More and more people are rebelling against the food police


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At a time when healthy eating has seized Canadian culture by the love handles, subversion is a halved maple-glazed doughnut stuffed with ground-beef, cheese and bacon.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/07/2011 (4276 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At a time when healthy eating has seized Canadian culture by the love handles, subversion is a halved maple-glazed doughnut stuffed with ground-beef, cheese and bacon.

The “doughnut burger” is just one of a long list of fair foods clamouring to clog our arteries this summer, with caloric one-upmanship being vendors’ most sacred annual sport. The untold story, however, is exactly what causes educated eaters to genuflect at their deep-fryers.

James Paton, a self-professed “very, very healthy” guy any other time of year, consumed nearly 3,000 calories in one hour at the Calgary Stampede this week — a bounty that included a deep-fried Snickers, pizza-on-a-stick, a corn dog, two colas, five deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried cheesecake, and three jalapeno poppers.

The 25-year-old university student was attempting to usurp a friend as the biggest exhibition eater — a playful rivalry that began between the two on 2010’s midway grounds.

“We’re both pretty competitive people, so there’s a sporting aspect to it,” says Paton. “But when things started to really digest, it wasn’t just my stomach that hurt; my whole torso was in pain.”

Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, says the paradoxical tendencies of eating well and eating incredibly poorly can not only co-exist, but that one actually drives the other.

“Part of the fun of going to the fair is seeing bizarre things you don’t normally see and eating bizarre things you don’t normally eat, especially if they taste really good,” says Thompson. “And good things are usually made better by deep-frying.”

He cites novelty as a key driver of the “stunt food” trend, which in recent years has taken the more mainstream form of KFC’s Double Down, Wendy’s Baconator, and Domino’s Bread Bowl Pasta, to name a few.

“It’s become an arms race, where everyone wants a bigger weapon,” says Thompson. “I’ve had a Double Down, and it made a deep-fried Twinkie seem like a healthy alternative.”

According to foodservice consultancy Technomic, consumers are also being driven to excess by cultural moralizing over nutrition. That is, as expanding waistlines make more headlines (in Canada, 62 per cent of people are considered overweight, with a quarter qualifying as obese), proselytizing over healthy eating has led many folks to do the opposite.

“Most consumers, when polled, say they follow their ‘own diet.’ That could mean that they’re good Monday through Friday, and then on Saturday and Sunday say, ‘To hell with it!'” says Ron Paul, president of Technomic. “They’re rejecting the food police, in effect.”

Some of the more punk-rock offerings this summer include the aforementioned doughnut burger; pancake breakfast ice cream, featuring maple syrup, chunks of buttermilk pancake and bacon; deep-fried Pop Tarts; mac-and-cheese pizza; and a Monster Burger — one kilogram of beef, half a pound (0.2 kilogram) of bacon, spiced cheddar cheese and all the fixings — big enough to feed a family of eight.

Food anthropologist Krystyna Sieciechowicz says such fatty fare could be considered shorthand for community participation.

“These festivals are equalizers, with different economic groups mingling and sharing in the same experience and sense of place,” says Sieciechowicz, an associate professor at the University of Toronto. “There’s permission (to indulge) by virtue of the fact that everybody else is doing it.”

David Bednar, general manager of the Canadian National Exhibition, confesses that more and more fairgoers claim to want healthier alternatives. The industry, however, isn’t convinced — not least after literally striking oil last year with deep-fried butter, some 800 pounds of which were sold.

Says Bednar: “Our motto has always been, ‘If you fry it, they buy it.'”


— Postmedia News

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