Here's something I wrote and sent to the powers that be at the State Fair:
Dear Mr. Jones and Ms. Butler,
I wanted to write you because I have a question about the one of the competitions held at this year’s Tennessee State Fair. For six years I’ve lived in Tennessee as a resident of Davidson County, and each year during that time I’ve entered jelly in the canning competition – some years I placed, some I didn’t. But the one consistent theme is that in the first five years, my jar was returned, opened, with a sample of jelly missing.
Which brings me to earlier this month. After the fair, I came to pick up my entry, and the woman who handed it back to me tested the seal and remarked, “Gee, this hasn’t even been opened.” Sure enough, no jelly was missing when I checked once I got home.
That seems questionable to me. I asked the woman how they could have possibly judged the jelly without opening it, and the woman behind me, a woman I recognized as a big winner in many, many categories year after year, confirmed that they always open and sample the jelly as part of judging. The volunteer assured me that she had no part in judging, and honestly didn’t know why it hadn’t been opened.
Now, the fact is, I didn’t place this year, and I’m sure my motives could be construed as sour grapes. Admittedly, I’m disappointed about not placing. But the ribbon and the premium, while nice, aren’t the reason I enter – I enter because of the tradition of canning, a skill that has been in my family for generations. I enter because of the history of the State Fair, and so that I can engage in my community that I have grown to call home.
And when the integrity of that tradition is compromised, I have a problem with it. If I’d won a blue ribbon without them trying my jelly, I would be equally concerned. I generally make no less than three batches of a jelly before picking the best of them to enter – I take a lot of pride in my work, and if it’s just a beauty pageant, then maybe I’m in the wrong competition.
It doesn’t seem possible to accurately judge foodstuffs without tasting them. I can look at a pile of rocks that have been covered in gravy. It may look delicious, but it’s still a pile of rocks. And it won’t taste like anything other than that.
My question is – what are the standards used to judge the canning categories at the Tennessee State Fair? And if, in fact, opening and sampling the jellies is part of the standard process of judging, what possible reasons would there be for receiving my jar back, unopened? I have racked my brain and checked the rule book to see if my entry could have been disqualified for any reason, and I cannot find any evidence that it was, nor would have been.
Any light you can shed on this mystery would be greatly appreciated. I realize it may seem trivial, but I cannot in good conscience continue to compete if I cannot trust the veracity of the process, nor can I support the Fair with my patronage.