How We'll Eat the Fair in 2021

25August 2021

Every year I post a picture of the backpack I carry for our MSP Mag Day One New Foods Trek at the State Fair, with all the tricks laid out: Tums, blister bandaids, sunscreen, lip balm, extra phone charger, and a fat wad of cash. This year, there’s an extra item: a pack of masks.

It’s just different this year, lots of things are. When the State Fair decided to not mandate vaccinations or masks for attendees, it changed a lot of people’s plans for that great summer reunion with their Pronto Pup. Many decided they would not be attending, some had already made the decision based on Delta variant numbers, while others decided to rejigger their plans for shorter visits, on slower days.

Even before the announcement of the health guidelines, media organizations had been weighing how they would adjust their broadcasts or coverage to keep their employees safe. We decided that, as a food team, we’d all have a say in what we did this year, from the eaters and writers to the editors, photographers, and web kids. We said that no one had to go to the Fair if they were feeling uncomfortable with it, and the bigs at the top backed us up.

How it shakes out, is that we have a scaled back team this year, and our coverage will be a little bit different for 2021. Dara opted in and plans to hit the Fair early and hard in order to give you her critic’s picks Top Five Fair Foods like she does each year. Drew Wood has decided, with two small unvaccinated kids at home, to sit this one out. As the other snarky half of our Get It/Skip It guide, I will miss his delirious sugar-addled late night hot takes, but I get it. Our support team on the ground is also smaller this year. I have no one at home, have an easier ability to quarantine, have to broadcast my radio show from the fair on Saturdays anyway, so I’m going. With caveats.

The new foods guide will have a little bit of a different format, and we’ll hit as many of the new foods as we possibly can. But as a team we’ve decided that only one person (me, masked) will be going inside a building, and we will be masked for most of the time on the grounds. Masks just don’t bug us. We will be working to keep our distance from y’all, and I know all the shortcuts and hiding spaces to make that easy. Those, I will share with you.

If a line is too long or we start to feel squeamish, we are gonna pass. If it gets too crowded and we can’t snap a good pic, we won’t. We won’t be doing the beers on the same day as the food this year: Firstly, because 56?! and secondly, because that extends our timing by a lot. We are trying to get in and out within a shorter time frame this year. No dilly dally for us.

Also: rain. This is the first year we might actually see a washout, and since we have committed to NOT ducking into the humid and breath-smelling Grandstand if it downpours, our ice cream might get drippy. C’est la vie.

All of this is to say that we have decided to support the people who want to have SOME sort of abbreviated fair experience, by giving them the intel and the hot tips in order to get in, save money and gut space for the good foods, and get out. We also want to support the vendors who can’t work from home, can’t send back the cases of hot dogs they ordered two months ago, can’t unbrew the beer sitting in kegs, can’t lose any more that they’ve scraped together for their small business after a horrific year. They will be there, so we will too.

And we’re all getting a COVID test after we go, have you been to the airport spit site? Can report after my negative test this week: it’s amazingly slick and easy.

We’ll post Dara as soon as we can on Thursday, and the New Foods Guide on Friday morning at the latest. We’re gathering all the good stuff on our Minnesota State Fair landing page, so if you’re opting out this year, you can live vicariously through some great stories, like Dara’s piece on West Indies Soul and Madeline’s scoop on the State Fair Merch you can snap up at home. Mask up, stay safe, and have fun!

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