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Pie-eating contests offer a sweet way for communities to reconnect after lockdowns

Winners celebrate after the Teton County Fair's pie-eating contest in Jackson, Wyo., on Aug. 1, 2021.

It's Pi Day today. Since we don't have any math inspired activities to share with you, we thought we'd share some photos of the other kind of pie.

The summer of 2021 was a hopeful one for many after the tumultuous year brought by the height of the coronavirus pandemic — people were getting vaccinated and many anticipated a summer of reunions after so much time spent apart. Photographer Maggie Shannon was one of many looking for celebrations of communities coming together again.

Her mind immediately went to county fairs — events that brought a particular sense of nostalgia from when she used to the agricultural fair growing up in her hometown of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

"[It was] a big event that brought all of the different people in my community together," she says. "It was always at the end of the summer, so it was this way, like, the final blowout."

Shannon began researching pie-eating contests across the country to find out which ones were coming up and then reached out to organizers. She and her husband then planned a two-week road trip to give them the chance to visit three fairs across Wyoming and Colorado.

"The pie-eating contests were amazing and the energy was so fun," Shannon says. "You get this beautiful, bright, sunny day and everyone's wearing really bright, happy colors and there's the contestants lined up in front of the Ferris wheel and everything, and there's a huge crowd surrounding the table, just cheering everybody on."

"A lot of the organizers told me that the ticket sales for these fairs were totally just bonkers this year because everyone was just so excited to celebrate again."

Shannon said she found herself connecting to the communities as they made their way from fair to fair. She grew up going to fairs and enjoying slices of strawberry rhubarb pie with her family. The pandemic prevented her from being able to return home to visit her family, especially because her mother is immunocompromised, but attending the county fairs have helped remind her of those special moments she shared with them growing up.

"The most special thing [was] being invited into these communities and feeling so welcomed," Shannon says. "I felt like I had a family — just very sweet and warm and something we take for granted sometimes. People are amazing."

When asked what she hopes people take away from her photos, Shannon said she wants "people to find that joy — just this little moment of joy when everything is so insane; you can still eat pie and have fun with each other."

Maggie Shannon is a photographer specializing in portrait and documentary work. Hailing from Martha's Vineyard, she received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts and is now based in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and cat. Maggie aims to tell stories of smaller communities and social rituals, with the goal of lifting edge voices and building a more inclusive world. Follow Maggie's work at maggieshannon.net and on Instagram, at @maggiehshannon .

Zayrha Rodriguez contributed to this piece. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.