Concessions at The Great New York State Fair (or foul?)

Traditional carnival foods may be one-time treats for some, but also showcase the lack of nutritional knowledge many Americans have about food.

There is perhaps no better way to observe the state of American health culture than at The Great New York State Fair.

Proudly displayed on posts and columns are “I ♥ NY Smoke Free” signs next to concessions’ menus offering fried dough, Oreos, foot-long hot dogs, beer and pizza pies. The entrance to the Kids’ Zone is labeled a “smoke-free zone,” but it contains a dessert stand and a taco concession.

"We sell mainly fried pickles. We always hear people talking about how they are getting vegetables from us and they’re being healthy at the fair." - Shelley, Worker at Fresh Fried Veggies by Dr. Vegetable

Smoking is bad — that much the State Fair believes. Carnival food, however, is fair game.

One could argue that carnival food is nostalgic; deep-fried, fattening, oil-laden foods that are a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, staples of the carnival circuit that only add to the experience. But they also serve as prime examples of many individuals’ lack of knowledge regarding nutrition and caloric content.

“We don’t know anything,” said Bill Patterson, who works at Barlow’s Concessions. “Our best-selling products are fried dough and lemonade.”

That fried dough will net you about 750 calories per serving. But if the lemonade seems innocuous, think again. A 32-ounce lemonade — there is an “everything is Texas-sized” sign at Barlow’s—has roughly 400 calories and 100 grams of sugar.

The USDA recommends a maximum daily allowance of 20 grams of sugar.

“We try to eat very healthily,” said Robin, an out-of-town visitor whose daughter enjoys the carnival rides. “Trips like these are an experience. When we come to the state fair, we just don’t eat healthily.”

Robin noted that there is not a single truly healthy option offered at the fair as she watched a young family pushing a stroller, a bag of Goldfish and an apple visible in the carrier.

“That’s really what you have to do,” she said.

“Our best-selling items are the turkey legs and chicken kabobs,” said Jessica, a server at Fontana’s Concessions. “It’s a staple. You just keep wanting more. People always, always come back for it.” She has overheard customers noting that turkey is “healthy” meat.

“I guess they are just justifying it,” Jessica said, before turning to a customer who had put in an order for a turkey leg.

At home, an oven-roasted turkey leg, depending on size and skin, has between 150-250 calories.

At a carnival, those enormous turkey legs total almost 1,200 calories.

Shelley, a teenaged worker at Fresh Fried Veggies by Dr. Vegetable, echoed similar stories.

“We sell mainly fried pickles,” Shelley said. “We always hear people talking about how they are getting vegetables from us and they’re being healthy at the fair.”

Fresh Fried Veggies takes zucchinis, pickles, mushrooms and onions — otherwise healthy foods — breads them, and then deep-fries them.

One cup of boiled white mushrooms contains about 45 calories. One cup of deep-fried, breaded white mushrooms contains about 314 — and Fresh Fried Veggies provides a container of ranch dressing with each order.

At least if someone goes into cardiac arrest help is nearby. Fresh Fried Veggies by Dr. Vegetable is a literal name; a medical doctor actually owns the concessions.

Still, there is an effort to counteract those foods. NY Fresh Connect Farmer’s Market has a stall near the entrance to the state fair, which volunteer Kristina Kyle notes is strategic.

“We actually sell a lot of produce by the bushels, and our fruit cups sell out every day,” Kyle says. “People can buy the vegetables on their way out. Maybe they feel guilty after all the food they eat in there. But the good news is we are selling produce, and we are often sold out of certain items.”

So long as those veggies aren’t selling out to Dr. Vegetable, that is good news indeed.

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