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21 Ways The Iowa State Fair Is Utterly Baffling To A British Person

It's time for the Iowa State Fair. BuzzFeed UK's Jim Waterson attempts to understand US politics.

Posted on August 16, 2015, at 3:36 p.m. ET

It's the Iowa State Fair, where a million people descend on Des Moines showgrounds and are joined by anyone and everyone who wants to be the next U.S. president.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

All the candidates spend lengthy amounts of time criss-crossing this Midwestern agricultural state – and they're all expected to pay a visit the rip-roaring orgy of drink, food, and heavy agriculture that is the Iowa State Fair.

Here's what baffled me during two days at the Iowa State Fair:

1. If you don't go to this particular state fair, you're going to struggle to get elected.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

The mechanics are simple: Iowa has somehow managed to ensure it always hosts the first caucuses in the country, where voters whittle down potential nominees for president. This means a state with about 1% of the country's population will play a key role in determining who gets to be selected as the presidential nominee for both parties – the equivalent of giving an English county such as Norfolk the defining voice in selecting who gets to run the country.

No one really stops to question this process.

Still, this means that a visit to the Iowa State Fair is a must if you want to endear yourself to potential candidates. It's great to see that the best way to find a candidate to run the country is to subject them to a large dose of carbohydrates and fire testy questions from an irate crowd who only really turned up to look at some prize cows.

2. There really is a cow made of butter.

Jim Waterson / BuzzFeed

Let's just get this one over with: To promote the use of butter, the Iowa dairy farmers create a giant cow made out of butter. In many respects, the lifesize dairy product model is beautiful. It is a perfect representation of a cow (made of butter). It has surprisingly accurate bovine hip bones (made of butter) and is accompanied by a model of Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly (also made of butter). People queue to see this.

But the bigger question is why, when it comes to models of animals made from their own animal products, is it only the cows that get a look in? Where's the giant chicken made out of eggs? It's time the Iowa Poultry Association upped their game.

3. Almost every food ever is available at the Iowa State Fair. As long as it's deep fried and on a stick.

Jim Waterson/BuzzFeed

Iowans are so proud of this commitment to stick-based food that there's even a special section on the website devoted to it:

Iowa State Fair

This is not a place to ask for a light salad.

4. Iowans like to put hidden meat in everything. Including "corndogs".

I had been warned that a defining characteristic of the Iowa State Fair was the tendency to fry everything that has ever lived in batter and then put it on a stick.

So it was with some trepidation that I decided to buy a "corndog", which is apparently a sort of deep-fried corn on the cob. On a stick.

Initially things looked good:

America. Where a deep fried sweetcorn on a stick coated in cheese is a legit mid-morning snack. Hell yeah.

But then it went very wrong. There was a hidden sausage inside the multiple layers of deep-fried goodness.

I just bit into this and there's a secret deep fried sausage inside the deep fried corn and just plain fried cheese. AMERICA.

There really ought to be a training guide for British people who mistakenly thought a corndog was vegetarian.

5. You can deep-fry everything at the Iowa State Fair. Even Oreos.

Jim Waterson/BuzzFeed

You're not supposed to ask why this happens.

6. Almost any food can be dipped in chocolate. No reason. Just dip it.

Jim Waterson / BuzzFeed

*keels over with heart attack*

7. Every politician has to be seen with food, even if they don't want it.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton may not necessarily want a lump of pork and lemonade for her mid-morning snack, but she has no choice: The only way to prove her authentic credentials is to do just that.

There is no opting out: Either you gorge, or you don't get elected.

8. No really, they must keep eating.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Bonus points if it's produced by a key voter group you're struggling to attract.

9. Even if they don't look like they're enjoying it.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

10. Bernie Sanders attracts the most distinctive supporters.

Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

And you can spot them a mile off.

11. Iowans really do have the biggest sheep you've ever seen.


The sign points to a very, very big sheep... that doesn't look very happy to be there.

12. Everything is available in foot-long versions, because bigger is always better.

BuzzFeed News

13. Getting abused at the Iowa soapbox is a venerable and pleasing tradition, even if the big candidates try to avoid it.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Each presidential candidate takes up their 20 minutes on the Des Moines Register soapbox (unless they're Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, who prefer to go for a walkabout and just munch on pork products).

Once onstage, candidates find themselves addressing a crowd which largely consists of activists from niche pressure groups, people already being paid to work on presidential bids, plus a small number of genuine actual members of the public. The latter are best avoided due to the risk they might ask an awkward question.

14. Donald Trump is allowed to circle his personalised helicopter around the showgrounds.

Because Donald Trump.

15. And did we mention the food? You can buy snacks that involve meat wrapped in cheese wrapped in bacon, all dipped in sauce and put on a stick.


What a time to be alive.

16. Donald Trump can draw bigger crowds than anyone else.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Trump's mere presence managed to block the main route through the site for 20 minutes.

17. Iowans trust him to take kids up in his branded helicopter, because it's all part of the fun of the fair.

Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

We repeat: Because Donald Trump.

18. Politicians winning comedy inflatable baseball bats is definitely a thing.

19. There is nothing as weird as jogging through a state fair after Donald Trump as he attempts to get away in a golf cart.

Definitely an occupational hazard.

20. Somehow it's perfectly legitimate for a man to spend a day shouting at strangers through the medium of an animatronic robot that responds to noise.

21. But ultimately, despite all the candidates, people at the Iowa State Fair are probably more interested in giant pumpkins than politics.

BuzzFeed News / Jim Waterson

Because for all the fuss that's made about the politicians, when you're at a completely mad event, there's nothing quite like the thrill of seeing an absolutely enormous vegetable.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.