In this week's episode, join in as Gina and returning About South guest Lindsey Eckert travel to the Minnesota State Fair to eat cheese curds, watch a rabbit show, and talk about regionalism. More specifically, the pair discusses how we construct regions to exist as idyllic places, separate from the problems apparent in the rest of the nation and dependent upon certain cultural calling cards-- like food-- for their survival.
The Minnesota State Fair was first hosted in 1859 in what is today downtown Minneapolis. The fair's original purpose was to promote agriculture in the state through various farming and livestock competitions. Known as the "Great Minnesota get-together," today the fair has a permanent location in between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Along with the traditional agriculture-promoting entertainment, other fair entertainment consists of art shows, technological exhibits, presentations by educational institutions, Ferris wheels, live music, and, of course, tons of Minnesotan favorites like cheese curds and pronto pups.
The Midwest often reads as “neutral” in history, politics, and cultural production, particularly when placed alongside more charged regions like the South. The South “owns,” both historically and increasingly currently, many of the nation’s social and political problems in a way that other regions never will. This is problematic not because the South doesn’t indeed host these problems, but because it seemingly allows these idealized regions like the Midwest to escape from the shared responsibility of national issues.
It’s unsurprising, then, that like Minnesotans remembering the fair, Southerners tend to focus on the easy nostalgia of food. Food provides a sense of home, safely disassociated from the real dangers that home might bring. Biscuits, gravy, grits, and cornbread provide a connection to a region that’s both inherent to and separate from the values of the region. We talk about food when we talk about regionalism because it’s relatable and definite-- the pronto pup is always wrapped in a flour dough instead of a cornmeal, and grits are always better with cheese.
From Instagram #mnstatefair