Bring an appetite to Veggie Fest

 
 
Posted7/22/2016 8:00 AM
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  • Veggie Fest returns to the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Lisle for a two-day run starting Saturday.

      Veggie Fest returns to the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Lisle for a two-day run starting Saturday. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer, AUGUST 2015

  • A food court will highlight two dozen vendors during the 11th annual Veggie Fest.

      A food court will highlight two dozen vendors during the 11th annual Veggie Fest. Daniel White | Staff Photographer, AUGUST 2012

  • "Our goal is to demonstrate that vegetarian food can be really enjoyable and affordable," says Michael Ribet, a Veggie Fest organizer.

      "Our goal is to demonstrate that vegetarian food can be really enjoyable and affordable," says Michael Ribet, a Veggie Fest organizer. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer, AUGUST 2014

Come hungry.

Even if you're a rib-licking, bacon-loving, full-fledged carnivore, come on an empty stomach.

Because if there's one rule for Veggie Fest, it's bring a big appetite.

"Our goal is to demonstrate that vegetarian food can be really enjoyable and affordable," organizer Michael Ribet says.

Whether fried, spicy, raw or salty, the offerings at the 11th annual event -- opening Saturday, July 23, for a two-day run in Lisle -- shatter the notion that vegetarianism is, well, a diet.

Instead, the festival proves vegetarian food isn't bland.

"That's one of the things we try to tackle head on," Ribet says.

That's especially clear in what Ribet and fellow members of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center, the festival's host, call the "international food court."

Two dozen vendors -- the festival boasts more than 100 overall -- will serve Chinese, Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern and other cuisines. The menu is fresh and, like Ribet said, reasonably priced. Entrees run $4 and desserts, $2.

The food court opens when the festival does, with an opening ceremony on the main stage led by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster and Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico at 11:45 a.m. Saturday.

"It's a fun family festival for everybody," says Jonathan Kruger, another organizer and a vegetarian for 40 years. "And that's really what we want people to know. It's not just for vegetarianism."

As such, kids can do arts and crafts, get their faces painted and tune into live music in a tent set aside for the youngsters.

On both days of the festival, they're also invited to dress up as their favorite fruit, vegetable or animal for a "Vegi-Kids" parade at 5:30 p.m.

Catering to all ages has been a focus since the event began 11 years ago and grew into one of the largest of its kind in North America. Last year, more than 30,000 people turned out for Veggie Fest, then held at Benedictine University because of a proposed project to replace the Science of Spirituality center with a new building "that's really going to be iconic for the community," Kruger said.

Once construction would start, organizers might revisit Benedictine for the transition, Kruger said, but this year's event is returning to the usual setting, the grounds of the center off Naperville Road.

Organizers also have expanded the festival's footprint to a parking lot behind the Sheraton Lisle Hotel to accommodate crowds.

New this year is a smartphone app to help guide visitors around booths and a schedule of speakers who will offer ways to incorporate protein in vegetarian recipes and meditation in the workplace.

But, back to the food tent.

What's a popular item?

The "Caribbean veg chicken," says Ribet, who with organizers started planning for Veggie Fest within only a month after last year's event ended.

"That's a big seller," he said.

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