This annual carnival of culinary culture can seem like a food freak show anyway, especially if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. At one point, I found myself in front of a vendor's fried shrimp samples when some elderly school cafeteria employees and pockmarked pizzeria operators started flailing away like WWE goons. I had to fend off one of these psychos with a frilled toothpick while I was talking to a representative from a national mushroom company about her line of low-carb, deep-fried mushrooms. That's right -- there's now a low-carb version of a completely fattening and vitamin-empty snack food.
"The secret's in the low-carb breading," the vendor said, smiling. "It has half the carbs of regular deep-fried mushrooms!"
Yeah, yeah. Healthy like a low-tar cigarette or a "vitamin-fortified" cupcake. A few booths over, Giorgio Foods of Temple, Pennsylvania, had an elaborate assortment of free snack samples, almost all of which were mercifully crammed with carbohydrates. The best was a quarter-sized fried, crunchy "macaroni and cheese bite." I adored it. It was like eating Velveeta, pasta and a tater tot all rolled into one.
I asked one of the Giorgio reps if the company had any low-carb stuff to taste. She pointed out a pile of portabella burger wedges. "It's low-carb if you take the bun off," she said helpfully. I did, and it wasn't anywhere as good as the greasy, deep-fried portabella snacks on the next tray.
The mind-blowing display of oversized frosted layer cakes and glossy cheesecakes mounted by Indiana-based Atkins Elegant Desserts (no connection to the hateful diet of the same name) was too beautiful to pass up, though I forced myself to sample only the low-carb sweets -- such as the "Carb Conscious Turtle Cheesecake," which had only 3 carbohydrate grams a slice.
Over at the booth where staffers from Sam's Homemade Cheesecakes Inc. were serving slices of Lemon Mist Cake, everyone practically cringed at the words low carb -- and they're from weight-conscious California. "It's another fad," said one of the managers. "I can't wait for it to be over."
I second that emotion.