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7 of America's Quirkiest Food Festivals

A typical summer for the average American consists of a picnic or two, some time at the beach, and of course a carnival or a food festival—especially if you are from a small town. Usually the theme is based on that particular town's local produce or specialty, be it peaches, asparagus, gumbo or cheese curds. There are usually fireworks, parades, car shows, cook-offs, and maybe even a fashionable 10K race.

But some towns add a little spice, and yes, sometimes even a little (or big?) testicle. These are the quirkiest food festivals in America. So rev up your road trip engines, loosen your belt buckles, tuck a (paper) napkin in your collar and dig in!

1. Gizzard Festival: June 6-8, Potterville, MI
Let's kick things off with the Potterville Gizzard Festival, which is going on right now. Complete with all the traditional regalia of a fine food festival—a car show, a mud derby, some fireworks and a parade—there is also the annual gizzard eating contest at Joe's Potterville Inn. Not for the faint of stomach, contestants have to eat two pounds of gizzards as quickly as they can. Winners get bragging rights for the year, plus $100 in cold, hard cash. Whoever said one couldn't make a living eating chicken gizzards?

And what exactly is a chicken gizzard? A gizzard is a secondary stomach that can be found in both birds and reptiles. It aids in digestion by grinding food with ingested stones before returning the food to the primary stomach. Mmmm! Supposedly, it's a little like chewy chicken liver and, when lightly seasoned with a little salt and pepper, can be quite nice. If you live near Potterville and you're equal parts hungry and brave, grab a gizzard hat and head out there this weekend.

2. RC and MoonPie Festival: June 21, Bell Buckle, TN
You really can't get more Southern than a cold RC Cola and a freshly unwrapped MoonPie. Add a little BBQ into the mix and you have the Bell Buckle RC and MoonPie Festival. When a population of just over 400 swells to 15,000 for one weekend of the year you know it's gotta be good. And is it ever—they bake the world's largest MoonPie! Each year, the newly elected MoonPie King and Queen select a group of Knights for their round table. These Knights aid in the ceremonial cutting and distributing of free pieces of the world's largest MoonPie.

But the real draw of this festival is the "Synchronized Wading" extravaganza. Described as "dry humor on a wet stage," the Down Home Divas (led by First Lady Carla Webb) will perform "A Midsummer's Nightmare" this year. It will star Miss Moon Pie and feature special appearances by the Googoo cluster and a Coke. A cheeky twist on Shakespeare performed in a kiddie pool? Count me in! [Image courtesy of pulltight.]

3. Bologna: July 25-27, Yale, MI
Yale bologna is said to be some of the best in the world. A bit courser and more strongly seasoned than your typical Oscar Mayer slice, this bologna has been rumored to help people live to be 120 years old. (We couldn't find any 120-year-old bologna enthusiasts to confirm this.) Every year, in a single weekend, over a thousand pounds of bologna are served either fried in sandwiches, stuck between a bun as a hot dog or placed around a stick in ring form.

The Bologna Queen crown is quite prestigious in Yale. Contestants must declare their intention to run up to six weeks in advance and be willing to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity. The lucky lady who captures this highly respected title receives a crown of ringed bologna and a King for her arm. And of course, there is the outhouse race where people build a crude loo on wheels to push around town as fast as they can. The only requirements? The inclusion of a Sears catalog and somebody riding inside—hopefully not because of one too many bologna sticks.

4. Testicle Festival: July 30-Aug 3, Rock Creek Lodge, MT
rockcreek.gifSorry kiddies, this one is not for you. Also known as the "Testy Festy" or the "Breasticle Festival," this four-day drunken jamboree is filled with wet t-shirt contests, pig wrestling, stripping, mooning, bull riding, and fried bull testicle consumption. Called "Rocky Mountain Oysters," bull testicles are considered delicious by a select group of fine diners. In a showcase of masculine virility, there is even a bull testicle eating contest. Matt Powers took the title last year after consuming over 40 bull testicles in four minutes. Mentioned in Playboy as one of the top things to do in the summer (as long as you're down with nudity and motorcycles), you should follow their advice and "come out and have a ball!"

5. Humongous Fungus: August 7-10, Crystal Falls, MI
In honor of the world's largest—and possibly oldest—living organism, the Amirillaria Bulbosa (aka "honey mushroom," which spans 38 acres under an Iron County forest and may be as old as 10,000 years), the good people of Crystal Falls, Michigan, throw a festival every year. People travel from all over the world to get a glimpse of this humongous fungus, but can be bitterly disappointed upon realization that it is almost completely underground. But their disappointment does not last long. At the festival there are fungus shirts, fungus burgers, fungus fudge, and fungus mushroom hats to assuage their grief.

fungus-pizza.jpg

And did I mention the HUMONGOUS sausage and mushroom pizza they cook every year? Placed over a roasting pit in a humongous pizza-roasting pan by a humongous lumber truck crane, this pizza measures over 100 square feet! [Image courtesy of Kim Olson.] Other events include a mushroom cook-off, a strong man competition and a humongous picnic. Plus David Letterman once mentioned the famed Humungous Fungus on one of his top ten lists.

road-kill.jpg6. Roadkill Festival: Sept 27, Marlinton, WV
This is where it starts to get good. With taglines like "You kill it we grill it; featuring some of the highway's finest" and "Eating food is more fun when you know it was hit on the run," Marlinton, West Virginia, knows how to bring a little humor into a good food festival. Featuring any animal often—but in this case, not actually—roadkill, contestants cook up recipes using possum, beaver, raccoon, snake, deer or armadillo. Care to try some "Deer Smear Quesadillas" or "Bumper Bruised Barbequed Bear"? This is the place!

7. Turkey Testicle Festival: October 11, Byron, IL
It must be the rhyming, because I cannot think of any other reason why there are so many testicle festivals. This one, however, is a little more PG. Still only for the 21-and-over crowd (is it necessary to be plastered when consuming fried testicles?), the Turkey Testicle Festival consists of more savory activities like Karaoke, a performance by the Testilett dancers, and a fundraiser for charity that brought in over $25,000 last year.

Every year, over 275 lbs. of turkey testicles are consumed at Byron's Union Street Station. Now in its 30th year, this festival is facing an uphill battle to continue the tradition. Last year, an underage drinker got past security, and passed out in the bathroom, prompting a police investigation. Now the fate of this storied festival is up in the air. How storied? Well, there's a song dedicated to it.

Honorable Mentions

The Dam Festival in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. Just think of the possibilities"¦ "Where are you off to?" "I'm going to that Dam Festival."
The Hopps of Fun Beer Festival in Mackinaw City, Michigan. I just really liked the title.
The Pasty Festival in Calumet, Michigan. It's not that kind of pasty"¦but there is a poetry slam!
The Menudo Festival in San Fernando, California. Menudo is tripe, or cow's stomach. It's thought to cure a hangover, but I don't think I've ever met a hangover worth menudo.

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Shhh...super secret special for blog readers.

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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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entertainment
13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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