How Your State’s ‘Official Food’ Became a Thing

Did you know blueberries are the official state fruit of New Jersey?

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Photo: Joshua Resnick (Shutterstock)

From an official sandwich to an official “treat,” state legislatures have made it a serious matter to designate a food item as representative of the entire state. To some it may be trivial, but to others that official food can tell a history while attracting travelers.

With more pressing matters like climate change, foreign relations, healthcare, etc., etc (the list could go on forever), you may wonder why would state legislatures even bother with something as small as a state official dessert. Well, for some, it’s important state’s receive recognition for being the birthplace or go-to spot for a specific commodity.

A bill was proposed in 2021 to make the lobster roll Maine’s official state sandwich, but the bill did not move forward. Opponents of the bill argue that the lobster roll was not invented in the state of Maine, and the Italian sandwich would actually be better suited to represent the state as it originated in Maine.

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Why do states have official foods?

As for who started this particular custom, you can all thank the beautiful city of Chicago (The Takeout’s hometown) for helping inspire state legislatures to take on the very crucial task of approving official state symbols. The History Channel website explains that this practice can be traced back to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. At the fair, multiple women’s groups got together and decided to decorate their booths in flowers that represented their respective home states. A “National Garland of Flowers” was made to represent the entire country.

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After the World’s Fair, the idea stuck with people and many brought the concept back to their states legislatures. From there, state symbols expanded from floral to just about anything. Official birds, mammals, and minerals started popping up by the 1940s. Overall, state symbols tend to be an easy avenue for self-promotion. For example, Idaho produced about 12.9 billion pounds of potatoes in 2021 alone, so it’s no surprise that the official state vegetable is—you guessed it—potato!

Official state foods are also an interesting way for kids to learn about all 50 states. When I was in school we had a project in which each student was assigned a state and had to learn all about it. Which state did I present on? I’ll give you a hint: I brought in potato chips to share with the class.

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