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NC State Fair food goes vegetarian

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When my in-house recipe taster and I went to the North Carolina State Fair yesterday, we were looking forward to hot crisp french fries, the gardening exhibits, and the midway. We'd long ago given up planning to eat real meals at the fair and this year's publicity about chocolate-covered bacon didn't make us think it would be any different. We were wrong: the state fair is on its way to becoming a veritable vegetarian paradise!

I couldn't believe the amount of great vegetarian food at the fair. I feel that I witnessed a real change in American eating habits and tastes. The fair used to be all corn dogs, ham biscuits, smoked turkey legs, and deep-fried everything. To be sure, those foods still dominate, along with new confections like chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick. But the fair is a merciless environment in which profitable foods succeed and ones that don't sell don't return. People are clearly asking for and buying vegetarian and vegetable dishes at the fair. Consider joining them to cast your vote for the success of these meals.

We had just entered the main food area when I stopped in my tracks. There was the V word: one I'd never thought I'd see at the fair except as an expletive: vegetarian! Party-in-a-Pita was offering not just one vegetarian option, but several, and listing them above the plates for meat lovers! We made note of the location and continued to explore. (We eventually had delicious falafel pitas here .. .turns out they are based in Cary.)

Just a little further along, I stopped to look around. Behold: bracketing the chicken-fried bacon was not only the old standby corn on the cob, but a veggie tempura platter!

I was starting to feel a little dizzy with excitement, so it's a good thing that the next thing we saw was Dr. Vegetable himself. Yes, the veggies are all deep-fried and keep company with corn dogs. But they are still veggies at the fair. We're even talking broccoli and cauliflower here, folks.

But the highpoint was a poster announcing the official cooking contests. The very first contest was sponsored by the North Carolina Peanut Growers Association: the Pea-nutty Vegetarian Recipe Contest. They even underlined the word "vegetarian"! Other contests include ones with Karo Corn Syrup and self-quoted "casseroles" — but the Pea-nutty contest reflects an embrace of vegetarianism by one of our biggest farm associations that I wouldn't have thought possible.

Don't think that the fair has become or even should become a minimalist spa-cuisine experience. Fried dough still seemed to be the most popular "vegetarian" snack. Rich food can be an important part of a celebration. The trick is to not eat chocolate-covered bacon every day or to drink the sugar equivalent of cotton candy every day with your lunch. But I'm delighted to see evidence that the growing number of people who buy the vegetarian choices and who ask for them if they were not there can finally see results.

More details plus pix at http://cookforgood.com/vegetarian_fai...

Did anybody else notice this trend?

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  1. Thank you for you this post! Yes, I've been noticing this trend for some time, but it has been growing slowly. The Fair has always had such things, but you had to look very carefully, read small print, etc. At the Got to Be N.C. Festival earlier this year (also put on by the N.C. Dept. of Ag), someone was selling soba noodle bowls. I thought some grilled shrimp would have made them perfect :-), but they were very tasty just the way the sold them - lots of stir-fried vegies with soba noodles and tasty sauce. Hot sauce on the side. Yes, it's out there folks. Be sure to buy it if you want it to be there next year! (Wish I could make some specific suggestions for this year's Fair, but I haven't been yet.)

    1. One of the greatest food items that has been at the NC State Fair for years is the baked sweet potato served with butter or with cinnamon and brown sugar or with both. The booth with sweet potatoes is usually at the end of the line of booths between the Jim Graham Building and the Exposition Center. The sweet potatoes are delicious and a great warmer-upper if it's a cool day at the fair.