Soft Drinks? Snacks? Strange State Symbols

States choose unusual foods, drinks, products to represent them.

April 25, 2011, 6:55 AM

April 25, 2011 -- As states bestow official honors for flowers, folk dances and even desserts, is an official state energy drink on its way?

Not yet, but states are still getting mighty creative with their state symbols.

New York legislators last week introduced a bill that would make the rescue dog the state's official dog. But those in the know say states have considered even quirkier symbols in the past.

Benjamin F. Shearer, who co-authored "State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols" with his wife Barbara S. Shearer, said the practice of designating official state symbols really took off in the 1920s and 1930s.

"Garden clubs wanted to have state flowers, and they would suggest state flowers and a lot of these minor symbols used for citizenship purposes," he said. For example, "They'd let school children vote on whether they wanted the robin or the bluejay to be the state bird."

More recently, however, the motivation for adopting state symbols has shifted. "Lots of states were adopting the symbols as ads for the state," he said.

For example, to highlight its bounty of tomatoes, Ohio made tomato juice its official state beverage in 1965.

In some cases, state designations promote tourism, he said.

Hawaii likes to tell its visitors that if they snorkel in the islands they might encounter the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, the state's official fish known for its long name and prominence in the region's coral reefs. Travelers to New Hampshire quickly learn that the state's official sport is skiing.

Some states adopt official symbols for protective reasons, Shearer said, for example, to protect fossils or precious gems.

Symbols may show how the state's residents have a good time. Several states, like Oklahoma and Utah, for example, have an official folk dance (for both states, it's the square dance).

"I think these were all meant to say something about what resource a state has or what sports they have," Shearer said.

But sometimes, the symbols states choose are slightly more oddball than others -- New Mexico's "state question," for example (hint: it's related to your dinner order).

Below, take a look at nine official symbols that seem to veer from the beaten path:

Official State Question of New Mexico: "Red or Green?"

Chiles are so crucial to a meal in New Mexico that in 1999, the state designated as its official question: "Red or green?" The question refers to the two ways chiles can be served -- green or red (the color they turn after they have ripened). According to the state, this is the question diners are asked when they order a meal.

Official State Dessert of Missouri: Ice Cream Cone

In a nostalgic nod to the ice cream cone's debut at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri lawmakers named it the state's official dessert in 2008.

Official State Snack of Utah: Jell-O

In an official resolution in 2001, Utah made Kraft's Jell-O the official state snack. The resolution said that not only is Jell-O "representative of good family fun, which Utah is known for," but that the state has been the "number one per capita consumer of Jell-O for many years. To celebrate the occasion, even actor Bill Cosby, the product's famous spokesman, joined the festivities.

Official State Soft Drink of Nebraska: Kool-Aid

Want to know where they've really drinking the Kool-Aid? Nebraska. In 1998, the state declared Kool-Aid, which was developed in Hastings, Nebraska in 1927, as the official soft drink.

Official State Flavor of Vermont: Maple

In honor of the Vermont sugar maple tree (and its yummy syrup), the state of Vermont named maple the state's official flavor in 1993.

Official State Muffin of Minnesota: Blueberry

In another example of an edible emblem, Minnesota chose the wholesome blueberry muffin as its state muffin in 1988.

States Choose Toys, Types of Exercise as Symbols

Official State Exercise of Maryland: Walking

Here's one way to boost physical fitness in your state: make walking official. Citing the many health benefits of the low-impact activity, in 2008, Maryland announced that walking would be its official state exercise.

Official State Toy of Mississippi: Teddy Bear

In a decision that surely won the approval of the elementary school set, the state of Mississippi named the Teddy Bear the state toy in 2002. The designation recognized the state's connection to the toy's origin, which is that in 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a small, worn-out black bear while on a hunting expedition led by a Mississippian. His sportsmanlike choice to spare the bear led to moniker "Teddy Bear" for stuffed animals. (But Mississippi isn't alone in naming a state toy; Pennsylvania chose the Slinky as its official toy in 2001.)

Official Bird of the City of Madison, Wisconsin: Plastic Pink Flamingo

Choosing an official bird may not sound so strange, but what if the bird is plastic?

In 2009, the Madison City Council voted to make the plastic pink flamingo the city's official bird. The decision was in reference to a 1979 prank, in which students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison covered the campus with more than 1,000 plastic flamingos on the first day of class.

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