In Iowa, Indiana State Fairs, Weird Foods Reign

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The food sold at state fairs around the country has become an arms race of fat and calories, as vendors try to get fair-goers to eat newer and wackier things. At the Iowa State fair, more than 50 different foods are sold on a stick. At the Indiana State Fair, corndogs and funnel cakes are out and the Donut Burger is in!

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We're going to dedicate the last few minutes of the hour to a kind of arms race. The weapons of choice are a little bit of imagination and an awful lot of calories. The battlegrounds are fairgrounds.

Vendors at state fairs across the country are once again trying to get fair-goers to eat newer, wackier things, and almost all of them are remarkably unhealthful. In the first of two reports, Jonathan Ahl of Iowa Public Radio takes us to the Iowa State Fair, where more than 50 different foods are sold on a stick.

JONATHAN AHL: I'm next to one of the many food booths here at the Iowa State Fair. This one's right outside the grandstand, along the main drag, through the main part of the fair. And this isn't a place to get health food.

Ms. ALICIA BRAMER(ph): It's tradition.

AHL: Alicia Bramer of Des Moines says eating outrageous things at the fair is a lifelong endeavor. This year, she's trying one of the new items: chocolate-covered frozen tiramisu on a stick. She says she isn't concerned about how unhealthy this snack may be.

Ms. BRAMER: I try not to think about that. When I'm at the fair, anything goes. I don't think about the calories, worry about that next week when you're at the gym.

AHL: Also new at the fair this year are ground pork sliders and a hot dog in the shape of an octopus known as the Octodog. You can get some healthy food at the Iowa State Fair, but it's hard to come by. The Salad Bowl is a stand that sells healthy choices, including salad on a stick. Becky Russell(ph) of Eagle Grove is getting on, but that's not all she plans to eat today.

Ms. BECKY RUSSELL: Oh, I'll get something later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RUSSELL: Probably a foot-long corn dog or a bucket of cookies, pork chop on a stick.

AHL: And Russell is the only person in line at the Salad Bowl, while 40 people are waiting to get their hands on another new treat this year. Thinking the old standby, the fried Twinkie, needed a little extra punch, it's now available dipped in white chocolate, rolled in nuts and topped with whipped cream. It's called the Twinkie log.

So I'm going to take a bite here. Oh my, is that good, and it's so bad for me. For NPR News, I'm Jonathan Ahl at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

ERIKA CELESTE: I'm Erika Celeste at the Indiana State Fair, where corn dogs and funnel cakes are out, and something much more decadent, the doughnut burger, is in. You heard right, the doughnut burger: a fresh patty of beef and melted cheese sandwiched between two glazed doughnuts.

When vendor Dennis Reese(ph) first heard about the doughnut burger, even he thought it was over the top. But then something happened.

Mr. DENNIS REESE: I say I seen Paula Deen do it on TV, and when she does something, you know, she can sell anything.

CELESTE: At 800 calories a burger, fair-goer Mike Myers(ph) gets a couple for his family.

Mr. MIKE MYERS: Yeah, it's just something that sounds really good, and I wanted to give it a try.

CELESTE: His daughter Kayla(ph), a toddler with blonde curls, is beyond delighted. Without using her hand, she dives face-first to lick the doughnut burger.

Unidentified Woman: Do you want to take a big bite?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CELESTE: The Myers say this new delicacy has a salty-sweet taste and is surprisingly not greasy. It puts them in an adventurous spirit.

Mr. MYERS: We've got to try something else disgusting here. I'm going to go with the deep-fried Twinkie.

Ms. KAYLA MYERS: (Unintelligible).

CELESTE: There are plenty of stands to choose from. Some sell deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried Pepsi, even deep-fried butter - that's right, butter. Dennis Reese's son Blake(ph) introduces a new concept.

Mr. BLAKE REESE: Oh, it's pigs in the mud. It's the chocolate-covered bacon that we do.

CELESTE: Over by the livestock barn, pig farmer Dick Brown(ph) says he's for anything that promotes his livestock.

(Soundbite of pig)

Mr. DICK BROWN (Pig Farmer): Whatever sells. You know, if it's a good market outlet, there's a lot of different avenues we can, you know, go down to, you know, sell our produce.

CELESTE: Blake Reese agrees.

Mr. BLAKE REESE: Out here you see capitalism in action more so than anywhere else because you have the free flow of ideas and ideas bouncing off one another.

CELESTE: Blake Reese calls food vendors at the fair American entrepreneurs at their best, though maybe not their healthiest.

For NPR News, I'm Erika Celeste.

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