Sunday, October 01, 2006

Feasting at the Fair

"A fair is a veritable smorgasbord" sings Templeton in the movie "Charlotte's Web." And truer words were never sung by an animated rat. With its roots as a celebration of agriculture and the harvest, it's natural that the fair has an incredible array of things to eat. Yesterday, Veggin Out co-conspirator Cassandra, Carl, Tim and I spent 10 hours at the Dixie Classic Fair - and we still didn't get to sample all the goodies.

My first food stop was at Louisiana Kitchen, a concession near the entrance to Yesterday Village. The woman working there assured me that the red beans and rice are purely vegetarian; and they are purely tasty, too. It's a simple dish, but well-seasoned, satisfying, and healthy - especially as fair food goes. It was one of the best food choices I made all day.

Next, it was on to Smitty's, a concession in one of the Yesterday Village cabins. Smitty's offers all things apple: Apple cider, hot or cold; apple fritters; apple pies; caramel apple chips.... But I was after an apple dumpling: an apple baked in pastry, drizzled with syrup. It's just wouldn't be the fair if I didn't get one of those, or two of those. It's a tradition.

Another tradition at the Dixie Classic is the way community groups and churches set up in the permanent, brick concession area to raise money for their good causes by selling food. Much of it is in the down-home, seasoned-with-fatback style - but not all of it.

At one stand, Tim asked whether the pinto beans had meat in them, explaining that I was looking for vegetarian beans. The woman behind the counter laughed and said, "Good luck. This is the South, you know!" She wasn't being unfriendly, and there is some truth to her words - but happily, it isn't the whole truth. We moved on, and at the Fountain of Life Lutheran Church's stand, the kitchen assured us that the pintos were vegetarian. A bowl of them with cornbread is another delicious, healthy meal.

But the most vegetarian-friendly stand we saw in this area was the one run by the U.S. Equine Rescue League. Their menu includes veggie burgers; macaroni and cheese; such vegetables as yams, slaw and sauerkraut; grilled cheese sandwiches; and, yes, pinto beans cooked without meat or lard.

Back out on the fairgrounds, another community group adds to the flavor of the fair each year. The Exchange Club, which works to prevent child abuse, sells peanuts roasted in the shell. Their volunteers offer samples to passers-by. They're yummy and fun to eat, and I generally end up with a bag or three to take home....

We saw but could not sample myriad other delights, such as pizza with cheese and vegetable toppings; fruit smoothies; vegetable fried rice and vegetable lo mein; deep-fried vegetables and deep-fried Twinkies.... OK, I'm going to stop now. I would say I have to go eat breakfast, but for some strange reason, I'm not really hungry yet today.

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