Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who Wants to See Moldy Cakes?

Birthday cake past it's prime at the LA County Fair, September 2010.
I do!  But I still wonder why there isn't a time limit on keeping baked goods in the display cases at the LA County Fair.  I've been mulling this issue over since I visited the fair in September and I've developed a few thoughts on the subject.
Display case full of award-winning cakes and quick breads at the LA County Fair, September 2010.

Cracked bread in display case, Sept. 2010.
From a distance, the baked goods all look so beautiful, but when I get up close, all I can see is the ooze, the slime, the cracking, and the mold.  It's so unappealing.... and so fabulous.  And yet there's something wonderful about seeing these award-winning (and losing) baked good fester away in display cases, attracting flies and deterring visitors.  Except for me.

I love visiting the moldy baked goods.  It's the highlight of my annual visit to the fair.  I always plan to go to the fair on the final weekend so the baked goods are in their prime, at least as far as I'm concerned.  Seeing cute baby animals is nice, but it's the moldy cakes and quick breads that steal my heart.
Ooze from a cake attacks a sugar mouse, September 2010.
I'm sure part of the attraction is my morbid fascination with decay.  But there's more to it than that.  There's something very funny about seeing rotting food labeled with a blue ribbon.  This may say something very dark about my personality, but I choose to think of it as finding surrealist magic in the unassuming display cases of the Grandstand building.

The oozing and cracked baked goods also say something very dark about Los Angeles and the limitations of creating and maintaining a large community.  This is an indirect way of saying that it's nearly impossible to create a vital, healthy community if that "community" is over a certain size.  Once the community becomes so large that the people in it no long know each other-- and everyone can't get to the fair in a single week-- then, on some level, it ceases to be a real community.   Personally, I don't care who wins or loses the baked good competitions because I don't know any of them.  I don't think I would enjoy viewing the festering remains if I knew the contestants.  It would be too sad to think how hard my friend or neighbor worked on her cake only to watch it rot under hot lights.

Don't get me wrong-- I love the LA County Fair and I think there are many opportunities for real engagement with the people who grow our food here in Los Angeles.  My family had a great experience watching the goat milking, although trying to participate in the process was a bit of a bust.  (When you're less than two feet tall a goat udder can be pretty scary.)

But if something's not working, why shine bright lights on it?  Why not take the rotting cakes OUT of the display cases?  Add another round of competition halfway through the run of the fair.  Host a jam-boiling on the final weekend and display the prize-winning jars.  Do anything else with the space.  Leave it empty if you must.
Viewers' Choice Winner of Tablescape Competition.
I'd rather see the vacuum as an opportunity to do something new.

Maybe like adding a diorama version of the tablescape competition.  If you've never heard of the tablescape competition, you are seriously missing out.  It's easily my second-favorite part of the fair.  Mostly because it's so crazy and serves no useful purpose.  Just like some of my favorite art.

Tablescaping is exactly what it sounds like.  Participants set a standard-size table following a theme of their choice.  It can be anything from "The Wizard of Oz" to "Sunday Dinner at Grandma's House".

In my dream for the new diorama tablescape competition, each tablescape must fit in a shoe box that is no taller or wider than a shelf in the baked goods display case.  Participants may built their dioramas using any material that does not ooze, mold, crack or otherwise decay.  I wonder if the LA County Fair officials are taking suggestions for new competitions?