The European Middle Ages had an institution called the “Feast of Fools,” a big outdoor party where peasants were given licence to mock socially important people and ideas. It was a planned stress-relief moment during which nothing was sacred. Today’s municipal fairs and exhibitions play the same role, with food moralism as the target. These are places where one is licensed to ignore “sensible eating”—zones where doctors fear to tread, and Canada’s Food Guide curls up and grows pale.
The Calgary Stampede is the West’s acknowledged mecca for excessive fairground cuisine. The ground rules are well-known: fry it, impale it on a stick, or, if practical, do both. The hot trend this year, however, was meat playfully disguised as a dessert or aperitif: the pulled-pork parfait, the “turkey-tini” (a micro turkey dinner in a martini glass), and even a beef-and-mashed-potato-based “cowboy sundae.” The other popular manoeuvre on the midway in 2011 was the use of maple as a condiment; even the doughnut burger, notorious at U.S. fairs and ballparks as “the Luther,” came Canadianized—served between halves of a maple dip. Let history note, though, that the masterminds behind the exhibition’s official new-food prize-winner, the Kubie Korn Balls from Maggie’s Kubasa, defied fashion by offering buyers only corn syrup.
Maclean’s best in show pick? Not the Kubie Korn Balls (corn fritters with Ukrainian sausage that don’t quite have enough of either). We liked the deep-fried Pop-Tart, garlanded with whipped cream and Fruity Pebbles cereal, from the Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake stand near the Saddledome and the BMO Kids Zone. For anyone raised on Saturday cartoons and after-school junk food, it’s a sizzling, irresistibly nostalgic burst of artificial flavour.