The Brief, but Strange History of Official State Snacks

After an hour of "animated," "feisty," and "heated" debate, the New York State Senate voted to name yogurt the state's official snack on Tuesday.

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After an hour of "animated," "feisty," and "heated" debate, the New York State Senate voted to name yogurt the state's official snack on Tuesday. "Both from a health standpoint and economic standpoint, yogurt is particularly suitable as the state snack," Bill S6695 reads, citing New York as the U.S.'s biggest producer of yogurt. The yogurt bill was spurred by a proposal from a 4th-grade class — always a model for thoughtful deliberation — and state Senator Michael Ranzenhofer sponsored it and put it to the floor for a vote.

From there, lawmakers took reasoned debate to new heights, giving everyone a beautiful look at democracy in action.

  • "Did the sponsor consider raisins as a potential official state snack?" Sen. Gustavo Rivera said. "Perhaps pretzels? … What if the pretzel was dipped in yogurt? … Cheesecake?"
  • "Yogurt is an all-inclusive type of product," said Sen. Ranzenhofer.

BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweeted some other highlights (lowlights?) of the debate.

But judge they did, approving yogurt by a 52-8 vote. The fight for state supremacy is not over, though. The bill still hasn't been brought before the State Assembly for final approval. But if it does pass and gets signed by the Governor, New York would be just the fifth state to adopt an official snack, and each of the others have histories that are just as frivolous and arbitrary. 

In honor of the humble yogurt cup, The Wire investigated the backstory of the four official State Snacks, and how they came to take their place in munchtime lore.

Utah – Jell-O

Utah's affection for the shaky treat runs deep in the Beehive State. They are roughly the same age, as Utah became a state in 1896 and Jell-O was invented in 1897. Utah residents consume the most Jell-O per capita in the U.S., and the strange gelatinous favorite has inspired guides to Mormon food and even 2002 Winter Olympics trinkets.

In 2001, with those Olympics looming and worldwide attention on the way, Utah took the step of codifying Jell-O as the official state snack. The bill's text provides 12 reasons why Jell-O is so important, and all are worth a good chuckle. For example: "WHEREAS, Jell-O® is representative of good family fun, which Utah is known for throughout the world." Utah: the home of the Great Salt Lake, the Mormon Tabernacle, Jell-O, and good family fun.

Texas – Tortilla chips and salsa

(AP Photo/Liz Schultz)

In 2003, Texas named the favored appetizer of Tex-Mex foodies everywhere its official state snack. House Concurrent Resolution 16 of the 78th Legislature notes the cultural history of tortilla chips and salsa to the state, from the snack's "popularity ratings in the stratosphere" to the economic role of farming corn, onions, and tomatoes.

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.

The bill also notes that the food has been embraced by "Texans of every ethnic background," making it the ideal choice for our largest state's snack.

South Carolina – Boiled peanuts

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Boiled peanuts entered South Carolina's lawbooks in 2006 in the short and sweet Bill 4585. "The General Assembly finds that boiled peanuts are a delicious and popular snack food," the bill begins, and adds that the snack is a "truly Southern delicacy." Historians trace the origins of the food to cuisine brought to America by African slaves before the Civil War. In addition, the prevalence of the food inspired the Civil War song "Peas, peas, peas, peas / Eating goober peas / Goodness, how delicious / Eating goober peas," according to the Charleston City Paper.

Still, lawmakers amended an important caveat on the bill from its original version in order to assuage worried parents. "Nothing in this section requires or encourages any school district in this State to serve peanuts to students, especially students with food allergies." Pity the peanut allergy kid who has to grow up in South Carolina.

Illinois – Popcorn

(AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Popcorn seems like a random choice for Illinois, and the bill propping up popcorn to state snack is noticeably empty of any reasons defending the selection. "Popcorn is designated the official State snackfood of the State of Illinois," reads the entirety of SB0185, enacted in 2003. Like in New York, Illinois' honoring of popcorn was spurred by a young grade-school class suggestion. Though Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska are probably more noted for their endless fields of stalks, Illinois is actually one of the leading producers of popcorn in the country. It may have just been a way to make Indiana, the home of popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher, a little jealous of its neighbor.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.