If you’re a fan of fried anything, the smell here can be intoxicating. Hundreds have turned out for the first ever Athens Grease Festival, with knives and forks at the ready, The celebration of all things fried is a play on the origin of the city’s name from Athens, Greece.
Vendors are selling a wide variety of foods from the traditional funnel cakes, to the slightly more creative fried hot dogs and candy bars, to the bizarre fried candy corn. That’s right. Even this traditional Halloween treat isn’t safe from a huge pot of grease. And, as Festival Chair Christy Hubbard points out, not much is.
“We’ve got anything from fried Nutter Butters, fried Oreos, fried Kettle Corn, fried Candy Corn to fried ribs and fried bologna sandwiches,” says Hubbard.
The festival comes just days after a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on Alabama’s expanding waistline. The study ranks Alabama as the 4th most obese state in the country. That means 32% of adults in Alabama are considered overweight. The report also found the state is the nation’s leader in the number of people with high blood pressure, and we rank 4th-highest in diabetes. But Hubbard just shrugs her shoulders over the numbers.
“We do realize that Alabama’s gotten a bad reputation for obesity, but we’re encouraging everybody to eat responsibly today and you know eat responsibly the rest of the year. But it’s okay to splurge occasionally,” says Hubbard.
She points out the wrist bands given to all festival goers says “eat responsibly.” They’re also selling t-shirts with that saying as well as “splurge occasionally.”
That’s how Beth Kitchin of Birmingham sees it. She's a registered dietician at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. But instead of scolding festival goers, she’s joining them and is thrilled to tear into green tomatoes, sliced thin, covered in battered, and dropped into the fryer.
“This is delicious. It’s very crispy. It’s got some nice seasoning on it. It’s fantastic,” says Kitchin.
Kitchin says while Alabama does have an obesity problem, it’s not what we’re eating, but how much. And she’s not planning on running around scolding festival goers for their eating habits. Kitchin says it would probably backfire.
“Portion control is one of the biggest problems that we have," says Kitchin. "So I think a lot of times we push some of these messages so hard and it can be a turn off to people and they think ‘ah! If I have to eat only that healthy food and I never get to have my fun food, why should I even bother?”
Athens-area resident Karen Middleton doesn’t seem too concerned about a few fried foods as she sits under a large tent enjoying a bowl of fried ice cream.
“Probably we’ll all go home and have a gall bladder attack, but’s pretty good going down!” laughs Middleton.
Middleton says she’d ordinarily take a pass on the fried candy corn, but today she took the plunge. That prompted dietician Beth Kitchin to give it a try.
“That is actually very good," says Kitchin as she tries some of the fried treat. "It doesn’t taste as sweet as what you’d think.”
Kitchin finishes off the afternoon with a basket of fried fish, some fries and a few hushpuppies before deciding to head home. And after a day of fried fish and candy bars—what’s on the menu from the Kitchin kitchen tonight? Grilled fish and vegetables.