Pamela Johnson was looking for a way to keep up with her newfound love of raw foods.
The Downers Grove resident has spent the last year, as she says, "embarking on a raw food journey" in an effort to get healthy.
She was among nearly 10,000 participants taking in the food vendors, discussion panels and cooking demonstrations at Saturday's Veggie Fest in Naperville.
"It's been a very interesting process," she said. "I really feel like the switch to more raw foods has increased my energy. I'm hoping to find more information and make some contacts to help me get better at making this change."
The fourth annual event - and the only Chicago-area vegetarian festival - is a two-day celebration of vegetarianism that aims to share information about the meat-free lifestyle. Festivities throughout the weekend include live music, children's activities, an extensive vegetarian food court and cooking demonstrations.
While promoting a meat-free diet, the festival's goal is not to convert anyone but rather to celebrate the lifestyle and show participants some of the benefits of vegetarianism, said Jonathan Krueger, a volunteer coordinator for the festival.
"People come here because either they are vegetarian or they know someone who is," Krueger said. "We really wanted to turn this into a fun, family event that everyone can enjoy."
Among the activities at Saturday's fest included free yoga classes, massages and health screenings. Throughout the grounds, organizers placed placards that included short biographies of famous vegetarians, including Albert Einstein, Coretta Scott King and Thomas Edison.
Among the out-of-town participants was Eileen Carlotto, who traveled from her home in Gloucester, Mass. to spend the afternoon demonstrating how to cook gluten-free meals.
"It's an adventure," she said while helping prepare an eggplant dish under one of the demonstration tents. "There have been times when I open the freezer at home and find a stack of gluten-free cookies my son has made. You have to have a sense of humor and lots of creativity."
Throughout the weekend, a dozen speakers from around the world will address a variety of vegetarian topics.
The festival continues Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the grounds of the Science of Spirituality Center, 4S175 Naperville Road. Admission is free, but organizers encourage attendees to donate nonperishable vegetarian foods to the People's Resource Center and to give blood.