Vegetarians can munch away down the midway
TAMPA - In a small white tent with a banquet-table serving counter, Loving Hut stands like a healthy oasis amid a caloric wasteland at the 2011 Florida State Fair.
A hundred feet to the south, fried Twinkies are being sold. Fifty feet to the north, fried candy bars are the delicacy of choice. A five-minute walk away, the fair's restaurant row offers a blur of turkey legs, doughnut hamburgers and grease-dripping pigs on a spit.
Next door to Loving Hut, children encased in giant inflatable balls flop around like gerbils in a pool of water. To the right, a sunglasses salesman stands waiting for the glare to lure customers. Above, a hovering helicopter dangles an aerial acrobat 150 feet in the air.
In the middle operates Xianying Wei, who meekly sells her hummus and chips, her vegetarian chocolate chip cookies and her Yogi Subs made with grilled chicken-flavored tofu, cilantro, tomato and vegan mayonnaise.
She even fashioned a makeshift mini-drumstick filled with rice instead of chicken.
Ying, as she prefers to be called, operates a Fletcher Avenue restaurant of the same name. A former scientist, she started Loving Hut on a mission to spread the healthful gospel of vegetarian and vegan eating.
"It's easier to teach them by eating than to just tell them why they should choose to eat this way," she said.
Truth be told, a vegetarian can happily eat almost as many decadent treats at the fair as a card-carrying carnivore.Vegetarians can munch away down the midway
For every meatloaf and gravy on a stick, there's an equally unhealthy crispy, fried corn cob. Dipped in milk and dredged in flour and seasoned bread crumbs, the cob goes for a swim for four minutes in hot oil before being perched on a wood skewer for easy nibbling.
When asked if the treat qualified as a vegetarian meal, a man at one Crispy Corn booth who identified himself only as Tony replied, "Probably not."
Not far away, fried tomatoes and roasted corn slathered in butter were on the menu. Near the Expo Hall, fruit smoothies awaited customers.
Another vendor along Food Row hawked fried peach slices with whipped cream and a sugary dipping sauce for $5 a serving. Again, it technically qualified as a vegetarian-friendly dish, if not cardiologist-approved.
Nathalie Bettin, a 20-year-old nursing student at Hillsborough Community College, temporarily stopped gnawing on a piece of raw sugarcane she got at a nearby pavilion to try the peach treat.
"It tastes like dessert," she said.
When asked which she would choose, the sugarcane or the peaches, she gave it some thought and replied, "Both."