Suffolk Peanut Festival
For the second straight year, this native of Suffolk County on Long Island went to the Suffolk Peanut Festival in a very different Suffolk. Suffolk, Virginia—located in the southeastern corner of the state—is known as the largest city in Virginia as well as a peanut mecca.
Despite the fact that peanuts aren't technically nuts, peanuts are a pretty big deal in Virginia. The state produces approximately 102 million pounds of peanuts each year, chiefly in Southeastern Virginia. It's common to find signs advertising peanuts, ham, and tobacco in rural parts of Southeastern Virginia and surrounding areas (as a Jewish vegan who has never smoked a cigarette, I greatly prefer peanuts). Planters Peanut Company (founded in 1906) chose Suffolk as the site for its first major processing plant in 1913, and the city remains a major hub for peanut processing.
On the one hand, it's nice to attend a "county fair"–type event that celebrates the harvest of the area's trademark agricultural product. I'm sure that this peanut extravaganza—where peanuts and peanut products are given away for free, sold, used for decorations and games, and sculpted—is a major boost for the local peanut economy. Plus, it's exciting to eat a cup full of locally grown peanuts that are still in the shell. Last but not least, I love that the festival embraces a vegan food that's full of plant protein (click here and scroll down to "Nuts Part 1" for nutritional info); there's even a "PB&J Campaign"—with no connection to the festival—that talks about how eating a vegan meal of peanut butter and jelly is better for the environment than the products of animal agriculture!
On the other hand, not everything was goober goodness. Other free samples of peanuts—in sealed packages from Planters, which is now a division of Kraft Foods—listed gelatin as an ingredient. I accidentally ate some of the Planters peanuts that a friend gave me before I had a chance to check the label—it didn't immediately cross my mind that peanuts wouldn't be vegan or kosher! I guess that's what it means to go to a peanut festival in this era of corporatization and mass production.
The highlight of the festival is the World's Only Peanut Butter Sculpture Contest. I sculpted a guitar last year and a bust of President Bush this year. I didn't place in the top three either time, but I am proud to say that this year's winner was also from Suffolk County, New York!
Check out these fun pictures from the competitions and the rest of the festival.