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Are We Really What we Eat?

Cocolate chip cookies are the proposed official food of Pennsylvania.
Cocolate chip cookies are the proposed official food of Pennsylvania.

It’s no secret that Americans love to eat. Really love to eat. That’s why obesity is such an epidemic in the country. That, along with a sedentary lifestyle, puts millions of Americans at risk for major health problems. But is there another way to think about making Americans healthier? Can where one lives be a contributing factor to improving one’s health?

Foods and lifestyles vary by regions of the country. Each state has its own unique soil, climate and topography, and some of the larger states have several different regions. Growing conditions dramatically affect food production directly with what comes from the soil, and secondarily with food sources that eat what grows in native soil. These conditions affect the foodstuffs states have chosen as official state foods and beverages. When state residents consume them, it may help (or hinder) improving their overall health.

Some states apparently focus their energies in areas other than official native food awareness and promotion. This is a missed opportunity for states to support hard working farmers, growers and food industry producers in their boundaries. Sorry, but if you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming, you are out of luck. Your states officially don’t like what you grow. Nevada is understandable- not much grows in the desert, but Hawaii? What about pineapples? California? Everything grows there, but maybe they don’t like picking favorites and creating animosity.


Official beverages are a high priority in many states. Of the 22 states choosing an official beverage, milk is the winner with a margin of 17 to 5. Hold outs included Florida (OJ, which is OK), Massachusetts, which chose cranberry juice, New Hampshire (apple cider), and Ohio, where lots of tomato juice is consumed. These choices reflect native products, except maybe Ohio, but tomatoes are round, like half the letters in the word “Ohio.”

Pennsylvania has only one additional proposed official food, the chocolate chip cookie. This is fine, since milk and cookies pair up nicely. Two states also chose a less healthy soft drink in addition to nutritious milk: Maine’s official soft drink is Moxie (trademark name from the early 1900’s for a bitter, non-alcoholic drink, touted as being able to help drinkers thereof to “build up your nerve”), and Nebraska, which chose kool aid. South Carolina adds tea as a “hospitality beverage” which may or may not compliment the official state snack food of boiled peanuts (pronounced “barled” by official South Carolinians). Rhode Island added “coffee milk” which gives ambiguous imbibers a couple options.


Most choosy states chose an official fruit or two. Blackberries, peaches, oranges, blueberries, grapes, varieties of apples, chokecherries, pears and grapefruits make the list. Ohio officially grows the pawpaw. In New Hampshire, pumpkins are a fruit, which the Mayo Clinic verifies, since in correct botanical terms, fruits develop from a flower.


One would think that all the healthy state fruit choices would result in healthy state residents, but in almost every state that has an official fruit choice, there is also a state dessert choice. They don’t always reflect the state fruit choice. Pies are popular, including fruity peach, blueberry, apple in several states, and pecan in Texas, although pecan is the Alabama official nut. Other selections include Key lime for Florida, sugar cream in Indiana (the state’s only official food), kuchen in South Dakota, Whoopie pie in Maine (apparently a fun state), Maryland’s Smith Island cake, Louisiana’s beignet, and of course, Boston Cream pie in Massachusetts, which also officially promotes the Boston Cream donut.


Popular state vegetables include Vidalia onions from Georgia, the Washington Walla Walla sweet onion, the Spanish Sweet onion in Utah which also claims sugar beets as a historic vegetable, potatoes from Idaho and New Hampshire, sweet potatoes in North Carolina and Louisiana, pinto beans in New Mexico, watermelons in Oklahoma (WebMD says it is the fruit that is really a vegetable), and varieties of tomatoes in several states, although tomatoes may be a fruit, according to Cornell University, which calls it a “vegetable fruit”. The Supreme Court calls it a vegetable. Massachusetts sports the baked navy bean (Boston baked beans), and Minnesota chimes in with the Morel mushroom and Oregon with the pacific golden chanterelle. Oddly, no state claims corn, although the US is the world’s leading corn growing country with 80 million designated acres producing over 13 billion bushels in 2013.


States that really enjoy food promotion go all out in miscellaneous official categories. Alabama claims to be the official BBQ Cook-off State (is the grill the official cooking vessel?), and Arkansas and Texas both claim the Dutch oven as their official cooking vessels. Texas claims a lot of other official goodies like Pan de campo as its state bread and strudel and sopaipilla as official pastries. The state claims jalapenos and chiltepin as official peppers, chili as the state dish, and chips and salsa as the state snack.

Other official state meal choices range from Georgia grits to Louisiana’s gumbo and Natchitoches meat pie. Delaware’s state herb is the sweet goldenrod and Maine’s is wintergreen.

There is no all American official food, but Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing makes the nominee list, along with apple pie and ice cream. Other contenders might be the corn dog, pizza, S’mores, and the turducken. So the next time you roll up a tortilla, taste your first sip of breakfast orange juice, cook with the kids, or set out the appetizers for the party, thank the creative and hardworking growers, farmers and gardeners throughout the states for their creative and diligent efforts in giving us such a delicious variety of food for thought.

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