Legislators in New Hampshire are debating whether to declare apple cider the official beverage of their state. As is often the case with proposed state symbols, the bill was submitted at the request of a group of elementary school students. Students at another school have lobbied for milk to receive the honor instead.
New Hampshire state representatives talk about the official beverage proposals as if naming these symbols actually accomplished something:
Rep. Leigh Webb of Franklin saw a problem with both drinks, saying, “Neither is unique to New Hampshire. […] It will help agriculture, but I’m not sure this is the way to do it.”
This legislator implies that state symbols have the power to shape consumption patterns and improve health:
State Rep. Brian Poznanski, a Democrat from Nashua, reflected on his youth in supporting cider.
“In junior high and high school, I drank sugar and more sugar,” Poznanski said. “There’s a huge obesity problem in this country.”
The students’ teacher has a more realistic perspective on state symbols, and acknowledges that an official beverage probably won’t change people’s actions any more than the official recognition of state animals does:
“My students wanted cider to be a symbolic representation of New Hampshire because of autumn and farm stands,” Nichols said. […]
“We have a white-tailed deer as our state animal, and I’m not sure what that does for the economy, but it’s symbolic because it’s here. That’s what the children were going for, not to exclude milk by any stretch of the imagination.”
It’s clear from her statement that some people already associate apple cider with the state of New Hampshire. Her students nominated it because they’ve seen apples growing and they’ve seen stands selling cider. Many other New Hampshire residents identify these familiar sights with their state.
People are justified in thinking of apple cider as symbolic of New Hampshire. But it’s a bad idea for New Hampshire to create a new state symbol recognizing it, for the same reasons I’ve opposed the proliferation of official symbols in Missouri. Long lists of state symbols encourage people to ask the government to sign off on their opinions and preferences. They give the impression that for a symbol to count, it needs a state imprimatur.
However, there is a positive aspect of state symbols that I’ve overlooked. When people watch their representatives argue about whether cider or milk should be the state beverage, they may conclude that legislators don’t share their priorities. This could prompt them to realize that if they want to get things done in their state, they’re better off finding solutions in the market. Elected representatives are often apt to shy away from making waves about the things that matter to their constituents and instead talk about less consequential things like official drinks. Maybe the official political fish should be the red herring!