BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission (BHEC) organized the first ever Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest earlier this month as a means for the public to benefit from the knowledge obtained during the three days affair. The hope of the committee is for the attendees to incorporate what they learned into their daily routines. 

The weekend kicked off with a Friday evening of Yoga and Tai Chi under the "ominous skies" at The Grove Park at Connell Center. This was the first of three events during Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest and attracted a crowd of participants.

LeeAnn Gerrato, a 20-year Berkeley Heights resident, led an hour-long yoga session. Gerrato, who began practicing yoga approximately 17 years ago, is a certified yoga instructor that seeks to share her love of yoga, so that yoga can help others as much as it helped her. Gerrato guided community members through poses and postures, providing assistance to all so that everyone attending could enjoy a positive experience.

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Throughout the event, The Juice House of New Providence provided a variety of juices and granola combinations to sample. 

Tai Chi instructor Don Madson, with 26 years teaching experience, demonstrated to the crowd how to flow from one pose to the next and explained the rationale for certain moves, including self-defense. Madson masterfully displayed how and why elegant, fluid movements can be done with attitude and purpose.

On Saturday morning, community members gathered at the Berkeley Heights Town Hall to attend health-focused and planet-focused panels during the second day of Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest.

Sue Fieseler, the Director of Community Wellness at the Summit YMCA, shared advice regarding how to develop healthy lifestyles. Lisa McQuilkin, the Wellness Director at the Berkeley Heights YMCA, discussed the positive impact that exercise can have on a person's quality of life. Mildred "Mitch" Bentler, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with Summit Medical Group, provided facts about foods that were not widely known among audience members and dispelled myths about a vegan diet, including common misperceptions about vegan foods lacking sufficient amounts of protein. The matters raised during the speakers' presentations prompted a robust question and answer session, which BHEC member Kevin Hall moderated.

During the planet-focused panel that BHEC member Kinan Tadmori moderated, Gal Hochman, an Associate Professor in Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Rutgers University, explained the environmental impacts associated with meat consumption and the benefits of using meat substitutes. BHEC member and Vegan Fest Chair Kim Diamond, an Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School, then discussed the importance of audience members thinking out of the box, so that they could objectively balance information they have been hearing in the media throughout their lives regarding animal consumption against scientific data regarding livestock's impacts on the environment. Steve Fenster, President of NJveg, rounded out the panel by educating the public about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and the positive impacts such a diet has on the planet. Issues the speakers raised, such as drinking water contamination, topsoil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions, sparked a lively discussion with audience members that lasted almost as long as the panel presentation itself.

Vegan Fest wrapped up Sunday afternoon with a Vegan Cook-off under the pavilion at Columbia Park. The entries were judged in categories: Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert and Restaurant Division. The judges included two professional vegan chefs and township residents Kevin Hall, and Alvaro Medeiros, who is running for council and Mayor Robert Woodruff, who is running for re-election.  Click here for TAPinto Berkeley Heights related article announcing the cook-off winners. 

For additional information regarding Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest, visit the BHEC's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BerkeleyHeightsEnvironmentalCommission/.