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Gazette employees find 'Garden of Eatin' at Rock County 4-H Fair

By Catherine W. Idzerda
July 29, 2015

JANESVILLE—Fellow reporter and human twig Jake Magee and I were assigned Tuesday to write a story about food at the Rock County 4-H Fair. Photographer Angela Major came with us to document the experience.

Here is some background on the participants:

Twig-boy is 24, and his metabolism operates like freight train.

I am 49. Metabolism is just a random idea to me, a historical artifact like rotary dial phones or Model T's. However, I have spent the last five months on a successful diet, and I treasure being smaller, healthier and more energetic.

Angela is a charming and talented photojournalist.

Go forth, the editors said, and find us healthy food at the fair! Tell us what's available! Make it fun!

My job was to find healthy fair food, while Jake's task was to eat the high-calorie treats.

Temperatures stayed in the 80s all day at the fairgrounds, and with the heat index in the low 90s, it was difficult to contemplate food hot off the grill or out of the fryer. But we are dedicated to our craft, and when we're paid to eat hot food on a hot day, we do so with gusto—especially when we know we can put it on our expense accounts.

I started at the Pork Place.

Why? Because Monica Wheeler's shirt said, “Counting carbohydrates? Make it pork!” Plus, the Wheelers use the same spice mix they use at Janesville's Porkfest.

A 6-ounce boneless pork sandwich was $5.

I threw out the bun. I'm going to hell for that, I know, but I wasn't eating those empty calories. My guilt-driven system of moral values now requires me to buy two loaves of bread for the food pantry.

Next, I sampled a $5.50 baked potato with beans, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini at Billie's Potato.

“That looks like it might have actual nutrients in it,” Angela said.

The potato has about 160 calories but very little of the dietary fiber that makes other vegetables so valuable. I asked for just a little sour cream, but apparently “a little” means different things to different people. I ended up eating around most of it.

To drink, I bought a fresh-squeezed lemonade but asked for less sweetener in it. Without all that sugar, it tasted perfect: slightly tart and very refreshing. The large was $4.50. Calories? Unknown.

However, the lemons at the bottom were a nice addition to free water from the fountain near the show ring.

As Jake ordered a deep-fried Snickers bar, I stood next to the booth and inhaled the scent of funnel cakes, praying for strength.

But after months of eating almost no sweets or baked goods, the deep-fried Snickers had the mucky, overly sweet taste I usually associate with cotton candy. Jake didn't like it, either. Based on our reactions, Angela refused to try it.

Things were going well for me until Jake ordered fried cheese curds from the Optimists. Angela, being from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had never eaten them, and this seemed like a good enough reason to order them.

I decided to have just one. Then I had another. And another.

I asked Jake to move them away from me, so I would have to reach way across his body to get them. But the melted cheese … the crispy coating … the marvelous combination of fat and salt ... I couldn't stop myself.

They say the road to hell is paved with fried cheese curds—that and discarded buns.

WCLO's Andrea Morrow joined us, bringing a jumbo pretzel from Ben's Soft Pretzels. It was a fat, plate-sized pretzel coated with butter and a gentle sprinkling of salt. She couldn't eat the whole thing and offered the rest to us.

After months of eating very little bread, the pretzel tasted like the apple Eve gave to Adam. I devoured the remainder.

Calories? Carbohydrates? I don't know. I had been cast out of the garden and regretted taking the first bite.

Finally, we had to have dessert. The chocolate-covered banana place was closed. I was feeling too woozy to attempt a funnel cake, though the scent still haunted me.

We settled for a cream puff. I removed some the cream from my half and gamely took a bite.

Of course it was delicious. Then Twig-boy made some remark about not worrying about calories. I thought about killing him then and there, but I decided to let nature take its course.

In 20 years, his metabolism will slow to a crawl and then disappear almost completely. Then we'll see how much fair food he can eat.