the festival has grown so rapidly because of people's changing attitudes toward nutrition.

"There is a big movement in the U.S. to eat a healthier diet. Vegetarianism is on the rise, being in good health has become very popular," Kruger said.

The international speakers, live music and programs for children give the festival a wider appeal, but the specific focus is really a draw.

"A lot of festivals are very broad in scope, with something for everyone. This one has a niche," Kruger said.

Sponsored and hosted by the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center, Veggie Fest is a two-day, outdoor event open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13 and 14.

Attendees will have an array of healthy foods to choose from at an international vegetarian food court. All the food at the festival will fit the needs of a vegetarian diet, and those who aren't vegetarian will have the chance to taste foods they may not have tried before.

With 100 different vendor booths, the festival moves beyond food to introduce health professionals providing information, products and services related to all aspects of well-being. Visitors also can hear health information from doctors and specialists.

In food demonstrations by chefs from three Chicago area restaurants, cookbook authors and coaches, guests will see how to prepare different raw, vegan and vegetarian dishes from around the world.

On both days of Veggie Fest, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, an internationally renowned spiritual master and best-selling author, will speak about vegetarianism and the spirituality behind the diet.

Other speakers from around the world include the Indian consulate of Chicago, who will speak Sunday about the history of vegetarianism in India.

Local physicians, including James Gruft and Tim Fior, will provide their insights on the benefits of vegetarianism from their personal experiences and treating patients.

Gruft, a pain specialist, has seen in his patients the positive effects of a healthy, vegetarian diet, he said. Diabetes and chronic pain are two of the major illnesses he treats.

"We've moved into a health crisis in the respect that it's now chronic illnesses that doctors have to try to treat as opposed to acute illnesses," Gruft said.

Gruft has been a speaker at Veggie Fest every year since it began. This year, he will speak about the role of the vegetarian diet in treating chronic pain.

"I'm also going to broaden it to talk about inflammation, which can be the root cause of pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses," Gruft said.

He approaches vegetarianism as a form of treatment, and he believes a nutrient-rich diet can take care of most deficiencies in the body.

"Drug treatment is disease management, but it doesn't really get to the root of what health is about, which is a state of well-being," Gruft said. "Eating healthy is like an insurance policy."

Fior has been treating patients at a holistic family practice in Lombard for 23 years. He also has spoken at Veggie Fest for the past six years.

This year he will talk about his own path, how he got into vegetarianism and meditation, and how he finds these methods helpful to patients.

Most people get into vegetarianism for health reasons, he said, however, there is also a spiritual aspect, which is about nonviolence.

This year, the festival will incorporate different types of spirituality, including a meditation tent.

Also new this year is the Vegetarian Challenge. The first 2,000 people to register to try out a week of vegetarianism will receive a free goody bag and vegetarian recipes and tips.

Mike Ribet, co-coordinator of the festival sums up the goal of the weekend.

"We want to communicate to the local community that vegetarianism is healthy, good tasting and good for the whole planet," he said.

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