Editor's Note: Photo contributions by Bob Coletta, Natalie Chin and Bobbie Peer. Video by Berkeley Heights Communications Committee, produced by Lucinda Hayes.

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest provided the community with a weekend full of healthy living style options. The fest included activities to educate the community on optimal health through yoga, educational speakers, children's dance sessions, and a vegan cook-off.

Berkeley Heights resident Kim Diamond spearheaded the weekend for the second year to educate the community on healthy lifestyle options, as well as share ways to adopt a mindful outlook on life. Diamond switched to a plant based diet two years ago after being diagnosed with cancer and her nutritionist told her she wasn't getting enough vegetables in her diet.  Diamond said, adopting a plant based diet, "you will feel better and you will be healthier moving forward."   

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A highlight of the weekend was the Vegan Cook-off held under the pavilion at Columbia Park. The cook off featured entries from individual and restaurant/caterers. The panel of judges were served samples starting with appetizers, entrees and then deserts. Prizes were awarded for first, second and third place winners in each category. 

The five-star panel of judges included Mayor Angie Devanney; Councilman Manny Couto; Devour Creative Catering owner Michael Ramella, Smoothie King of Summit owner Mike Matthews; and John Leo and Angus Chin, members of Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission.

Winners - Appetizer Category

Fist Place - Meera Rao; Dish:  Coco-Loco

Second Place - David Steiner; Dish:  Knot Your Ordinary Garlic Knots

Third Place - David Sonshine; Dish:  Sonshine Pesto Sauce

Winners - Main Course Category

First Place - Marcus Efford-Singleton; Dish:  "Italian" Style Spaghetti & Check Pea Meatballs

Second Place - David Steiner; Dish:  Fiesta Pea-ita

Third Place - Tori Fetner; Dish:  Vegan Philly Cheesesteak

Winners - Dessert Category

First Place - Victoria Murray; Dish:  Ginger Lemon Berry Crumble

Second Place - Christine Cantner; Dish:  Aiden and Cameron's Zesty Lemon Cake

Third Place - Amanda St. Clair; Dish:  Vegan Pumpkin Bars!

Many of the guests admittedly said they are not vegan, however, were fans of the delicious treats they sampled. After tasting the various samples that ranged from "Vegan Chickpea Sliders" served by Delicious Heights and the crowd pleasing vegan brownies made by Amanda St. Clair -- many people said they will be adopting to a more vegan lifestyle.  

The weekend started with two yoga classes by certified yoga ​instructors LeeAnn Gerrato ​and Crystal Maldonado, who led the participants in two yoga sessions at Grove Park in Connell Corporate Park. 

Yoga helps you to focus on being more mindful and taking care of yourself, said Diamond. "Taking time each day to reflect and unwind and relax" will lower blood pressure and makes you a healthier person. Yoga also is an activity that can be done by anyone at any age, any size, shape or form. "It's something everyone can do and it is very very helpful," she said.

On Saturday, Bold Arts held creative dance sessions to include children in Vegan Fest. They celebrated moving their bodies and feeling great and being healthy, said an instructor from Bold Arts. "We love creative movement - and empower them [the children] by talking about wellness."

While the children were engaged in the creative movement class, the adults participated in two educational panels. The first panel led by Mitch Bentler [an oncology nutritionist from Summit Medical Group] and Lisa McQuilkin [Wellness Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA] focused on why a diet rich in fruits and vegetables promotes good health. The second hour discussion focused on how a plant-based diet helps to promote environmental preservation. 

"What I try and promote is whole food, plant based," said Bentler. "If it grows, it is good. Two rules when I talk to a client: if it's a plant I want you to eat it. But, I want you to eat it in the form as close to the way it was created. In other words, corn is fine -- but corn flakes, not so great. Potatoes are terrific -- but potato chips, not such a good idea."

"It doesn't mean you have to give it up all at once. It's a transition," said Bentler. "The importance of this transition is if you look at the top 10 killers in the United States -- diet is related to all of them. If you look closer, it's the intake of animal products that relate to heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer. The more science that comes out there, the more I am convinced that we really need to minimize or eliminate animal products from our diet," she said. "A good place to start is with processed food."

Bentler recommends to start with breakfast -- "make breakfast animal free. Next, make breakfast and lunch animal free. Anything better than you did last week, last month is going to be an improvement," she said. "It's not an all or nothing thing. Try and build on it -- and make sure what you do is better than the last time." -- "We live longer, but we live sicker -- eating more plant based, it make you live longer and healthier life."

McQuilkin spoke about how regular activity can benefit your life. "We, as a society, don't move enough -- the benefit of getting up and moving is huge. You don't have to do anything really dramatic. The recommended activity for kids is 60 minutes a day -- 60 minutes a day of movement keeps them healthy and strong and prepares them as they are growing into adults. The recommendation for adults is between 150 and 300 minutes of exercise a week. The chronic health conditions we have in the United States: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, diabetes  -- all of those things, combined exercise and diet can combat the onset of those diseases." McQuilkin recommends start with something you like -- "it doesn't matter what it is -- you can walk your neighborhood, swim, bicycle, or a dance class -- you just have to get up and move. In addition to that, find a buddy, a class or a group -- it keeps you connected -- it gives you the social component and the physical activity component," said McQulkin.