A Sad State of Fairs
Recently I had the occasion to visit the Washington State Fair in Puyallup (pronounced (pew-al-up). This is the grand-daddy of Washington’s state fairs: it runs for nearly the entire month of September and attracts a large and varied lineup of big name entertainment. We were there to see Alan Jackson, who happened to put on a great concert.
I hadn’t been to the Puyallup Fair since I was in high school, which was 35 years ago. I’m not a big fan of state fairs—too much traffic getting to and from, crowds—lines everywhere. Pretty much everything a social recluse like myself loathes. OK, I’m actually not a social recluse, I’d just much rather be wading in a secluded river than wading through crowds of scone-eating fair-goers. I do, however, enjoy observing people, and people watching doesn’t get any better than at state fairs. In fact, that alone is nearly worth the price of admission. But when given a choice, I avoid crowds like the plague. Hell, if not for crowds we wouldn’t have plagues in the first place. But I digress.
When my kids were young we did take them to The Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, WA a few times. You can’t deny kids the childhood experience of visiting a fair, and they certainly enjoyed seeing the animals. And getting jacked up on cotton candy and soda and then going on the rides. I get that part—it’s all fun (until someone throws up). But what struck me the hardest on this latest trip to a fair was the food. When did state fairs become all about food (and I use the term loosely)?
Actually, fair aficionados will quickly point out that state and county fairs, since their inception in the mid-19th century, have always been about food. Agriculture was at the heart of the matter and livestock judging was a key element to the early days of the fair; something that still exists today. Food, in both its production and enjoyment, has been the centerpiece of fairs from the very beginning: Farmers competing to see who could grow the largest crop specimen; home baked pies and recipe judging. That old chestnut.
And while I’m not sure that the current culinary offerings are what the early fair attendees would have considered food, consumables are still king: Elephant Ears the size of serving trays; tubs of onion rings; loaves of french fries; corn dogs (called Crusty Pups); and burgers, burgers, burgers—every vendor claims to have the biggest burgers at the fair, and the only way to know for sure is to try them all! If its fried, you can find it at the fair, just don’t expect small portions. Serving sizes, like most of the swines on display in the livestock pavilion, are not dainty.
And let’s not forget bacon! Bacon maple bars, bacon stuffed burgers, bacon wrapped hot dogs, bacon on a stick, waffle fried bacon. I love bacon, but some of these concoctions sounded a tad disturbing. I’m sure the 4H swine would have agreed with me.
But not everything at the fair was typical greasy fried fare—there were some more “exotic” foodstuffs to be found as well. For example, Rabbit-Python Sausage. I didn’t try any, but I did have to wonder how it was made. Was the python ground up and then mixed with ground-up rabbit? Or was it an incidental sausage whereby the python was in the process of swallowing the rabbit when it was ground up? And who was the first to think of this combination—someone deep in the swamps of Florida?
At one point while waiting in another line to get a beer (to wash down the Crusty Pup), I noticed a group of young people who were presenting their passports as identification—clearly an indication that they were from another country. It caused me to ponder, if one were a foreigner visiting the states for the first time, and happened to visit a state fair, can you imagine the thoughts running through their heads? “So, THIS is America?” I’m not sure if they would be amused or dismayed—probably a bit of both. I know I am.
So to put the fair further into the distance in the rear view mirror, I’m heading into the remote Idaho back country in a few days to do a little wading in a freestone mountain river. The surroundings will be about as different from a state fair as one could hope to find. If we’re lucky we may not see another person, and the only lines will hopefully be tight to hungry cutthroat trouts, gorging themselves. Like people at the fair.
And there will be bacon. And beer.