Snacks are serious business.
And when one specific snack—yogurt—came up for consideration for New York's official snack food, lawmakers had a lot of questions.
"Did the sponsor consider raisins as a potential official state snack?" asked one senator during an hour-long debate by the New York state Senate. "Perhaps pretzels? … What if the pretzel was dipped in yogurt? … Cheesecake?" Another wondered if people who are lactose intolerant might be offended. A third made a last-minute appeal for the carrot cookie.
Commitment fears hung in the air. "I don't think I can vote to make yogurt the official state snack," one senator said. "I don't think we should rush to judgment on yogurt tonight."
The chamber eventually voted 52-8 to make yogurt the official state snack. The bill, which heads to the State Assembly for approval, provides this reasoning for the pick:
Yogurt is a healthy food that tastes great and is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium, all nutrients that are an important part of a good diet. Yogurt is also an important economic driver across our state; in fact New York is now the No. 1 processor of yogurt in the country."
New York, including at least one of its senators, also has a vocal love affair with the Greek yogurt company Chobani, whose main production plant is located upstate.
Not any food can just become a state snack—it has to matter to the residents who consume it. Here's a list of other states with official snack foods, and what it took for them get there.
The recipe for success, it seems, involves health benefits, cultural significance, and, surprisingly, feisty elementary-school kids.
For Utah, health benefits were not at the forefront of the debate over its own state snack in 2001: Jell-O. Rather, it was a history of widespread consumption by residents. Here's a sampling of the legislation's reasoning:
WHEREAS, Jell-O® brand gelatin was introduced to the country in 1897, just one year after Utah was admitted to the Union as the 45th state;
WHEREAS, Utah has been the No. 1 per capita consumer of Jell-O® brand gelatin for many years;
WHEREAS, Jell-O® is representative of good family fun, which Utah is known for throughout the world;
WHEREAS, Salt Lake Magazine proclaimed Utah "the Jell-O® State" in a cover story in 1996;
WHEREAS, Jell-O® brand gelatin recipes, which often include bananas, apples, marshmallows, pretzels, carrots, and grapes, are a traditional favorite at family, church, and community dinners throughout the Beehive State.
The next year, one of the souvenir pins created for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City depicted green Jell-O.
The Prairie State declared popcorn its official snack in 2003, beating out Doritos and Cheetos. The move came as a surprise to some. Illinois is among the leading producers of popcorn in the U.S., but at the time only ranked fourth in acres of popcorn expected to be harvested, behind Nebraska and Indiana.
But, as the Chicago Tribune explained back then, Chicagoans love their popcorn:
If you doubt America's devotion to popcorn, just stand for a while and watch the lines that always snake out of the Garrett popcorn shop on Michigan Avenue. They don't need ads. You walk by, you smell it, you get in line.
With a hot-air popper and no butter, it's almost diet food. Drenched in butter, it's a heart attack in a bag.
The basic trinity—caramel, plain, cheese—reflect a sort of complete cycle of life. There's a kernel of wisdom here, in the sweet, the salty, and the savory. One leads to the other, then back again. Perfect.
Trouble sprang up for Illinois's favorite snack a decade later. The federal "Smart Snacks" program, which will place restrictions on school snacks starting this fall, could prohibit cheesy, candy-flavored, and other unhealthy types of popcorn.
For the Lone Star State, designating tortilla chips and salsa as its official snack food in 2003 was a no-brainer for a number of reasons, including tradition:
Like the square dance, the guitar, and the rodeo, tortilla chips and salsa are deeply rooted in Texas tradition and enjoy popularity throughout the length and breadth of the state; stocked in countless kitchens, they are brought out for solitary refreshment and for social gatherings of virtually every description and level of formality.
In addition to their traditional importance as a foodstuff, peppers, onions, and tomatoes have played a significant role in Texas folk medicine, and their value in fighting illness is being increasingly recognized by modern science.
And the economy:
Together with corn, these three plants also play a notable economic role in the state; in recent years, onions have ranked as the No. 1 cash truck crop in Texas, while corn has accounted for about 5 percent of the state's agricultural economy; nationwide in 2000, Texas ranked 1st in the production of jalapeño peppers, 4th in the production of onions, and 16th in the production of tomatoes, while a 2002 report ranks the state 10th in the production of corn.
Boiled peanuts were declared South Carolina's state snack in 2006 because they have been a staple there since the early 20th century. These days, the legumes can be bought just about anywhere in South Carolina—in stores, roadside stands, baseball games, and this online catalog.
Imagine if edamame tasted like peanuts and were frequently eaten with hot sauce. The peanut softens, sometimes to mush if you like them like that, sometimes just on the border of crunchy and tender. Purists will probably balk at this (most boiled peanut-loving Southerners insist on water and salt only), but we've added every flavoring to boiled peanuts we can think of, from Old Bay to Tabasco sauce to smoked paprika to curry powder.
Of course, no successful state snack campaign would be complete without a couple of meddling kids. In New York, the idea to make it official with yogurt came from fourth-grade students from Byron-Bergen Elementary School. In Illinois, the popcorn proposal came from second- and third-grade students at Cunningham Elementary School in Joliet. And in Texas, a group of third-graders from Mission pushed for the legislation. Kino Flores, their local representative, took up the issue, explaining that it was "not a waste of time but rather a worthy way to involve youngsters in the democratic process."
Democracy has never tasted so good.