Whether more than 40,000 people came for the wine, the food, the celeb chef encounters or the overall experience, this event (September 29–October 2, 2011) did the heart good on a number of fronts. Naturally, there is the antioxidant effect that occurs when wine is pressed and reservatrol is released from the stems, seeds and skins of red-wine grapes—and there was plenty of that to sample! All good for the circulatory system!

That said, the true lifeblood flowing just below the surface of this massive event is an incredibly generous charitable aspect that warms the heart and completes the wellness picture. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from this event (more than $1.2 million in 2010) goes to the Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength®. Although there’s an uncomfortable irony in pondering the shocking statistics about hunger in America while paying one’s way into tastings, parties and dinners to sample some of the most amazing culinary delights on the planet, it’s a formula that seems to work.

Another formula that works is the lessons the programming team weaves in for kids and families about healthy food selection, meal preparation and physical fitness. A mini side festival designed specifically for kids and families called “Fun and Fit in the City” was held at the Harlem Armory on Saturday, October 1. Culinary stars Melissa d’Arabian, Rocco DiSpirito, Marcus Samuelsson and Andrew Zimmern were on hand for family-friendly healthy cooking demonstrations where both kids and their parents enjoyed sampling opportunities, a series of fitness activities and prize giveaways. All programming and activities were geared toward educating families on fun and easier ways to live a healthier lifestyle.

Don’t feel left out. There is another Food Network Festival right around the corner. Subscribe for updates to the 2012 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, February 23–26, in Miami at www.sobefest.com. It will do your heart good!