There's one thing Americans love more than bratty celebrities, it's food. Perhaps that explains why giant festivals give mustard, ketchup and other pantry staples the star treatment in mini Mardi Gras all across the country.
More than 125,000 garlic lovers are headed to California for the Gilroy Garlic Festival this weekend. They'll brave the pungent aromas for a walk down Gourmet Alley in order to bask in mounds of scampi, calamari and such exotic items as garlic ice cream and pan-seared rattlesnake-on-a-stick.
This year's three-day clove-apalooza will be especially challenging because it's "BYOB," and in this case that means, "Bring Your Own Breath Freshener." In recent years, festival sponsor Listerine provided free Cool Mint PocketPaks. Now, you and your nostrils are on your own.
"We've always wanted to keep the event from being commercialized, so we've limited corporate sponsorship," said festival spokesman Peter Ciccarelli. "I expect many people bring mints anyway."
No degree of halitosis, however, is expected to interrupt the mass consumption of 10 tons of beef, four tons of pasta and four tons of calamari, which will be washed down with 5,000 gallons of Pepsi and 450 kegs of Coors.
The town of Gilroy calls itself "The Garlic Capital of the World," and the two tons of garlic shipped out for the festival keep local farmers happy. Moreover, the nonprofit annual event has raised more than $7 million for charity over the last 25 years.
At this year's festivities, Aisha Zasa -- the freshly crowned Miss Gilroy Garlic 2005 -- reigns, as 42 musical acts sauté the crowds from three stages with rock, country, Zydeco and R&B music.
If garlic isn't your thing, California has a party for all its cash crops. Encino hosts Tomatomania. And stalkers are welcome at Stockton's Asparagus Festival.
While you might have suffered childhood traumas when your mom served them up, a record crowd this spring of 87,594 asparagus fans celebrated their totem vegetable in song and dance. They inhaled 30,000 pounds of the green stuff, apparently spurred on by asparagus wine and beer.
There are unlikely food festivals all across the country. If you've got the stomach, the Testicle Festival even awaits you in Missoula, Mont. Lovers of Rocky Mountain Oysters gather for the annual feast on Sept. 16, which bovine Americans now consider a national day of mourning.
I'm especially amazed at the extravaganzas that honor condiments and other refrigerator items that we typically ignore. And while some are industry-sponsored events that reek of product promotion, others are done purely out of gut-busting love. Here are a few of them:
1. Mustard: When the Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series, many feared it was a sign of the Apocalypse. Others worried that it would be doom for Wisconsin's National Mustard Museum.
Rabid Red Sox fan Barry Levenson only turned to mustard collecting after his team blew the 1986 October classic. With images of first baseman Bill Buckner's infamous grounder-through-the-legs error fresh in his head, he went to the market and stared despondently, entranced by the endless selection of condiments.
Amid the French's, Gulden's Spicy Brown and Poupon, the baseball gods spoke to him: "If you collect them, they will come." And he did.