Immediately after entering the CNE grounds on opening day, we ran into a neighbour and her young daughter. The little girl was eating slices of fruit. Not an odd sight normally, but at the Ex, not the kind of thing you’d expect to see. The mind really isn’t able to connect watermelon slices and the midway full of vendors selling cotton candy, candy apples and corn dogs.
On one hand, I sort of felt sorry for my little friend – coming home from the fair with a big bag of spun sugar was always part of the allure when I was a kid. But given the fuss about childhood obesity, trans fats, plus additives and preservatives, I can understand why her Mom would want to limit the amount of junk. Which left us wondering if it was even possible to eat healthy, let along vegetarian or vegan at the CNE. The midway is almost a barren wasteland of healthy options; burgers, corn dogs and candy corn aren’t going to register on anyone’s healthy eating scale. We did encounter a couple of booths with roasted corn, and if you lay off too much butter, this could be considered a passable treat.
Inside that glorious Mecca to sugar and grease, aka the Food Building, all types of cuisine are well represented. There’s Greek food, Japanese teriyaki, Dim Sum, Perogi, Caribbean roti and Thai, Indian and Filipino options. Pizza slices abound, as do burgers, chips, ice cream, waffles and fudge. It’s all pretty much food court quality, though, with many chains represented. Don’t come looking for anything gourmet – this is a shrine to junk food in all its glory.
In terms of healthy options, it takes some looking. Most of the Greek places offer salads, and we found a burrito place that had vegetarian options. Veganizing the same burrito omitted the cheese, sour cream and guacamole, though, which pretty much means a wrap and some sautéed veggies. Most of the pizza places offered vegetarian slices, but let’s not get carried away into thinking that those slices are healthy. The Soupman has a booth offering samples for 50 cents, but they’re quite small. Lick’s was offering both regular and Natureburgers, so vegetarians and vegans have a couple of choices.
We also found falafels and smoothies, as well as sandwiches that could pass for healthy, if not veggie-friendly. A couple of Japanese places offered sushi, and almost every place offering fries also had huge signs advising of 0 trans fats in their products. Some items that we would consider passably healthy turned out to be crazy expensive – banh mi sandwiches that are normally $1.25 to $1.50 on Spadina ran $3.99 with a beverage here.
Maybe the Ex is not the place to come looking for healthy options, though. Maybe it’s one of the few times of the year when it’s okay to indulge, just a bit. Perhaps a beavertail, some Tiny Toms donuts, curly fries or a slab of fudge is to be overlooked for one day. After all, you can always have a salad tomorrow, but cotton candy, like the Ex, comes but once a year.
The CNE runs daily from 10am to 10pm until September 3rd.