STATE HOUSE

February 1, 2011

Whoopie pie bill may lead to food fight

Blueberries suggested as alternative

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Michelle Obama wouldn't be pleased. Maine's Legislature appears poised to make the whoopie pie the official state dessert.

click image to enlarge

A whoopie pie prepared Friday at Isamax in Gardiner. A bill before the Legislature is proposing to make whoopie pies the official state dessert.

The designation, supporters say, would give Maine bakeries a marketing edge and raise awareness that the pies are more popular here than anywhere else in the country.

But opponents say the legislation sends the wrong message at a time when the nation is struggling to fight childhood obesity, an issue the first lady has championed.

On Monday, at a hearing before the Legislature's State and Local Government Committee, Rep. Donald Pilon dismissed whoopies as "frosting delivery vehicles" and suggested that wild-blueberry pie deserves to be the state's official dessert.

"At a time when 31.3 percent of Maine's children are considered overweight or obese, do we want to glorify a dessert that lists lard as its primary ingredient?" asked Pilon, D-Saco.

Pro-pie forces countered with a nutritionist of their own. Katherine Musgrave, a retired professor from the University of Maine, said the whoopie pie's chocolate has ingredients that serve as antioxidants that relax blood pressure.

And some variations, such as pumpkin or peanut butter, provide more nutrition, she said.

The pies -- creamy frosting sandwiched by a pair of chocolate cakes -- have surged in popularity during the economic downturn, said Amos Orcutt, president of the Maine Whoopie Pie Association. He suggested that's because it's a comfort food that is "pure, edible nostalgia."

In Maine, several commercial bakeries sell the pies, some to out-of-state customers. Many people bake whoopie pies at home and sell them at corner stores, Orcutt said.

John Linscott of Portland, who recited song lyrics that he wrote about whoopie pies, said these hard times call for a sugary pick-me-up.

"We need comfort," he said. "The whoopie pie is the answer. It's a panacea for all our ills."

The bill's backers even had a man dressed in a whoopie pie costume for Monday's hearing. He identified himself only as "Sweetie Pie," and said that at the age of 59, he's not too old to perform as a dessert.

"A good whoopie pie never expires," he said.

Although there appears to be strong bipartisan support for the bill, L.D. 71, there is opposition on other fronts besides the nutritional one.

There is a technical problem with the bill, noted fourth-graders from Janet Tremble's class at Williams Elementary School in Oakland. In a letter to the committee, they wrote that the whoopie pie is a snack, not a dessert.

The class also noted that wild blueberries are grown in Maine and are a more healthful food.

But blueberry growers are reluctant to oppose the whoopie pie bill, said David Bell, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

"We just don't want to start a food fight," he said.

One compromise, he suggested, is to name blueberry pie the state pie or the blueberry muffin the state muffin.

Maine's whoopie pie ties are strong, said Nancy Griffin, author of "Making Whoopies: the Official Whoopie Pie Book."

She said Labadie's Bakery in Lewiston has been baking them since 1925 - far longer than any other bakery in the country. A fire there in the 1960s destroyed the bakery's records, so there is no paper trail, she said.

"We can't prove it but we can assume it," she said of Maine's claim to inventing the whoopie pie.

The committee did not vote on Monday. It will discuss the issue again on Feb. 9.

Republican Rep. Paul Davis of Sangerville, the bill's sponsor, told the committee that whoopie pies are a lot like the legislative process.

"We have two sides here in Augusta, and we have to find a way to have a filling between the two sides to hold them together," he said. "I would suggest a filling that has a tiny dash of tolerance, a bit of compromise, a lot of patience, and realization that we all love Maine and want to do the best for our people."

Tom Bell -- 699-6261

tbell@mainetoday.com

 

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