A New Generation of Food Festivals

Looking for a healthy meal? Look no further than your local fairgrounds. That's because if you want to see just how good a fresh vegetable or wholesome grain dish can taste, it sometimes helps to experience the cuisines of other countries. And where better to do that than at an ethnic or international food festival? There, if you choose right, you have an opportunity to think globally, eat locally, and try some above-average "street food."

Traditionally, a food fair has been where you go to sneak in some of your favorite junk foods—corn dogs, sausages, cotton candy, fried dough, pickle-on-a-stick, and bacon belly bombs. It's a festival of flavors, all right, and those flavors come mainly from an excess of fat, salt, and sugar. These days, however, it's not so hard to find food fairs that serve up great-tasting goodies that are also good for you. Hint: Look for ethnic, religious, and regional celebrations that celebrate a vegetarian or plant-based eating styles or the harvest of a grain, fruit, or vegetable. Even the snack foods and desserts at these types of fairs are likely to contribute some good nutrition to your diet. Of course, eating healthfully means making smart food choices, and that especially applies at any type of celebration.

From Seattle, WA to Portland, ME, and hotspots in-between, food festivals sponsored by hundreds of vegetarian, organic, and natural food manufacturers and restaurants offer samples and cooking demonstrations. Healthy food festivals often include exhibitors promoting animal rights and welfare, holistic health care and screenings, related book and product sales, yoga, and other mind-body therapies, and fun activities for children. And lest you think a healthy food fair might be boring at best, keep in mind that while they can hardly be considered "natural," Oreos and Oreo-like cookies are actually a vegan sneak-treat, so you may be in for a tasty, and not-quite-good-for-you, surprise or two!

While not necessarily vegetarian or guaranteed to provide ultra-healthy food, any international festival is usually a great place to try new vegetable and grain dishes with wonderful seasoning combinations you may not have experienced before. Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and other Asian cuisines include many grain and vegetable dishes while Middle Eastern fare often includes legumes like garbanzo beans (chick-peas) and lentils as primary ingredients. Caribbean and South American dishes often feature seafood and rice. Even a chili cook-off is a place where you'll likely to get your fill of beans. If there's no cooking demonstration, but you like what's on your plate, ask how it was made so you can take the idea home with you and try to duplicate it in your own kitchen (perhaps using a little less fat and salt than you may get from a vendor)!