Des Moines: World Food Fest’s Failure

Despite being my favorite Des Moines food event since I started going in 2008 or 2009, my excitement for the World Food and Music Festival (WFMF) wanes. Organizers lost the point of the fest: Discovery. After a conversation with friends, I realized I’m not the only one who thinks this.

At its inception, the WFMF introduced Desmoinians to international cuisines we couldn’t find elsewhere in the city. Even a few years in, we couldn’t buy boba tea, birria, bulgogi, or dinuguan (Filipino chocolate (blood) soup) on the daily. The WFMF treated us to rarities while the rest of the city stagnated in a culinary rut.

The metro’s population growth of about 10,000 folks from 2010 to 2020 broke us free from that rut. In the last 13 years–even with the pandemic–we’ve seen increased access to Korean, El Salvadoran, Peruvian, Ethiopian, Bosnian, Pakistani, and other cuisines.

With the original spirit of the WFMF, this seemed an opportunity to keep offerings fresh by adding vendors serving Iraqi, Ukrainian, Sri Lankan, Scandinavian, Nigerian, Guyanese, or, hell, even Australian options.

That’s not what we’re getting. Of the fifteen new vendors for 2023, eleven originate from . . . *checks website* . . . The United States.

Don’t get me wrong. The list of vendor countries is still good:

Screenshot of cuisines at the 2023 WFMF, which can be found at their website

The complaint is that they aren’t unique. If I’m not mistaken, only four of the 53 vendors offer cuisine you can’t get year-round in Des Moines: Antojo’s Dominican, Cambodian Street Food, Caribbean Kitchen, and Indonesian Cuisine. Certainly, other vendors are offering dishes unique to the area; however, the variety pales in comparison to what was once offered.

As an aging Xennial with a bad knee AND an iffy back, I’m unwilling to sweat through heat and humidity (again, why was this moved to August?), cope with crowds and dog-owners who struggle reading the room, and wait in lines for such a low number of truly unique vendors.

The saddest parts are the vendors who don’t take risks, especially repeat vendors who do not change their menus year-to-year. While I mean no disrespect to anyone beyond a disapproving eyebrow at the organizers, one vendor is offering wedding cake cupcakes as a sample item instead of Jabukova Pita, Oblatne, and Šape. I have no idea what those dishes are, and I want to sample them!

This year, I’m considering not going to what was the one event I looked forward to all year. I’ve got a busy weekend that weekend, and I’ve had the privilege of exposure to international cuisine on a larger level this year. It’s not fair to compare Des Moines to bigger cities, but when it comes to food, the effort to teach our community through food continues to fall short.

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