Michelle Hennes shares a cone with her children from left, Ryan, 3, Joshua, 5, and Tyler, 11, and their cousin Briana Nunes, 4, at the Jackson County Fair. Jim Craven 7/19/2007


Moving through the Food Row faithful toward his four young kids, Russ Koehler is about to unleash a fat and caloric attack that their little tummies haven't endured since their last trip to the Jackson County Fair — just like Daddy promised.

The kids already are gnawing on 375-calorie corn dogs as Koehler offers them 1,240 calories worth of curly fries, and that's not counting the deep-fried Elephant Ears planned for dessert.

Everywhere around him, capillaries cringe.

"Curly fries, Elephant Ears. You can't find this stuff anywhere else," says Koehler, 32, of Medford. "They should sell Lipitor with this stuff ... but it's so good."

So what that it's so ungodly fattening that the Medford resident would have to jog almost three hours to work off the fare that makes county fairs one of the last bastions of caloric overindulgence.

"This," he says, "is why we're here."

Cholesterol levels be damned. Kick that calorie counter to the curb. Even when fairgoers are rudely reminded just how bad the stuff filling their pieholes is, they still flock to the booths of cotton candy, snow cones and deep-friend candy bars.

A nutritional-awareness group called "Calorie King" has sampled the fat and caloric content of common fair foods and the amount of exercise it takes to burn them off. The results, listed at, are enough to make your aorta roar.

Caramel apples, 298 calories a pop. Kettle corn, 490. Cheese fries, 644.

Still, not even a few self-professed calorie cops can turn fair-food fans like the Hennes family of Medford away from the deep fryers of Food Row.

When the Henneses hit the fair parking lot, they check moderation at the door.

"We surrendered when we walked through the gate," says William Hennes, who polished off a taco salad before sharing in the family Elephant Ear.

A rabid calorie-counter, Hennes has dropped 30 pounds the past six months. So he figures he's earned it.

"No counting calories today," Hennes says. "This is the one time of year we indulge ourselves."

Overgrazing on Food Row is no more than a nutritional misdemeanor to Medford nutritionist Christy Morrell — provided you're no repeat offender.

"If you only do that every year at the fair, it's no big deal," says Morrell, who is no fair-food Nazi. "You'd just get diarrhea from that onslaught of fat."

What gets you in trouble is what you do on a daily basis, she says. "I'm all for moderation in many things."

As Hennes' kids moderate their way through a half-and-half cone, Russ Koehler strolls by having successfully recoated his curly fries in ketchup.

"They need a defibrillator station right here," says Heather Koehler, Russ' wife.

Sometimes, the less sinister-sounding foods can get you closer to the shock paddles than the seemingly ominous ones.

A bag of cotton candy has 180 calories and no fat, while a snow cone with 3 ounces of syrup has 272 calories and 68 grams of carbs, according to

A snack of nachos (861 calories), soft pretzel (340 calories) and a malt (690 calories) add up to fewer calories than a chicken and rice bowl (869 calories) with a berry smoothie (350 calories) and one piece of funnel cake (760 calories).

A beef taco salad alone can mean more than 1,000 calories and take almost two hours of jogging time to burn off. That's about the same as scarfing two deep-fried Twinkies (420 calories each) and one deep-fried Oreo (98 calories).

"We always get the rap on deep-fried Twinkies, but this is not your dad's fair food," Fair Manager Chris Borovansky says.

Over the years, Food Row has sprouted booths offering non-fried fare such as teriyaki bowls (460 calories, 7 grams of fat) and veggie wraps (320 calories, 15 grams of fat). Next year, Borovansky says he plans to encourage vendors to make Food Row trans-fat-free.

Still, the fair-food staples will remain, much to the Koehlers' delight.

Russ Koehler has had a Food Row fetish since his youth, and he revels in passing that on.

Koehler says he skipped the conventional bedtime story on the night before the fair to tell the kids all about the fabulous food that awaits them.

Heather Koehler rolls her eyes in acknowledgement.

"I told him, OK. Fine. We'll eat fair food, get sick and that's that," she says.

As Koehler finishes his curly fries, nearby a svelte Annie Monaco from Central Point sits alone under the Food Row tent. Splayed on her lap is the object of her affection — a hot Elephant Ear, just like the one her mother got her hooked on here 25 years ago.

Monaco, 32, cringes at the thought of the calorie count.

"Don't tell me," Monaco says. "But you are going to tell me, aren't you?"

That's 310 calories there, Annie.

"Actually, that's not too bad," she says. "But mine's got to be more. I put on extra butter."

Russ Koehler blows through his Elephant Ear as his eldest daughter, 7-year-old Carmen, pines for a second corn dog.

"The kids can eat this stuff and burn it off in half an hour, but not me," he says.

Actually, an Elephant Ear on the lips equals 35 minutes worth of trips jogging around the track for a 33-year-old adult.

"Really?" he says. "They must have sold a Boston Marathon's worth of those today."

The thought makes Katie Baker of Eugene laugh.

The Elephant Ears vendor at the fair the past 13 years, Baker says she sells up to 1,000 of the deep-fried blobs of bread in one day here. That equates to more than 583 total hours of jogging to burn off — or enough for 194 average marathoners to beat feet through Beantown.

"Wow," Russ Koehler says, wiping his hands. "To work all this off will take me a couple years."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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