Norton | Can a diet survive the county fair? – Local News

Emily Garcia puts together a fruit cut at the Raspados del Sur food cart on Saturday at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Emily Garcia puts together a fruit cut at the Raspados del Sur food cart on Saturday at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.


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A pair of beef cuts roast on an electric spit at the Piggly’s Barbecue food cart on Saturday at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

A pair of beef cuts roast on an electric spit at the Piggly’s Barbecue food cart on Saturday at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.


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Teresa Deanda and Anthony Marquez work on filling orders at the Maguey Grill booth at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Teresa Deanda and Anthony Marquez work on filling orders at the Maguey Grill booth at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.


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The United States Department of Agriculture has specific guidelines to ensure a healthy lifestyle: Make sure half of your plate is fruits and vegetables, eat whole grains, eat low-fat or fat-free dairy, limit saturated fats and sodium.

But what about the week of the county fair, when classic fair foods such as cotton candy, deep fried corn dogs and elephant ears come into our lives? Or when the savory scent of pork roasting over a mesquite barbecue is enough to make anyone’s mouth water and stomach grumble?

Fairgoers must make the difficult decision between greasy and delicious fair food and sticking to a healthy diet. But what if there was an option that featured the best of both worlds — appetizing food that isn’t that bad for you?

I set out on the hunt to find it on Saturday at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston.

The Umatilla County Public Health Department set up a table at the fair to pass out free gear related to suicide prevention, including purple drawstring bags that read “Your life matters.” It was also handing out fruit and vegetable cups to kids, but by the end of the week it had run out. Monica Lopez said some vendors sell fruit cups with chili powder, a healthy choice. But while surrounded by the abundance of fatty foods at every corner, she had trouble thinking of other options.

“I guess they have kettle corn, but I don’t know how healthy that is,” offered Mandy Erhardt.

So I headed over to KC Brand Kettle Corn to ascertain just what’s in the sweet snack is. Zac Berven described it as “along the line of chips,” meaning it was cooked in an oil and had a lot of carbs and sugar.

“It’s a great snack, but I wouldn’t recommend eating it every day,” he said.

According to Livestrong, a three-cup serving of kettle corn contains 195 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates and a little over seven grams of fat. As for other fair foods, Livestrong writes funnel cakes have about 760 calories and 44 grams of fat and a three-ounce plate of cheese fries are about 360 calories. Elephant ears contain about 300 to 500 calories, according to Time.

Berven said it is possible to eat healthy at the fair, but it’s hard. He suggested taco stands, which use less oil.

On the other side of the fairgrounds, Brandi and Tony George were enjoying beef nachos under the canopy of Ruty’s Restaurant, a Hermiston mainstay selling food at the fair.

The Georges said they typically eat healthy by cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables at home, but the fair is a time to binge on unhealthy goodies.

“I always have to have my corn dog,” Tony said.

Brandi mentioned that she saw a person drinking a juice with chia seeds, which are commonly referred to as a “superfood,” and according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus and zinc.

So I went out in search of where this drink was sold, thinking it would lead me to an abundance of healthy options.

Just as I started to lose hope, lost amongst the funnel cakes, fries topped with cheese sauce and ice cream cones, I found it. Hanging on a clear juice canister was a small sign with the words “cucumber with chia seeds.” It was housed at Maguey Grill, a California vendor that works the fair circuit. The cucumber drink was aguas frescas, a fruit beverage blended with sugar and water. The stand also had a watermelon flavor and a mango and pineapple flavor.

I asked the woman working at the stand, Teresa Deanda, if she thought it was possible to eat healthy at the fair. She gave me a discerning look.

“Yes, because for us everything we make is healthy,” she said.

Deanda said she makes the rice without canned goods. She also uses Mazola corn oil, which according to a study cited in Prevention magazine can be more effective than olive oil in reducing bad cholesterol. And the aguas frescas are made fresh every day, according to Deanda. And to top it all off: “We serve fresh fruit cups,” she said gesturing to a fridge filled with cups of melon, cucumber and pineapple.

I felt like I had found the holy grail of healthy fair food, even with the admittedly processed cheese nachos on the menu.

Angie Treadwell of the Oregon State University extension program and SNAP-ed coordinator promotes healthy living, but she said life is all about balance.

“Putting it in perspective, if you’re going to eat an elephant ear once a year that’s not that bad,” she said.

If someone did overindulge at the fair, the best way to get back on track for healthy eating is to get back to a routine and implement some self-care.

“They should do things to take care of their body,” she said.

But she also endorsed the fair for other healthy attributes, such as community interaction. Treadwell said being part of a community is another important component to well-being. Plus, people engage in light exercise by attending the fair.

“Everybody’s walking — they’re already off to a good start,” she said.

So, yes it is possible to eat healthy at the fair. With fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy cooking oils, all signs point to taco stands. But with a surfeit of greasy and sugary foods at every turn, people might be better off saying, “The diet starts tomorrow.”

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Brittany Norton is the summer intern for the East Oregonian. Contact her at bnorton@eastoregonian.com


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