By Miriam Oh
Once again on top for the consumption of Jell-O per capita, Utah ends its first official Jell-O week tomorrow.
A resolution passed by Senate members in last Thursday”s joint session made Jell-O Utah”s state snack.
After a rare celebrity appearance by comedian Bill Cosby to the State Capitol, legislators made it official with the passage of SR5 headed by Utah Senator Leonard Blackham. The resolution, which passed with a vote of 25-2, put Jell-O on a pedestal next to the likes of the state insect and the state cooking pot.
But while the honey bee and the Dutch oven have long lived their status as Utah state symbols, Jell-O”s new honor leads some residents to wonder. Utahan”s eat it, but do they know anything about it?
Jell-O Week ends tomorrow, but that does not mean the state of Utah can”t get ready for next year or any other such future events.
So, to educate the common Utahan on the finer points of their state food, a brief history and vital information on the bobbly snack follows. The history of the state fly and the state folk dance will be left for another day.
How Jell-O graced the world
Gelatin was first patented in 1845.
In 1897, 52 years after its creation and just one year after Utah”s statehood, Jell-O brand gelatin emerged as the brainchild of construction worker turned entrepreneur Pearl Wait in LeRoy, N.Y. Christened “Jell-O” by his wife, Wait”s fruity version of the concoction was made available for the first time in strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon.
Three years later, with only wobbly success hawking his product door-to-door, Wait sold his failing business for $450 to businessman, Orator Woodward.
But one year later, Woodward failed in his initial attempt at marketing the product. Although Woodward offered his product for only $35, there were no takers.
Woodward then marketed the product not as a tasty kid”s snack, but as an appeal to homemakers. In Ladies Home Journal, Woodward promoted the dessert as a timesaving convenience that was simple and easy to prepare. Within eight years, Woodward had turned Jell-O into a $1 million business.
Now, 104 years later, Kraft Foods, which now owns the happy dessert and markets pudding and other easy-to-make snacks under the same name, lays claim that it is the best-selling dessert in America with 23 gelatin flavors and over 706 million branded products on the market.
Why the hype in Utah?
For years Utah has been the leader in Jell-O consumption per capita. It”s even got its own Olympic pin.
A staple at almost every gathering and the pinnacle to practically every meal, Jell-O has always been a part of Utah pop culture.
But after many years at the top of the Jell-O food chain, sales fell last year and Utah plunged to second place behind Des Moines, Iowa.
Although most Utahan”s may not have even recognized the dessert as anything more than fruity, one faithful Seattleite turned Salt Lake City-ite was determined to spin things around.
Spearheading a grassroots campaign to “Take Back the Title,” Scott Blackerby, a common citizen with the state pride of a Utah beekeeping hobbyist, stepped up to the line.
“I was just trying to have fun with it and really get the kids involved,” said Blackerby, executive chef at Bambara in Salt Lake City. “It took off a lot better than I expected.”
From his downtown restaurant, Blackerby hosted the first annual “Take Back the Title!” Jell-O sculpting contest.
With creations from kids and adults alike, Blackerby”s contest, which, he promises will be an annual event, incited such Jell-O creations as “pool party,” “erupting volcano” and “seagull splat.”
As news of the contest got around, the popularity and hype of the campaign to put Utah back on top caught on.
BYU student, junior Jeremiah Christenot of Great Falls, Montana majoring in Communications, began a campaign petitioning to make Jell-O the official state food.
With the help of BYU”s student-run public relations firm, the Bradley Agency and Jell-O representative Hunter Public Relations in New York, Christenot set up Jell-O booths at state fairs, football games and even Provo”s annual Freedom Festival. At every possible venue, Christenot and his faithful following collected over 15,000 signatures urging state recognition of Jell-O.
“The campaign exemplified the fun nature of Jell-O,” Christenot said. “Some people would kid around and say, ”Shouldn”t the state food be ice cream?” and usually my response was, ”No way, Jell-O”s all-American. It”s easier to make than apple pie and tastes a lot better than hot dogs.”
Nora Bertucci of Hunter PR said with the Olympics coming up it was about time that Utah looked for ways to promote the Jell-O/Salt Lake City connection. “We thought, ”What if we help the state name Jell-O the official state food?”” she said.
Giving fame to Utah as “the No. 1 state in Jell-O consumption,” Cosby, Jell-O”s 26-year spokesman, gave praise to Utah for once again snagging the title of “Jell-O capital of the world.”
For honoring Utah for its family values and devotion to children, Utah Lieutenant Gov. Olene Walker made Cosby an honorary Utah citizen.
Bertucci, speaking for Kraft Foods, said that vice-president at Kraft Foods, Anne Fudge, was “thrilled about it.”
Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels” reaction to their plummeting Jell-O status in an edition of the Des Moines Register joked about the city”s performance.
“I”m highly disappointed in the people of our city,” he said.
After falling second to Iowa last year, Utah is on top again and on its wobbly pedestal stakes claim as the Jell-O capital of the world. A distinction that now equals that of Utah”s state fish and the official state grass, Utahan”s are celebrating its recaptured fame.
What makes it jiggle?
Happy a product as it may be, gelatin is made of dead animal skins, bones and hooves.
According to Beakman”s World, a children”s Website that explains scientific phenomena, gelatin is a protein that has cooled around and trapped a trace of liquid. Trapped and suspended by a solid, gelatin flows like a liquid but always bounces back into shape.
So, if there were ever an earthquake to hit the mid-west, guaranteed, Utah would be the first to know because, if it shakes, the gelatin and its entrapped liquid, will jiggle.
In 1997, Jell-O celebrated its 100th birthday. It was served as the “Welcome to America” gift to immigrants passing through Ellis Island, and now a Website features plates of gelatin that actually jiggle. Jell-O is American culture”s “star attraction,” says Jell-O”s Fun Facts listing.
With 69,089 ways (and counting) that Jell-O can be finagled and molded, fruit and whip cream are not the limit.
In Eugene, OR, residents of a local art gallery hold an annual Jell-O art show every April Fool”s Day, named “Jell-O-Rama.” In 1998, the Jell-O Traveling Art Museum made its way to children”s museums in seven states. In Seattle, students in local high schools celebrate homecoming week with Jell-O wresting. And in our home state, Utahan”s celebrate St. Patrick”s Day with an appropriate tribute to the state”s poster Jell-O flavor: lime.
A symbol rich with history and fruity flavor, Utah can take pride in Jell-O as its official food, a featured category no other state has.
The snack that Blackerby said “has brought millions of smiles to Utahan”s,” promises that next year”s Jell-O Week should mold itself into the beginnings of a yearly-anticipated event.
So, be it officially resolved by the Utah State Legislature, that for the first full week of February, Utah now has an official time period to celebrate its official state snack.