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Eating healthy at the state fair

October 9, 2012

By JAY REED

One doesn’t often hear the words “eat healthy” in the same sentence as the words “state fair," but I am here to testify that it can be done. 

You might need to use your imagination a little bit — you might need to think outside the box — but that’s not always a bad thing. Neither is lunch at the fair.

My father, known to his grand-munchkins and scads of MSU alumni as Doc, made the trip with me this year. It was his first time to the fair, and I was proud to be the one to introduce him to such a singular experience. Not to mention, he was willing to help me eat pretty much any food-on-a-stick I put in front of him, which was our first step toward a healthy lunch: neither of us ate an entire portion of anything.   

The first stand we spotted was the Pronto Pup trailer. In previous years, I have passed them by simply because I thought it was just another corn dog. Then I heard a friend mention that she looked forward to the fair just because of the Pronto Pups. According to her, they were different — something about the batter. Since I am all about trying new things at the fair, this time I bit. Pun intended. 

I asked the friendly folks at the stand to describe the difference, and sure enough, she was right. Pronto Pups, though identical in appearance to a standard corn dog, are dipped in a flour-based mix rather than the traditional cornmeal-based batter.  The vendor said something about not having a bitter taste, and something else about a secret ingredient that he couldn’t tell me about or he’d have to kill me. Funny. 

And it did taste good. If you’re wondering how this is healthy, aside from the fact that I only ate half of it, I will explain. 

It’s quite a simple conclusion: corn meal comes from corn, which is the natural form of high fructose corn syrup, which apparently is unhealthy since so many products are now going to great lengths to say they no longer use it as an ingredient. Pronto Pups don’t have corn meal, thus no evil corn syrup. That equals healthy. Okay, let’s move on before the fact-checkers have time to Google that one.

Next down the row was a Lil' Orbit Mini Donut, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  It was barely a mouthful (healthy portion size), and cinnamon is believed to have a multitude of healing properties including lowering blood sugar (therefore counteracting the sugar it was mixed with). If you don’t believe me about the cinnamon, just ask Dr. Oz. He didn’t get to be a wizard for nothing.

As we wandered from stand to stand looking for the next bite, I spotted a woman carrying a foreign object. Upon further investigation ("Ma’am, what in the sam hill are you eating?"), we discovered that it was a giant cucumber, hollowed out and stuffed with seafood salad. If your preference is chicken salad, that is also an option. 

Doc was skeptical — not really a raw cucumber kind of guy — but he did try some and we agreed that it was not just tasty, but also on the refreshing side. Health check: fresh raw cucumber stuffed with omega-3 -laden seafood? Surely, I don’t need any more evidence here.

At this point I got nervous. We made it to the midway and found the stand that served my favorite treat from last year: the deep-fried cinnamon roll. It was closed.  Argghh. And the menu showed a deep-fried chocolate chip cookie. Never had one of those. Apparently not going to have one this year, either. In hindsight, however, this would have caused a diversion from my otherwise healthy options thus far, so all’s well that ends well. Kinda’.

The favorite of the day was the next dish, another vegetable: deep-fried macaroni and cheese. It was a fist-sized creamy mass of mac-and-cheese, battered, fried, set on a swirl of chipotle sauce, and sprinkled with a dry seasoning blend. I’m sure you can see the health benefits of this right away, but I’ll go over them anyway just in case. First, it was a vegetable. If you don’t believe me, look on any meat-and-three menu in the South, and mac-and-cheese will be included in the list of vegetables. Also, the capsaicin found in the chipotle pepper is good for topical pain relief, dyspepsia, and is being studied for prostate cancer. Mostly, I’m going with the vegetable angle.

For dessert, I looked for a deep-fried candy bar that I had not experienced before.  That’s not easy to do. The only one on the list I could not recollect trying was the 3 Musketeers. But even if I had been there, done that, I was on a healthy streak and the 3 Musketeers had way less fat per bar than any of the other candy bars available for frying. 

And let me just say, as deep-fried chocolate bars go, the texture of the 3 Musketeers lends itself quite well to this improvement process. 

It was a much hotter day than I anticipated, and I was pretty thirsty by this time. I am usually a lemonade guy in such environments, but this year they offered an Orange Shake-Up alongside the usual lemon variety. It hit the spot for a lot of reasons, not to mention the Vitamin C content and accompanying anti-oxidant properties of the fresh orange juice. Need I say more?
We had made the rounds by this time and sampled just about everything that looked new and different. And I was still hungry. I know, I couldn’t believe it, either.  I considered going back to the Cock-of-the-Walk booth for fish-on-a-stick (more omega-3’s couldn’t hurt), but eventually settled on a grilled (not fried) pork-chop-on-a-stick. The other white meat. Enough said.

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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