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The American Polish Festival and Craft Show in Sterling Heights, organized by the American Polish Century Club has many die-hard fans who come to celebrate their heritage, rain or shine!

On Friday, June 21, during the first day of the festival, it not only rained at times, but poured. However, visitors were not deterred from enjoying such attractions as the Wawel Dance Ensemble performance, the beer tent, the Kielbasa Café, the Polka music, and an electrifying evening performance by – Polish festivals favorite – the irresistible Polish Muslims. As reported by the Macomb Daily, 58 different vendors offered different crafts and merchandise during the three-day-long festival.


When the Wawel Dance Ensemble started their Friday afternoon performance it was raining so hard that both the audience and the dancers barely heard the music, but the performance was still great.  It has been a busy season for the group which spent the previous weekend dancing at the largest US Polish American festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Arnold Beller, the American Polish Century Club President, officially opened the festival and introduced the Board and the Ladies Auxiliary who worked hard to put together this annual event. Then Sterling Heights Councilwomen Barbara Ziarko read a proclamation granting the reign of the city (temporarily!) to three beautiful royalties: the queen Lucy Bemiss, and the princesses, Elise Lubiarz and Maria Kasperek.  Then the National anthems of Poland and the United States were sung by this year’s Festival Queen, Lucy Bemiss.  And this queen can sing! The Polish Weekly predicts many more singing engagements for the very talented Lucynka, who together with Julie LaRocca recently formed the duo “Siostry Folklorystyczne” which performed during the second day of the festival (more about them later.)

Among the vendors and organizations which come every year to the festival, such as the Polish Day Parade, New Palace Bakery, the Polish Pride store, Amber Treasures with Dariusz Skórski, or Recultured Designs with Oleńka Lisiecki, there was also “a new kid on the block”: the newly formed Michigan Chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation, which has been active for nearly a century, promoting Polish culture and the Polish language.  For two days the KF Michigan Chapter officers and board members engaged many festival guests in talks about programs offered by the KF, especially their scholarships and study abroad programs.



The second day of the American Polish Festival and Craft Show – “Hamtramck Reunion Day” – brought more Polka dancing, with the excellent and very entertaining John Stevens’ “Doubleshot” polka band from Kingston, Pennsylvania, some vodka tasting (Żubrówka!) and performances by three local Polish dance groups Opole, Halka and Zakopane. The highlight of the day – at least for this author – was the performance by Lucy Bemiss and Julie LaRocca, aka “Siostry Folklorystyczne”, whose beautiful and full-of-energy singing and dancing took the audience by storm! You can see the video at the bottom of this page.

On Sunday, there was more fun, a Polka Mass with John Gora and “Gorale”, more music and dancing, and inevitably … a pierogi-eating contest!  It was the 11th time the “Środek’s Pierogi Eating Challenge” was organized and this year it was won by a returning champion, Matt Holowicki of Plymouth, who ate 41 potato and cheese pierogi (or rather: pierogów) in the span of 10 minutes. The runner-up in the competition was Jonathan Redziniak, who consumed 29 pierogi while third place went to Thomas Valdgriff for eating 27 pierogi. All of the contestants were men.  As we learned from the Środek website, the pierogi-eating record still belongs to Matt Holowicki who during the contest in 2011 consumed 49 pierogi.


But as soon as the dust of the competition had settled, and the winner walked off with the first prize of $500 and the runner-up with $300, the event kicked up some dust on social media, causing some controversies. Critics of the contest, in whose opinion the contest is nothing but the encouragement of gluttony and the promotion of an unhealthy “sport”, suggested replacing it with something that is better suited to promote Polish cuisine.  In addition – they argued – such a contest is in direct opposition to respect for food, and the care used to prepare it, which are deeply rooted in Polish culture.

While agreeing that all food, not only Polish, should be respected and used for nourishment only, and condemning unhealthy eating habits and food waste, one could also look at the contest through a different lens.

First, the contest is a traditional, “carnival” form of entertainment, not a high-brow one (“carnivals” never have been), done “tongue-in-cheek”, for laughs, not seriously, as the critics seem to take it.

And yes, there might be better ways of “experiencing pierogi” or “promoting Polish cuisine”. This contest, however, clearly patterned on hot dog, or pie-eating contests, is our Polish American version of these food- eating contests and is also our way of poking fun at ourselves.

Looking at a pierogi-eating contest from a cultural-anthropology point of view, we can see in it a “transgression”, and traditional cultures always allowed for temporary “transgressions”, when the rules that otherwise were enforced every day, were suspended, the world was symbolically turned upside down, and people were allowed to behave in inappropriate ways. After the carnival (or the third day of the festival for this matter…!)  was over, the normal (strict) order was restored.

So, kudos to the organizers and the contenders, who probably knowing how outrageous they looked, still stuffed their faces with pierogi (but only for 10 minutes), once more claiming pierogi to be POLISH, and showing that we Poles do have a sense of humor!

Besides, we could think of many popular forms of entertainment (for example, car races) which could be seen as more outrageous, dangerous and simply wrong – especially in these times when we all need to reduce our carbon footprint – than a pierogi eating contest.

We would like to know what do our readers think about the pierogi eating contest. Should it stay or should it go?  Please let us know!

Big thank you to Magdalena Srodek for the photos of the pierogi-eating contest and to Donna Kutylowski-Czeski, whose FB post, and the comments that followed, inspired a part of this article.


"Lipka" performed by Lucy and Julia

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