Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alaska State Fair

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
Where: Palmer, Alaska
When: September 3, 2011
Why: To prove, once and for all time, that it's easy being vegan. Anywhere.

The Scoop: My first Alaska trek was to be quick and unscripted; then I spotted a story in the Anchorage Daily News about giant vegetables at the Alaska State Fair. Off went an email to the Fair's press contact, which I immediately forgot about it, too busy exploring the state's largest city. At 2pm my phone rings. By 3:30 I was on the fairgrounds in Palmer, 45 miles northeast of Anchorage and a few miles east of the hell-hole of (ug) Wasilla.

As state fairs go, this one was average size. Alaska's population, less than 700,000, is the only thing not large in the state. The massive veggies I saw equal the scope of this beautiful and vast paradise, with mountains and forests and rivers and wildlife all around. At all times. Breathtaking.

But back to the fair. An 11-pound zucchini? How about a 126-pound cabbage? Then there's the Alaska state record pumpkin, weighing in at 1,287 pounds. Yes, nearly 24 hours of summer sun has its rewards. For the record, the state record for a bunch of kale is 106 pounds. That's a lot of calcium. 

Pumpkin Champ: 1,287 pounds

Whole lotta kimchi: 126 pounds of cabbage

Now, since I am here, in addition to the developmentally advanced produce, I have to stake out the vegan options, yes? Did I, walking the grounds in search of anything animal-free. To my pleasant surprise, there was an abundance.

My tastiest find was Rae's Gourmet Tamales, impossible to miss with large round signs reading "New Vegetarian Chile over Rice" and "Black Beans and Rice Bowl," both $6. Ms. Rae and her daughter Jennifer always make sure at least one tamale is veg, and today it was green and sweet yellow corn with a side of rice and beans ($11).

Chile and Black Beans over Rice

Rae and Jennifer, mother-daughter tamale queens

PB and Jesus? Patron saint of peanut Butter? Holy Madonna, at St. Michael's Parish for just $2 you can get every kid's fave sandwich and attend Saturday night Mass.

I said everything up here is big, yes? Check out J & L Granny's Alaska-sized order of potato chips (below), an order of which will set you back $9 and take, oh, several weeks to polish off. Also on the menu: onion rings, curly fries, and fried zucchini. Ah, fat.

Vagabond Blues had an entirely veg menu, featuring a vegan Boca burger (with sun-dried tomato hummus), a Garden burger (hold the optional cheese), as well as soups, veg wraps, garlic potato chips, and even a veggie corn dog, plus fresh squeezed apple and orange juice.

Cute honors to Hoop 'n' Hula Milk 'n' Cookies. Treats sold for $2.50, with a 50-cent "doughnation" from each purchase earmarked for the "local or global" charity of your choice. They even offer Silk Vanilla as one of their liquid options. 

Oh, there was plenty more. On the savory side, how about deep fried "shroomies" and "sweeties" sweet potato fries; hot roasted corn on the cob at $4 per ear; more greese from Curly Bob's Deep Fried Vegetables ('shrooms, zucchini, onion blossoms); and The Pastie Shack—stuffed pocket pies—dishing up a veggie pocket?

For the sweet tooth, The Pastie Shack also offered cherry and apple pockets; what would a state fair be without Elephant Ears—fried dough in cinnamon and powered sugar varieties; and finally Becky's Original Kettle Korn, clean and vegan with a recipe of just popcorn, oil, sugar, and salt.

Ah yes, veganism abounded at the Fair. Even one of the non-food vendors proudly advertised her cruelty-freeness. Can you stand one more pic? Check out Su'z Alaska Natural Soy Products:

An unplanned visit where most would never imagine finding anything vegan felt like winning the lottery. Well, almost. Now, off to Mass with my PB&J. You reading this, Mom?


JennBenn said...

This is fantastic to hear! When I visited Alaska in 1999 the choices for veg eaters, let alone vegans, was close to nothing. The many signs advertising "Raindeer Burgers" made me sick to my stomach. It sounds like there has been some veg awareness creeping in up there. Woo hoo!

Remy said...

This makes me want to go to Alaska even more! Good to know that veg options have improved.

RSA Certificate said...

Oh my goodness. That pumpkin is huge 1287 pounds. I love pumpkin with sour cream and paprika. Imagine how much sour cream I would need.

I think it's a homer simpson momment.