Veggie Fest: Good Food, Healthy Living

Naperville, Illinois

August 9-10, 2014

Banana and Giraffe at Veggie Fest

Banana and Giraffe at Veggie Fest


The real reason we spent an afternoon at Veggie Fest was to be outdoors. Summer was nearly over. I imagined we were going to some kind of glorified farmer’s market, and that was fine. Maybe I could pick up some peaches and tomatoes. Pretty lame, but that’s how it was.

The first inkling that this was different was the complimentary shuttle van between the fest and the parking lot. How much space did a few produce stalls take up if you couldn’t walk there? As we approached the entrance (free admission), we spotted acres and acres of white-canopied tents along with a dozen or so costumed characters: clowns, a stalk of celery, a banana, a cluster of grapes, a giraffe. Reggae music played in the background.

Turns out, Veggie Fest is a two-day celebration of the vegetarian lifestyle. There are other such festivals around the country, but this one is among the largest and oldest. The host sponsor since 2005 has been the Science of Spirituality, a multi-faith, global organization dedicated to personal transformation through meditation.

I’m not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but I do feel a tad guilty whenever I eat meat, chicken or fish. I was curious to learn more.

At Veggie Fest, more than 100 exhibitors and vendors generously shared their knowledge and samples. Their ranks included food companies, purveyors of beauty and skin care products, yoga instructors, holistic dentists, chiropractors, publishers, nonprofits like Mercy for Animals and the Christian Vegetarian Association–and even a vegan travel agent. Humanitarian drives collected blood and non-perishable vegetarian food items for those in need.

Freshly grilled veggie kabobs

Freshly grilled veggie kabobs

At the Nada-Chair booth, we took a seat and were bound with a harness-like contraption that looked kinky, but it wasn’t. It wraps across your lower back and around your knees in a way that supports the spine and forces proper posture. Who knew just sitting upright for ten minutes could be so therapeutic?

Lectures and cooking demonstrations were conducted all day. Some were in Spanish. The keynote speaker was meditation guru Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, who heads up the Science of Spirituality. Other sessions covered organic veggie gardening and helping children become healthy eaters. A chef from Whole Foods Market showed how to make vegan chocolate pudding. The recipe uses mashed avocado for a creamy consistency and dates for sweetness. The result was yummy and plenty chocolate-y.

On the menus in the for-purchase food court were kabobs, salads, sushi, falafel, samosas, pizza, hot dogs and smoothies–all veggie style, of course.

While all this eating was going on, we were entertained by a carnival of musicians, jugglers, face-painters, a magician and a costume parade.

The costume parade lends a carnival flavor at Veggie Fest

The costume parade lends a carnival flavor at Veggie Fest

All too soon, the day came to a close. We’ll definitely be back next year. On our way home, we stopped at the grocery store for peaches and tomatoes.


Sculpture by Dusty Hanson

Sculpture by Dusty Hanson of Mudd Puddle Studio

The One State Together in the Arts conference is a total immersion experience. For two full days you are surrounded by music, dance, sculpture, theater and other artistic endeavors. Just to reach the registration desk, you pass a working potter and a chamber quartet.

The time feels much longer, and it feels way too short.

The biennial event is co-sponsored by Arts Alliance Illinois and the Illinois Arts Council. The 2013 conference was held in the Quad Cities, Illinois and Iowa, along the Mississippi River. Its multiple objectives are to showcase innovative artists and art programs throughout the state, offer new ideas for bringing more art into the lives of others, and reinforce the notion that not all great Illinois art happens in Chicago. This year’s theme was Arts and Community: The speakers challenged us–an audience of artists, art educators and leaders of arts organizations–to involve our communities in our art rather than merely produce art for art’s sake.

Kicking off the conference was a reception hosted by John Deere, which is headquarters in the Quad Cities. The company’s lime-green tractors are internationally recognized, but its mammoth art collection is lesser known. Corporate docents led us on a tour through the office complex and pointed out works by Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Grant Wood and others.

The main doings took ┬áplace on the floor of a sports arena that was bordered on three sides with massive sculptures and hand-stitched quilts. Before and during meals we were accompanied by local entertainers. Folk guitarist Ellis Kell sang about life on the river and seeing his daughter’s face in the moon. Step dancers and a drum line from the Metropolitan Youth Program showed off their practiced precision.

Performance artist and real estate developer Theater Gates was the keynote speaker. As a student, he majored in urban development, and then relieved his frustrations in clay. At One State, he showed how neglected communities can be transformed by combining both interests. “Good development can be a byproduct of art,” he said.

Other speakers furthered the theme of community. Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas moved to a Wisconsin farm they named “Wormfarm” and launched an artist residency program there. Gail Rost opened an art supply store that carries only items that are headed for the waste-stream; proceeds help support the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation. Pablo Korona is documenting on film the personal stories of those who live in his beloved but economically-challenged hometown of Rockford.

An art crawl on the second night took us to art galleries, a music venue and the Figge Art Museum. Thanks for the hospitality, Quad Cities!

Wrapping up the conference was a performance of interpretive dance and spoken prose that captured the essence of the previous two days.

And then it was time for us all to turn inspiration into action. Indeed.

Figge Art Museum, Davenport

Figge Art Museum, Davenport