The Roundabout Way State Foods Get The Official Nod

Georgia has its peaches. In Louisiana, it's gumbo. And Idaho, of course, is all about potatoes. We're talking about official state foods. It would be logical to assume the mention of any state food would conjure an ah-ha image connecting the food to the state, but that's not always the case. In fact, some pairings are so far-fetched they're borderline comical — or at least cause for pause. And, occasionally, that moment of reflection reveals an obscure connection that makes perfect sense.

For instance, what gives Massachusetts the right to declare chocolate chip cookies an official state food? Turns out, chocolate chip cookies — officially Toll House Cookies — were created at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Another curious connection?  Shrimp cocktail claims the official moniker in the land-locked state of Nevada. And, yes, there is a plausible connection. It all goes back to 1959 when Las Vegas casino owner Italo Ghelfi began offering shrimp cocktails to his patrons. Other establishments followed suit, locking down the link between shrimp cocktail and the glitz of Las Vegas. But who makes these declarations and what makes them official? Believe it or not, it's a sometimes complex, and often contentious, political process.

Turns out the majority of proposals to name official state foods originate in classrooms, where instructors engage students with projects designed to teach them the ins and outs of the legislative process.

It often starts in the classroom

It all started in 1964, when New Mexico high school student Helen Loera proposed naming the chile as the state's official vegetable. At the time, Loera was studying history under the tutelage of a teacher who also happened to be a member of the New Mexico state legislature. Should have been a slam-dunk, right? It wasn't. The proposal stirred debate from a fellow legislator who happened to represent a bean-growing district. The solution? A compromise naming both the pinto bean and the chile as New Mexico's official state vegetables — plural.

Then there's the case of the Wisconsin second-grade class that proposed designating the cranberry muffin as the state's official muffin. At the time, Wisconsin was the second-largest producer of cranberries in the United States. Connection? Check! Easy-peasy? Not so much. The project dragged on for several sessions as legislators — in some cases, sarcastically — debated its merits, including one who suggested naming the "ragamuffin" as the state's official child muffin and another who argued the state's official muffin should be the meadow muffin. That's right. Cow dung. 

Despite the political hijinks, most U.S. states have managed to name at least one official food. A handful of states, however — including Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Colorado — have avoided the process. And for the record, as of 2022 Wisconsin still doesn't have an official state muffin, but the state does lay claim to kringle as its official pastry.