I’m going to be completely honest: until last Thursday, I had no idea what a pierogi was or how to eat it. However, thanks to the Food for Thought traveling exhibit, I suddenly found myself driving across the state to be a part of Whiting Indiana’s 16th Annual Pierogi Festival.
On the way up north, I made my first ever stop at Fair Oaks Farms. Holy cow (pun??)- it was truly love at first site! The extraordinary products, innovative environmental practices and passionate employees make Fair Oaks a Hoosier gem. After visiting the birthing barn and gorgeous garden, we filled up on phenomenal cheese and hopped back on the road for Whiting.
Whiting, IN is a small town on Lake Michigan. It’s a short drive from Chicago, and from the Whiting beach, you can even see the city skyline. The quaint town is filled with friendly folks and proud tradition. What’s even more astounding is that the town of roughly 5,000 hosts approximately 100,000 guests for the Pierogi Festival!
After setting up the exhibit, I was able to absorb the richness of the town. Imagine a crowded street, bursting with laughter, music, dancing and a medley of festival smells, namely the famous pierogi. Pierogies are delicious dumplings filled with cabbage, cheese, meat, spinach, mushroom and even fruit. They’re cooked on a hot grill and nearly impossible to dislike!
Although the festival hosts a large number of pierogi vendors, Lynethe Deli and Pierogies is the only local Whiting vendor. We had the honor of meeting and recording the owner’s story in our Story Silo. For a well-known and respected polish/slovak chef, Jesús has an unexpected story. He was born in Mexico and started cooking pierogies upon his arrival to the States about a decade ago. He’s deeply passionate about his food and driven to provide the very best quality to customers. Jesús and his wife Lynethe were proud to own the only restaurant that provides all food made from scratch, and furthermore, extend their values and warmth through the food. Jesús understands the magnitude of providing customers with his hard work, gratitude and love. It is difficult to describe the fervor that lights his face as he explains his work, but he is sincerely elated with his ability to participate and contribute to the culture of food. It’s deeply inspiring, and when Jesús and Lynethe left the tent (to cook Pierogies in the 104 degree heat!), I felt an overwhelming pride for the art of cooking and food as a cultural construct. Our food is truly more than superficial nourishment.
Besides Jesús, we collected stories in our Story Silo with Mr. Pierogi, individuals from throughout the state and Don Shepherd, a world-renowned mechanic and member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame who now sells apple dumplings!
I think it’s important to take into account the countless stories and meaning that surrounds them. Food can so easily be a vehicle to instantly unite strangers with rich bonds and meaningful conversation. People from all over the world attend the Pierogi Festival, and I can totally understand why: there’s just something about the costumes, laughter, pride and pierogies that can’t help but make a person smile.