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Move over Ribfest, Pigfest, Meatopia and all other outdoor galas that celebrate carnivorism. Veggie fests are sprouting like weeds all over the country.
Yes, you read that right, there are festivals that are all about those things you grow in your garden or pick up in the produce aisle. And surprisingly, it is find a healthy following for people who like a big side of meat with their vegetables.
In Chicago, this is the eighth year for “one of the largest vegetarian food and lifestyle festivals in North America” said organizer Jonathan Kruger .
But despite the name, Veggie Fest isn’t just for the hippy, crunchy, granola eating crowd. Meat lovers have been showing up in bigger numbers lately. Last year the festival drew more than 25,000 people over two days.
So it begs the question; Why in the world would meat eaters go to something called Veggie Fest?
"My wife and I want to lose weight and get healthier," said festival goer Doug Feigen. "So far I've lost 35 pounds by eating more vegetables and less junk, but we still eat meat."
"I'm here because my doctor told me to come here" admitted his wife Jenna, who claims to have lost 30 pounds since changing her eating habits. "He wanted me to check it out to learn about different types of healthy foods."
First time festival goer Tom Headrick said, "I'm trying to eat less meat for health reasons. I do eat steak and I eat turkey and chicken, but I came here to learn about ways to cook healthy foods."
"I like vegetables, but I really just come here to pick up chicks," laughed a man named Charlie, who didn't want to give his last name.
"They're thinner if they're just eating vegetables" he said, clearly not amusing the women around him.
The festival includes an international food court, with many delicacies to sink your teeth into. There were things like falafel, which is made from chick peas, curry vegetables from India, spicy bean dishes from Mexico and vegetarian dishes from around Europe.
You're not going to find fried Twinkies, turkey legs or butter on a stick here. But for those who want to learn, for health reasons or otherwise, how to become a vegetarian this was the place to be. The biggest challenge is making non-meat dishes tasty enough to satisfy all kings of food cravings.
“We have pizza!” said an excited Kruger “Doesn't get better than that!"
"Hey, this is good!" exclaimed one surprised festival goer trying the Caribbean tofu. "It tastes like chicken!" he said as he chowed down.
"People have a misconception about tofu," festival regular Carol Yam explained. "You see this big white thing and wonder why anyone would want to eat it, but it takes on the flavor of whatever food its in."
It was a veritable feast of vegetables, and a somewhat bizarre array of fruit sculptures, plus cooking classes, meditation sessions, speakers who talk about health and spirituality, and live reggae and folk music, which seemed to fit the atmosphere.
"That’s why I’m here, for the music," said Chicagoan David Pine, who admitted to eating a hamburger just before he got to the fest.
"Vegetables are okay. I should probably eat more," added Mike Shackley. "Maybe this festival will inspire me," he said
"I try to eat vegetables, but if I see a good steak I'm gonna eat it," said participant Albert Kennedy
Organizers said they don’t try to push vegetarianism on festival goers, but instead they gently prod them with education on why the lifestyle would be healthier.
"Our goal to celebrate the vegetarian lifestyle and share with the community how incorporating a plant-based diet into one's life can improve one's health and overall well-being” said Kruger. "Sometimes people are surprised at how good vegetarian food can be. And healthy, compassionate living is good for the environment."
"I need to learn ways to cook vegetables," said Sylvia Gord, who was sampling the variety of goodies "You eat all these veggies and I didn't think it was gonna taste good but by golly its good."
One seven-year-old festival attendee, Domick Vadala, who was brought by his mother to the festival admitted to being "bored and tired" and said he "kinda" liked vegetables. "You love them!" yelled his mother.
"Kinda," he said. "I like watermelon."