Way back when, the State Fair was a down-home affair, featuring livestock competitions, farm product displays and competitions for handicrafts, baked goods, jams and jellies, etc.
In recent years, the concept of a state fair has been expanded to include the glitter and gleam of the carnival-esque midway, special local exhibitions, a wide variety of culinary creations (including food on a stick) and plenty of entertainment.
But, overall, the fair is a celebration of tradition – and an opportunity to sample what's local and best. It's a chance to wear Wisconsin State pride on one's sleeve and take part in reveling in the history, products and industries that make us who we are.
So, tell me: What is Washington coffee doing at the Wisconsin State Fair?
Seattle's Best has teamed up with "Sandwich King" Jeff Mauro to host the Red Cup Showdown – a cross-country search for the next great coffee drink. The grand prize winner will be awarded with $10,000 and the chance to have their coffee drink featured at Seattle's Best Coffee locations across North America.
And that's not all. Rumor has it that fairgoers will be able to pose for a free souvenir digital photo inside a life-sized red mug, take a spin at the prize wheel loaded with thousands of dollars' worth of prizes and receive a free sample of Seattle's Best Coffee coffee to brew at home.
I don't get it.
Certainly the Fair's organizers know that Seattle's Best is owned by Starbucks, which is headquartered in Seattle. And surely those same organizers also know that we have a host of great local coffee roasters right here in Milwaukee to get excited about – including Anodyne, Alterra, Stone Creek and Valentine.
So, why are we promoting coffee made almost 2,000 miles away and giving press to Food Network stars when we have plenty of delicious coffee, and talented chefs, right here in Wisconsin?
It's a fair question to ask. And I don't think I've gone off the deep end when I suggest that this issue goes beyond the lure of national brands and celebrity, and gets at the much larger issue of simply supporting our own. Keeping it local, so to speak.
Or has the state fair become just another money-making festival, celebrating pop culture and paying homage to the highest bidder? Why aren't we pulling back and bringing the focus back onto Wisconsin-made products? Why do we need Seattle's Best to make our fair cooler?
The fact is, we don't.
My point isn't to beat people up for loving Starbucks. Or discourage people from attending the Wisconsin State Fair.
Nay – in fact, I want to encourage people to go! Enjoy yourselves. Pet the horses. Coo at the rabbits. Take pictures of the funny-looking chickens. Eat cream puffs. Load up on high-calorie foods on a stick. Have a stellar time. Drink a glass of strawberry- or banana-flavored milk from the Herb Kohl milk stand.
Just don't drink the fancy free coffee.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.