By Aileen McGraw, VRG Intern
Over 100 exhibitor booths filled the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Naperville, Illinois on August 11th and 12th for Veggie Fest 2012. Chicago Veggie Fest comprises one of North America’s largest vegetarian festivals, uniting vegans, vegetarians and advocates for healthy living. Each day ran from 11am – 8pm and offered international speakers, live music, food demos, and children’s activities.
The Vegetarian Resource Group provided a wealth of information from its booth alongside other health, mind and wellness outreach groups. Volunteers provided festival goers with literature, the most recent Vegetarian Journal issue, and kid-friendly coloring books; all free of charge. The VRG also sold books from the VRG bookstore, covering issues of vegan pregnancy, living a meatless work life, and tips on partying vegan-style. VRG bumper stickers and the online newsletter sign-up proved to be festival favorites.
Beyond the Vegetarian Resource Group booth, Veggie Fest’s food court dished out vegetarian favorites and vegan innovations. Plate in hand, many enjoyed live music throughout the weekend. Chicago-based indie group The Giving Tree Band played electric and acoustic sets, and Gizzae, Miss Chicago Marisa Bucheit, and Caribe Son International also took the stage. Live presentations continued with food demos from chefs, cookbook authors and wellness coaches. Their topics included Karen Calbrese’s entrepreneurial natural health and detox ventures, raw food diets, and cruelty-free foods from around the world.
Chicago’s Veggie Fest fused different cultures under a common passion for sustainable living. With the Science of Spirituality (SOS) as the festival host and His Holiness Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj as a speaker, the SOS had a strong presence. The food court served up international fare ranging from falafel to Masala Dosa and mango chutney in addition to classics like sweet potato fries or veggie corn dogs. Worldly demos, ethnic cuisine and cross-cultural music combined to showcase Chicago’s compassionate community.
Both local and international issues brought attendees with questions, conversation and newfound curiosity to the VRG. I volunteered as a VRG intern with Chicago coordinator Eric Sharer and his team. Volunteers from Chicago VeganMania stopped by to chat about upcoming ChicagoVeg events and ideas for gluten-free, vegan baked goods to bring the next day. One visitor wanted simple vegan recipes that could easily be adapted sans-gluten, for which we recommended Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D. The fest’s cultural vibrancy reflected those in attendance: one passerby flipped through pages of a Jewish vegan cookbook and multiple attendees asked for information in Spanish. Others took the Vegetarian Challenge, pledging to try vegetarianism for a week and receiving a Veggie Fest and e-recipes as support tools. While most of the weekend’s crowd was familiar with vegetarianism, new challenge undertakers came with questions and concerns: what exactly are leather alternatives? Does veganism really save water? VRG volunteers provided insight and information to novices and well-seasoned vegans.
The VRG joined experts and professionals from Chicago and beyond. Walking through the venue, I met Chicago-native activist and author Marla Rose, vegan body builder
Robert Cheeke and Phillip Roach of The Giving Tree Band, all while connecting with first-time attendees and volunteers like me. The 11am – 8pm days were punctuated with dancing, taste testing and exploring stands of health and beauty providers, Veggie Fest 2012 memorabilia, non-profits and resource centers. The weekend marked the 7th annual Chicago Veggie Fest, celebrating a growing network of health-enthusiasts and mindful living.
If you are interested in volunteering at a booth like this, please e-mail Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a list of other ways to volunteer and get involved with the VRG, please visit http://www.vrg.org/getinvolved.php.
Donations from individuals like you help VRG continue to sponsor outreach booths like these. To donate, please go to http://www.vrg.org/donate.
For more information on Chicago Veggie Fest, visit http://www.veggiefestchicago.org.