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Fried Twinkies Optional – Fairs & Festivals Launch a Healthy Eating Heyday

This summer, we’ve discussed treading lightly around summer barbeques and cookouts and talked about ways to keep fruits and veggies in our line of sight when nutritionally gaunt foods flourish. But summer revelry is about celebrating food, not ignoring it.

Even though chocolate-covered bacon may be getting all the attention, attending an annual fair or festival can actually be one of the best things you can do to solidify your healthy eating commitments.

For all the glory, fun and nostalgia fairs provide, there is no denying that they can be nutritionally devastating.  When we heard that the Orange Country fair featured Fried Butter – butter-injected dough that’s frozen, fried, and served with either whipped cream, parmesan cheese or marinara sauce – well, we could practically hear the crash cart being wheeled in. But fried dough and funnel cakes are fair and festival traditions, and if it’s not over the top, vendors are just not doing their job.

Before you cave in and order two fried Twinkies (420 calories per pop) consider the other edible wonders that summer fairs offer. Agricultural fairs, country fairs, and festivals that celebrate a regionally beloved fruit or veggie can offer a perfect opportunity to connect with real food. Perusing giant garlic heads, blue ribbon tomatoes, and twisty tubers can teach kids about where fruits and vegetables really come from. Beautiful garden specimens can provide the best lesson kids can have in understanding that food comes from the ground, not the can or the package. Fruit pies that ooze sweetness from their edges can be a reminder that baking from “scratch” hasn’t gone the way of the Victrola. And, witnessing a grower’s pride and joy in the form of a zucchini the size of a suitcase can be a lesson for grown-ups, too, and inspire us to make sure healthy, real food has a prominent place on the table long after the Ring Toss has been packed up for the season.

While corn dogs are a reliable fair indulgence (and not a bad choice, considering, at about 250 calories) it’s the wild, regional, unprocessed foods that towns around American take the most pride in. Crowning the Blueberry Princess just seems to have more resonance with the community than Queen of Cotton Candy. These examples of summer celebrations around the country are healthy cases in point:

  • Verrill Farm in Concord Massachusetts presents the Corn & Tomato Festival in August, with the chance to taste 30 farm varieties of tomatoes, as well as other farm fresh foods.
  • They say New Englanders lock their cars so someone won’t come along and fill them with zucchini. Your chances of being a victim of this heinous veggie crime is likely to skyrocket at the Zucchini Festival in Ludlow Vermont in August.
  • Virginia has its Cantaloupe Festival in July to showcase this luscious local fruit.
  • If seed spitting is your sport, the Mize Watermelon Festival in Missisippi will welcome you this July. The region is home to world famous Smith County watermelons – the ones you should be eating while the getting is good.
  • The Union Fair is dubbed a “Real Maine Agricultural Fair” and earns the characterization with oxen pulls, rooster crowing contests, and vegetable judging. It even includes its own Blueberry Festival where berry-busting desserts rival any funnel cake, hands down.
  • Early August is time to celebrate the raspberry harvest during Utah’s Raspberry Days. Permission to eat pie.
  • Not everyone is throwing ribs on the smoker in August. VeggieFest Chicago 2010, the largest free vegetarian food festival in the country, is on, with food demos and a food court that boggles the mind.
  • Late summer is the best time to get your veggies in cob-form. Nearly 50 tons of sweet corn will be consumed during the 63rd Annual Mendota Sweet Corn Festival this August in Illinois.
  • Sky high in natural antioxidants, the chokecherry has its day at Minnesota’s 3rd Annual Chokecherry Festival, including a pancake breakfast with chokecherry syrup. (Watch out for flying pits.)
  • Plus, Pier 21 will host Food for Health all summer through September at the Canada Agriculture Museum in Nova Scotia, which looks at concerns and questions many Canadians have about the role food plays in ensuring good health.

Finally, one of our favorites, the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival gives wild blueberries their day in the sun. They call the wild blueberry “the powerful little fruit that put our corner of Down East Maine on the map,” but the fact that it is a list topping food for disease prevention and antioxidant potency hardly seems to matter to those swarming downtown Machias. They are there to see the blueberry musical, participate in a pie eating contest, and take the blueberry farm tours.

Everything in town will be unapologetically blue, including the passenger railroad that rides sightseers throughout the festivities.

There are plenty of wild blueberry-themed festivals in Northern Maine and Canada that celebrate this indigenous fruit of honor that is harvested in late summer. If you live there or plan to visit, you can get a comprehensive list of 2010 Fairs & Festivals in the Maine area along with agricultural fairs that range from carny to classic and are always busting with fruits and veggies – real food with a little dirt on their natural packaging.

Seek out your own local fair that offers the best of good food. This summer, there is truly something for absolutely everyone.

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