Any event whose epicurean episodes are mostly on a stick – including one of this year’s new entrees, the Fry Dog, a deep-fried hot dog encrusted with french fries – hardly evokes the term “comfort food.” But in the emotional sense of the term, the State Fair’s familiarity seemed to mean more to Minnesotans this year. Indeed, despite – or perhaps because of – the Great Recession, the “Great Minnesota Get Together” set an attendance record of 1,790,497.
Of course, there are many factors that may have contributed to the turnstiles spinning at such a rate, including a stretch of weather that justifies living in these parts in January.
But much of it was economic, with some Minnesotans taking “staycations” and budgeting just enough to do what amounts to splurging in these times - making two visits to the fair.
As with any economic decision, value – and in this case, values – may have come into play. “There’s something deeper at work here,” said Jerry Hammer, the State Fair’s general manager. “It’s not just nice days. Especially with the economy as it is, I think people want something to feel good about. I think they want something they can count on.”
Of course, counting on the same thing every year can make the very attraction of stability stale in its own right. “We’re careful with change,” said Hammer. “But if you continue to do the same things, you quickly become a museum. And that’s not what the fair’s all about.”
What the fair is all about varies from fairgoer to fairgoer. But in the broader sense, maybe it’s the collective that connects us.
The happy throngs at the fair contrasted sharply with images of this summer’s not-so-great get together, congressional town hall meetings. They've been more bizarre than bipartisan, with images of gun-packing detractors outside packed halls and one attendee’s pinky partly bitten off during a recent town hall scrum in
So maybe this year's fair was political comfort food, served as a reminder that while Minnesotans may disagree, they’re mostly agreeable.
"This place is a safe haven,” says Hammer Indeed, in 2009, the fair's delicacies-on-a-stick certainly were more comforting than many town hall events, where a disgusting kind of "finger food'' appeared to be the menu item of choice.