Section: Opinion

Weekly Column: Discovering a bizarre American phenomenon: deep-fried butter

Tell me, what keeps you up at night? 

Is it the creepy crawlies on your bedroom walls, readying their scrawny insect legs to pounce on you in your sleep? Or the vociferous pandemonium from your roommate’s ninth grand prix round of Mario Kart? Or perhaps it’s the 11 p.m. Red Bull you impulsively drank as an attempt to hydrate yourself after a long, torturous day of seminars.

You know what keeps me up at night? 

At the beginning of my transition from school in Vietnam to school in the United States, I was sent an accidental email from my high school’s administration about the removal of my student account. As distressing of an experience this was for a naive 14-year-old international student, it was not as distressing as my discovery of Iowa State Fair’s infamous deep-fried butter. 

Deep-fried butter. That’s what keeps me up at night. 

Distressing is probably an understatement. There are many words in the English dictionary I can think of to describe my feelings towards this popular American carnival food: abysmal, revolting, offensive and a crime against the food and beverage industry, maybe even humanity. Strange that there are people out there who are completely turned off by buttered frog legs, or fresh oceanside sashimi, but are brought to so much jubilance by drenching spoonfuls of sugar syrup over sticks of greasy fried butter. You’re trading off delicious protein for a spike in your cholesterol levels. It also says a lot about what your standards of food are. 

Let me give you a little history behind this quick-trip-to-the-ER concoction. Deep-fried butter was created by Larry Fyfe to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Iowa State Fair’s infamous life-size butter sculpture of a cow, which apparently attracts flocks of Americans every single year. Please tell me what is more stereotypically American than a bunch of people gathering at an annual fair to eat deep-fried food and take pictures of butter animals. 

Described by the New York Times as an Iowa “entrepreneur,” Fyfe spent decades inventing and selling carnival treats from foot-long corn dogs to fried brownies. Not to discredit this guy’s work at all — and I’m sure he probably is kind and fun-loving; after all, he is a carnival man — but please! Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple, the world’s first private-sector company worth $1 trillion, is an entrepreneur. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo and ranked by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful women, is an entrepreneur. If being an entrepreneur means throwing random fridge items into batter and soaking them in splattering oil for 10 minutes, any home cook could be an entrepreneur. 

There is no dignified way to eat deep-fried butter. And there shouldn’t be. Besides oozing hot grease all over your already sweaty face and clothes from being out in the carnival sun all day, it will clog up every single one of your arteries that are probably already holding on for dear life — a rebuke of your decision to try it. You must accept that. 

I firmly believe in the saying “don’t knock it till’ you try it,” except when it comes to fried butter. I don’t care that it “tastes like French toast” or if it’s on a stick or shaped into cute little melon balls. I would not spend $4 for five years off my life expectancy. And neither should you. 

Angie Tran ’25 is a columnist for the Collegian. She is an undeclared major from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She can be reached at tran1@kenyon.edu.

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