The State Fair Isn’t

A majority of my runs follow the straight and narrow stretch of rail-trail that links downtown Indianapolis to all points North. One notable section intersects the State fairgrounds and the often empty parking spots that get used by either Indy 500 urban campers or the fair carnies who take refuge in their campers and indulge in all sorts of, well, carnal pleasures. I don’t wanna know.

I enjoy running this stretch of trail and every year there comes a day when the first of the carnie trucks pulls up and starts unloading the pieces of one of their rickety amusement rides. I feel like a little kid who just watched the circus train on the horizon and now has a duty to tell everyone what’s coming. “The fair is here! The fair is here!”

But that was then and this is now. See, some of my more hipster cohorts always get pumped about going to the fair, but not because they really enjoy what the fair is all about, but rather because they like to play the cliche. They’ll dig a worn out cowboy hat out of their closet and pretend to get excited about eating deep fried shit…hey, I call it what it is. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed going to the fair. I liked people watching (the hoosier species is really quite a sight), I liked studying the simplistic mechanics of the old style tractors, I liked the pioneer village and so on. But really, that got old. After attending the fair a few years in a row the gloss tends to wear off, or more realistically, the gloss turns out to be a low-grade, environmentally destructive shellac that dried up and flaked off after a couple years in the sun and the true surface underneath showed through. That surface being a dull, rusted veneer of gross.

After a few years at the fair, things get old. The people no longer become fascinating, but really just sad. The price of ride tickets completely overshadows any joy my stepson gets from spinning in dizzying circles while I wait for errant bolts to fly off and hit unsuspecting passersby. The elephant ears, which every so often seem like a fun thing to eat, always turn out to taste like absolute non-food like crap.

Still, as ugly as a picture I’ve painted, I find I can still overlook all that if only to find a nugget of fun amidst all that absurdity. But not this year.

This year I feel like I’ve been reinvigorated in my ethics or at least my unwillingness to compromise them for certain social events. The fair has pushed me to the edge once again. Each year the fair presents “something” as its theme, which in the past years has always been one crop or another – corn one year, soy the next, and so on. I always see this as an extension of corporate agribusiness, but it’s hard to get offended about something like corn…then this year they announced their promotional product.


This year it’s “The year of the pigs”. I could instantly feel my stomach turn in anger, because I knew what was to come – a whole lot of cruelty wrapped up in the cotton candy coated pill of good ol fashioned country fair fun. And I was right.

The first headline of our major newspaper read, “Squeals of delight!” when all I could envision were all those sensitive and happy pigs packed next to each other on concrete floors, their tails unceremoniously cut off, their piglets trying to nurse in cold, wet and filthy conditions. I could only envision the reality of factory farming, of what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, and although the awareness of how livestock animals are treated in our culture is as clear as day, the paper still has the audacity to present such a cute headline.

Then the rest of the absurdity follows. The food competition this year revolves around pigs, wherein vendors create such flawed darwinian creations such as pigs in a pancake on a stick, chocolate covered bacon, and the rightfully named “garbage burger” (consisting of pulled pork on top of pork on top of who knows what else).

See….it’s all a joke. There are pig races (one of the bigger attractions every year) where the pigs where capes. There are “ham cams”. There are birthing sows where huge pigs lay trying to nurse their newborns while a non-stop stream of fairgoers oohs and aahs at the cute piglets, reaching through the metal bars to continuously torment them by removing all sense of privacy, despite the useless signs asking people to leave the pigs alone.

It’s all a JOKE.

The reality of these animals lives is nothing but an inconvenience to the perception people need to uphold in order to continue eating their bodies in the forms of unhealthy, cliche, joke food. The mental torment these animals experience. The physical pain they feel. The nauseating and overpowering smells they are subjected to every day. The blatant cruelty hoisted upon them once we turn their sentient existence inside out and view them only as “product”. The final death blow that is an ultimate insult to a life of misery.

All that is an inconvenience to the fact that we want to make a JOKE out of their place in our culture. All that is an annoyance to our need to eat crap non-food and not care about our ethical obligation to those around us.

See, if we make a JOKE out of them, then we devalue their experiences and have no more regard for their well-being. They’re just dumb animals right?

Wrong. So wrong.

And it’s this joke that makes it so much worse. I still wouldn’t take part, but I could actually stomach the presentation a little better if agribusiness and the farmers were honest about the lives of these animals. If they showed their misery. If they subjected the rest of us to the smell these animals must live in. If they showed oversized images of factory farms instead of idyllic pastoral fabrications of days long gone. If they were simply HONEST about what happens to these animals on today’s farms. But they aren’t…they lie. Blatantly. And worse, they insult the lives of these animals, as well as our own intelligence, by turning it into a charade of clever one-liners and pig noses for the kids, dressing up the misery of these animals as fair fun.

So I’m not playing that game this year. Free coupon to the fair or not, I’m not stepping through those fair gates and letting the ticket taker log me into the system as one more head to count, one more statistic to bring to advertisers for the coming years. Because that’s what fairgoers ultimately become, incentive for advertisers and reasons to continue this tradition of corporate agri-business, human stupidity and blatant animal cruelty. No matter if you spend money on a ticket or not, just being counted is what counts to the animals.

Short of all out liberatory actions (use your imagination) the easiest way to combat this cruelty posed as cultural enrichment is to simply not take part. Don’t be counted. Don’t further the idea that this sort of gathering or presentation is OK. It’s not. Don’t lend support to this form of cultural permissiveness by adding to the head count.

I know, not taking part isn’t going to cause a sea change. It isn’t going to sway the masses or bring the cruelty of the fair to its knees (the food will do that in the end…let’s hope), but ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. In alignment with our ethics and our vision of a world where animals aren’t “product”, where the well-being of their lives is taken with the seriousness we give our own, where we respect these sentient animals lives along with our own sense of self-respect, it only follows that the logical action to take is to not take part.

The charade of cruelty may go on, but in the end it won’t be on top of our individual support.

For all those awesome and beautiful pigs, Go vegan, not to the fair. Because it isn’t.


7 responses to “The State Fair Isn’t

  1. So very true!

    I really hate the idea of using animals as any form of entertainment, especially since it is usually demeaning and cruel. Pigs get such a bad rap, but they are really brilliant and sensitive creatures. However, if they’re reputation as “dumb animals” were true, would that mean that we have a right to treat them poorly. Or, like those considered of less intelligence within our species (e.g. babies or cognitively impaired adults) should we then treat them with even more kindness and care?

    While some may argue that unfortunately those who run the Fair need to make a living. How much better would it be if the theme of the Fair was “Locally Grown Produce”…how much more sustainable and likely to enrich our local economies.

    • I was thinking something along these lines, like offering alternatives to the fair, one of them being going to a farmers market and getting a more personal and rewarding perception of agriculture (not agribusiness) and being able to avoid so much animal cruelty as well.

  2. I bet if dogs were their theme (and they had “real” dog meat as food) people would go crazy! It is only when we associate feelings and actually humanize animals that it is hard to eat/consume them. I found this quite often when people go vegan for “health” reasons. They are right back on the meat/cheese bandwagon. When you care about animals, (and not yourself) vegan/vegetarian becomes a very logical choice.

    So cool that you are sponsored by Chicago Soy Dairy!!

    • I think, honestly, even if people perceived animals as they do their pets or even if they perceived all animals (even their pets) as they do their livestock, the point still stands regarding their treatment. Even if you believe animals were “put here for our enjoyment or sustenance” it doesn’t in any way justify the misery and suffering these animals have to experience. Their conditions are the end result of a capitalist dictate that every chance to make another penny must be capitalized on, no matter the cost, so the conditions are devoid of all ethical considerations. It really has nothing to do with the animals ability to feel or not…and so their conditions can be potentially opposed by all except the most diehard capitalists.

  3. You’re so right. I also really like queerveganrunner’s idea of using locally grown produce as the fair’s theme. Imagine how nice that would be!

  4. I couldn’t agree more as a vegan. this years theme has me boycotting it for what I hope is ever. 4h kids learn early the reward for thier blue ribbon animal is a higher slaughter price and nothing more. overall, the fair seems some glorious revelation in industrial farming, this brought us Bhopal, Dow ag, monsanto, and friends. having corn all around us that none of us can eat without heavy starch conversion is my idea of a giant loss.

    • Yeah, although it’s easy to ignore the underlying objections based on some sort of “it’s so big, why even bother” recognition, it is still very valuable to retain some sense of personal ethical boundaries. It feels more rewarding to me in the long run. Although we could have some fun there, it’s important no to remember the subtle values being taught, the benefit the corporations recieve, etc. etc. etc.

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