Food Facts & Lore

A Few Colorful Food Laws

a few us state food laws

Margarine arrived on American tables in the 1870’s. Natural butter had been a well-established tradition for centuries; and it was a chief ingredient in the economic success of farmers. It was also more expensive than margarine, meaning that the “make-believe” spread soon became a favorite staple in most households. Word soon spread among farmers (pardon the pun) that this was a sure sign of impending ruin.

Margarine is naturally white. Manufacturers understood they needed to appeal to the general public. Yellow was the iconic color of natural butter; a sure sign of wholesome goodness. The solution was most evident: dye margarine yellow. Instant appeal. Some behavior changes truly require little incentive. Simply appeal to the senses and voila!

Butter producers jumped on their high horses, so to speak, claiming the scheme was a blatant deception. It was a long battle, but by 1902 laws were passed in at least 30 states requiring that margarine be died an unattractive color. Brown, pink and even black were suggested. Vermont and New Hampshire were among the supporters of the initiative.  The supreme court overturned such laws (AKA Pink Laws) for one simple reason: It was illegal to impose and enforce the adulteration of any food.

While it is understandable that an all-American industry might want to protect itself from what was deemed to be unethical competition, every state has its share of odd or downright off the wall laws, many of which fail to be explained by common sense alone. In addition to this, some historical records have faded away. Nevertheless, contemplate if you will the following legendary laws from 9 other states.

MAINE – The famous New England Clam Chowder once inspired a law of its own. It was considered quite seriously. Had it passed, it would be illegal to include tomatoes in the recipe.

GEORGIA – Gainesville, GA, is also known as the Poultry Capital of the World. The law in this case is somewhat of a prank, but the local police department clearly had a sense of humor when it made it official with a bona fide ordinance. Thus, in Gainesville, Georgia, it is illegal to consume chicken with utensils.

ALABAMA – In this state, you might catch the attention of the local police force if you walk down the street with an ice cream cone in your back pocket. This law, while outdated, is actually well founded. There was a time when horse thieves lured the animals by filling a pocket with ice cream, making it look like the beast simply followed its nose and craving.

CALIFORNIA – If you love frog legs, beware. It is illegal to eat any frog (or any part of a frog) that has taken part in a frog jumping competition. Athletic frogs are off the menu in the golden state; a strong message in favor of activity and excellence.

INDIANA – Beech Grove comes center stage with a law pertaining to a favorite summer fruit. It is illegal to eat watermelon in this state park. The unfortunate law became necessary for cleanliness and animal control reasons as the rinds punch holes through the park’s garbage bags.

RHODE ISLAND – Keep a lid on your temper tantrums, and your pickle jars in this state, where it is illegal to cast pickle juice upon a trolley. We imagine this may have originated with some transportation workforce conflict but could not find records to verify.

OHIO – Do tell. How often do you fancy to walk about backwards? That is not a problem in itself (though it might turn some heads), but if you do it in Ohio, make sure you are not snacking on a doughnut at the same time. For that, right there, is illegal.

SOUTH DAKOTA – Sleeping in any food factory or food service establishment is clearly not acceptable and laws exist to prohibit the behavior. But in South Dakota interpretation of the law was slightly distorted so that you are most likely to hear it stated that it is illegal to sleep in a cheese factory in that state.

We’ll end with NEW YORK – Brace yourself. It used to be illegal to serve alcoholic beverages along with brunch in the Big Apple state. No worries. This law is no longer in effect since 2016. Whew, close call!

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