Veggie steaks, jackfruit and fig juice were on the menu Saturday for Rose Hebein and Stephanie Yurchesen, who didn’t let the mid-90s temperatures stop them from checking out everything being offered at the 11th annual Veggie Fest.
“I can’t tell you what (the steak) tastes like because it had barbecue sauce on it, so that’s what it tasted like,” Yurcheshen said. “But there are a lot of vendors and great music. We’re both here to try brand-new things.”
Yurcheshen, a Downers Grove resident, said she and Hebein, of Milwaukee, found the organic fig drink “really good,” and checked out the “first edible vegan cheese I ever had.”
They weren’t alone in exploring brand-new foods. The fest, held on the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Lisle, is meant to open people’s eyes to the world of vegetables and to encourage visitors to consider a vegetarian lifestyle.
The two-day event, which continues Sunday, is expected to draw as several as 40,000 people and was attended by Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville), both of whom participated in the ribbon-cutting at the start of the day.
“I believe the word about this event has actually definitely gotten out,” coordinator Jonathan Kruger said. “We’ve got all kinds of offerings in our worldwide food court, live music, and food demonstrations. This is a great opportunity to just bring the family out for dinner and listen to some great bands.”
Kruger said those in attendance are encouraged to take “the challenge to decide to become vegetarian.”
“In the last three years we’ve had 10,000 make the decision to become vegetarian and we offer support, tips on making dishes and other vegetarian ideas,” he said.
Chirico said the fest is playing an important role in helping people to think about their health when it comes to eating.
“I support a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating and feel this is something good to promote,” Chirico said. “I think this falls in line along with our nation’s issues regarding obesity and incorporating a healthier life style in the nation. Fortunately, we have actually a very active community here in Naperville, but knowing how people should eat when they perhaps become less active is important.”
Lance Houla, from Willowbrook, and his friend Heather Gleason, of Hinsdale, were first-time visitors to the event and while neither is a vegetarian, they also endorsed the benefits of “clean eating.”
“I’m originally from brand-new Zealand and we eat a lot of lamb, but there was an awesome selection of vegetables here and we really enjoyed something called ‘quorn,’ which I believed tasted like chicken,” Houla said.
“I tried this ‘Five Alive’ juice thing, which was really good, and while I don’t eat as much meat as Lance, I definitely try to eat healthier,” Gleason said.
Vendors were busy pushing samples of their products. Phillipe Sabon, a consultant for the Chicago-based Spiced and Infused Gourmet Popcorn, said his company’s products are made without butter and infused along with a variety of spices instead of salt.
“We try to offer a more global type of taste in our popcorn, along with Asian, chipotle, and barbecue flavors, and we use safflower oil so the popcorn isn’t greasy,” he said.
Lombard residents Michelle Coppedge and Laura Misek said they attended, in part, to try brand-new products.
“It’s nice to see so several ‘non-meat’ products and learn brand-new things, like last year where I found out about ways to cook tofu,” Coppedge said.
“I have actually to say this festival is bigger than I imagined,” Misek added. “We came here for lunch, and while my husband is a carnivore and we aren’t vegans, I think it would certainly be good to buy more vegetables when I’m shopping.”
Lisle’s Andrew Sale said he had “an open mind” when it comes to discovering more about a vegetarian diet.
“I definitely don’t eat ‘healthy’ all the time, but I came here to learn,” Sale said. “I know vegetarian dishes have actually flavor and texture. I’m willing to learn more about them.”
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.