Is there such thing as healthy food at the fair?


Thomas Cordova/Staff Photographer

I posed this question in a Sunday article about food at the L.A. County Fair. I learned three things in my reporting.

1. Beyond the deep-friend Oreos and mile-long hot dogs, healthy food does exist. There’s grilled chicken breast, veggie options and gasp! even fresh fruit.

2. If it’s healthy, the fair will make it less healthy. Take grilled corn for example. Most fair goers will smother it with butter and mayo. Another example is the zucchini. The fair will stuff a hot dog inside the squash and fry it.

3. Even unhealthy foods get the unhealthy treatment. Indian fry bread is already fattening right? It’s deep fried dough made out of Crisco. But the fair will make a taco out of it, by dumping chili con carne and cheese all over it.

Read on for the full article.

Call me an overachiever, but instead of scoring a cool 100 on a recent test, I went above and beyond to pull off a 180.

The problem was, the test happened at the doctor’s office and the figure showed my bad cholesterol level.

Fearing that I would have a heart attack right then and there, my doctor shooed me away to start a three-month diet. Do a 180 on your 180 and you won’t have to go on medication, she said.

Eating well and exercising is antithetical to everything I stand for and worst of all, this diet falls smack in the middle of the L.A. County Fair.

We all know that the annual Fairplex extravaganza in Pomona, which celebrates deep-fried Twinkies and turkey legs the size of a newborn, is not exactly the place you go to lower your triglyceride levels.

But does paying a visit to the Fair necessarily mean you have to toss your diet out of the sky ride?

Selena Stuckey of Upland, who treated her son, Harrison, to a dinner of fried frog legs and french fries, was stumped.

“Something healthy? I don’t know. Maybe iced drinks?” she said. “I think you’re out of luck, girl.”

Stuckey and her family are big fans of Chicken Charlie, the mecca of all things fried. This year, the “zucchini weeni” is all the rage — a hot dog stuffed inside the green squash, battered and dunked into a pool of oil.

It’s nothing a little Lipitor can’t fix, right?

If you look hard, staving off high cholesterol medication is possible.

At Terri’s Berries, located at Shopping Place, the fresh fruit looks strangely out of place. A $5 fruit bowl gives you a tasting of raspberries, green grapes, champagne grapes, blueberries and strawberries.

“We’re the healthiest stand here,” declared Nikkie Lucio, who sells about 70 fruit bowls on a good day.

For something more substantial, the deli inside the Wine & Spirits Marketplace sells fresh salads and paninis.

If you skimp on the butter and sour cream, you can get a pretty healthy baked potato at several locations throughout the fair. Some offer veggies, turkey and salsa as toppings.

I settled for a fish ceviche at Pepe’s near Clocktower Plaza. For $3, I got fish marinated in lime juice, cilantro, tomatoes and onion. However, the cashier forgot to mention it was served on a tostada, which glistened in all its deep-fried glory.

It’s no oatmeal with flax seed, but it’ll have to do.

The thing that’s disappointing about this high cholesterol diagnosis is it came all too soon. Thirty-two years of eating bad food just doesn’t seem long enough in one lifetime.

When you’re eating at the Fair, counting calories just seems counterintuitive.

Steering clear of fatty foods isn’t the only thing to keep in mind. You also have to be mindful of portion sizes, said Vannessa Wada, a registered dietician at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

That means sharing a smoked turkey leg with all your co-workers: good. Eating the whole leg by yourself before hitting the Indian fried bread stand for dessert: bad.

“When you go from one station to another station getting multiple things at a time, it’s a heart attack waiting to happen,” Wada said.

Also, be careful of fatty foods in disguise, Wada said.

A perfect example is the grilled corn sold at nearly a dozen stands throughout the Fair. Unadorned corn is perfectly healthy but slather on the condiments and that same corn changes personality.

Jesse Del Toro of Los Angeles, who has been coming to the Fair for 50 years, does not hold back when it comes to dressing his corn. There’s not a condiment he doesn’t like, and that includes butter, mayonnaise, salt, chile, lime and parmesan cheese.

“That’s why I come to the Fair … for the corn,” Del Toro said.

At least Del Toro doesn’t make a daily habit out of it. Fair-styled corn is a treat.

“If you get sick, it’s only once a year,” he said.