By Marcie Barnes
Today is blog action day and also opening day for the North Carolina State Fair. Since the theme for blog action day 2009 is "climate change" and the theme for the state fair this year is "a whole lotta happy" - I would like to point out how climate change makes me a whole lotta sad, and how big agriculture in America, and at the state fair, has totally taken over, for the worse.
I wrote a post a couple years ago about the fair expressing my concern over the - unhealthiness of it all mostly for people - here I'll try to concentrate on how unhealthy it is for the planet.
#5: Lack of places to recycle: On the state fair's Green NC page, they admit that the fair "has some work to do before [it] can be a truly 'green' event." They then go on to boast about the four, yes, a whopping four recycling stations that appeared at the fair for the first time last year. By the way, throwing aluminum cans in the trash has been illegal in NC since 1991 and apparently 2008 was the first fair in more than ten years where recycling bins were available for the public to use. What in the world happened? In any case, there should be a place to recycle next to each and every trash can. This fair brochure (.pdf) says there are 500 trash cans, and only four recycle centers? People are waaay too lazy to seek out recycle centers, even if they do care, if you make it 125x easier to toss in the trash. How about retrofitting 250 of those trash cans into recycle cans?
#4: Deep fried, everything: It's even the name of the state fair's blog. OK, I know people love fried, but really, do you have to promote it? With heart disease and stroke being the biggest killers of Americans, isn't it about time to stop promoting foods that clearly play a role in such diseases? Just around the corner there are hundreds of local farmers showing off their livestock and produce, but where is the booth where I can buy some of their apples and pumpkin pie? (And I mean out in the open, not tucked away in a building or specialty tent. Why don't they get the prime spots?) According to the video on this page there are just shy of 500 "commercial vendors" at the fair, and they are looking for more "unique" vendors. How about inviting your farmers to provide us with local NC snacks, instead of looking for the next most unhealthy thing on a stick? Oh, and what does this have to do with climate change? A lot. Giving space to the big fair-traveling vendors from all over the country only adds to pollution, and the entire "big ag" food system is a huge contributor to global warming, especially meat production.
#3: Crowds: I have to admit, Iím a bit claustrophobic. In 2005 I literally had a panic attack when the crowd got extremely thick around sundown. I think it was probably a factor of the daytime people and the nighttime crowd all being there at the same time. I decided to look into the attendance figures over the years to see how much the fair has grown. Well, according to their own numbers...not very much.
Here is a chart I made plotting population growth numbers from 1980-present for NC, Wake County, and the state fair: (red line: NC blue line: fair green line: Wake County)
Apparently, the population of Wake County has nearly tripled, while the state fair attendance numbers have not even gotten close to doubling. In addition, the total "population" of the fair used to be double that of Wake County, and now they are about the same. At the same time, the total population of the state has increased by three million. Anyone else find that odd? In any case, I appreciate that the fairgrounds were recently expanded to help alleviate crowding, but I don't have any desire to get caught in another squishy and potentially dangerous situation. I spoke to someone at the Raleigh Fire Marshal's office to ask about the occupancy limits for the outdoor areas of the fair, and was told they have no jurisdiction because it's on state property. I am waiting to hear back from the NC Fire Marshal's office on this, and will update when I have more information. What does this have to do with climate change? Well, ok, it's mostly about safety but also the ramifications of an event so large, all the people driving to it, and the pollution and trash it creates.
#2: Rides / electricity usage: I didn't even bother to ask how much electricity the state fair uses each year, but it's got to be a huge amount. In an area where our power company gets a percentage of its power from coal sourced from mountain top removal, I just can't justify taking a joy ride powered by coal operations that have clogged and polluted towns in the mountains and also not so far away from Raleigh.
#1: Chickens, pigs, and cows - oh my: Another disclosure: I'm a vegetarian. But my husband and son still eat some meat. Not so much after seeing the documentary Food, Inc. You see, nearly all food in grocery stores, most restaurants, and foodservice trucks come from a giant food system designed to get your food to you as cheaply as possible, and in large part, due to the government subsidies on corn and fuel. What's wrong with that? When it comes to animals, including poultry, beef and pork (a huge polluting industry in NC) - you can rest assured that those animals were raised in very confined spaces, generally treated poorly, loaded with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick due to the poor nature of their diets (almost always corn to fatten them in the cheapest way possible), possibly suffering injury and physical mutilation by other animals or the farmer (in attempt to stop some behaviors going on due to the crowding), slaughtered and processed on a fast-moving assembly line manned by cheap (and yes, many illegal) workers. These kinds of operations cause all kinds of pollution in addition to all the air pollution from the transport of animals from 'farm' to slaughter to processing to distribution to store shelf.
Yes, the fair has a lot of "work to do before [it] can be a truly 'green' event." Getting local farmers into the vendor mix would be a huge step towards alleviating some of these problems, along with some serious energy conservation measures and movement towards clean energy sources.
I've been going to the state fair every year since I was a young girl. I'd really love to see it return to an event that truly is about NC farms, not big agriculture.