Thursday, August 14, 2008

Protecting Regional American Food Brands

Terrior: Originally a French term in wine, coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon them. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place" which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product. (Condensed from Wikipedia and

Last night, over a lovely dinner of stuffed zucchini and my Wartime Wednesday contribution of rice ala creole, my neighbor Chris; who writes the food blog Coarse Food, a food blog dedicated to very traditional New England fare, and I wandered into the deep water conversation of regional foods and specifically the use of hardtack in Northern New England and Canadian Maritimes cooking. I told Chris that should he wish to try a few recipes using hardtack, I would be happy to bake some for him or, that barring my actual baking of hardtack, he could use either Crown Pilot

My Last Pack of Crown Pilot Crackers - Discontinued Yet Again by Nabisco
Note: This is my last pack of Crown Pilot Crackers

or Royal Milk Biscuits as good substitutes.

Royal Lunch Milk Crackers - Discontinued by Nabisco

Both are long time New England crackers made by Nabisco regionally for over 100 years.

That is until the past few months...

You see today, while looking for links to hardtack and my recommended substitutions I discovered the awful truth that both have been discontinued by Nabisco. Apparently neither provide enough sales to satisfy the corporate greed of the bean counters at Kraft, the large behemoth food company; regional tradition be damned.

Crown Pilot Crackers - The Chowder Cracker Discontinued by Nabisco

This isn't the first time that Nabisco has discontinued the Crown Pilot. In 1997, Nabisco announced they were discontinuing the traditional chowder cracker but a large protest by New Englanders, spearheaded by the folks of Chebeague Island in Maine, and people from further afield brought the cracker back, much to my and every other New Englander's delight. It appears that we will have to try again to save our beloved crackers. Unfortunately, it isn't only these traditional New England crackers that have disappeared from the American regional foodscape.

In the South, they are lamenting the loss of White Lily Flour from its traditional home of Knoxville, TN. Apparently when that other large conglomerate Smuckers bought White Lily and Martha White, it decided that moving the milling of this traditional Southern mainstay to Northern climes would be fine and promised that the flour would be same, because after all flour is just flour right? Wrong. Reports from some long time Southern friends and on Chowhound seem to indicate differently. Not to mention if anything besides providing hours of laughs and joy with my fellow Babes, all the Bread Baking Babes breads have proven that flour is a very regional item and regional baked goods absolutely depend on the flour to turn out correct in texture and taste.

The loss of regional foods doesn't stop at the grindstone of White Lily either. Potato chips seem to be one of the foods that define the snacking style of a region. Chicago is still reeling from the move of Jay's Potato Chips; where the smell of cooking potato chips has wafted over the South Side since the early 1920's. True, the manufacturing just moved over the border to Indiana but Jay's was a special Chicago brand and you knew you were within 50 miles of Chicago if, when you went into the store or the gas station, there were those Jay's Potato chips in their distinctive blue and white bag.

I'm sure there are many, many other cases of regional food losses that I am not even aware of but whose loss is deeply felt in the regional food fabric of their areas. Which brings me to the point of this little rant.

I think it is time for some protections to be afforded regional specialities and brands in the United States, not unlike those afforded Bordeaux wine and Stilton cheese. It is also time we, the food community, start supporting these local brands. They are part of makes New England different from New York and New York different than New Mexico. Without these foods, what little is left that identifies the culture and history of food in this vast country is diminished; especially since often the regional specialties are made from these local brands.

Here is a list of regional brands that, if you live near, please consider purchasing. These regional brands, even if the brand is owned by a conglomerate, are made locally to serve the region and thus are part of your area's unique food culture.

After all, it is all part of "eating locally" and remember by keeping these brands local, you also keep the jobs local. If you aren't a local, consider when you are traveling in these areas, picking up a bag of local brand chips or a can of the local soda pop. Or better yet, create your own regional brand care package to send back home and share with your friends.

Because, the brand you protect might just be your brand.

Oh, and if you don't mind, give Kraft a call or drop them an email and let them know that they need to bring back the Crown Pilot and the Royal Milk too. I and the rest of New England would really appreciate it; especially since chowder season is right around the corner and I can't imagine making corn or clam chowder and not having my Crown Pilot to dunk!

Some Still Regional Brands To Protect:

Note: I'd love to populate this with brands from all over the US. So, let me know some of the regional brands from your area. Leave me a comment and a link or drop me an email. I'll add it to the list and I promise when I travel to your neck of the woods, I'll pick up a few regional brands for myself.

New England(MA, RI, CT, VT, NH, ME): Necco, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Vermont Common Crackers and Buttons, Polar Beverages (especially Birch Beer), Autocrat Coffee, Moxie, Cabot Cheese, Brigham's Ice Cream

New York/Pennsylvania: Snyders of Hanover,

Mid-Atlantic(MD, DC, VA, WV, DE, NJ):

Southeast (NC,SC,FL):

South (GA, AL, MS, LA):

Upper South/Midwest (TN, KY, IN, IL, OH):

Upper Midwest(MI, WI, MN, ND, SD): Better Made Snacks, Vernors, Faygo, Sanders

Central State: (IA, KS, NE, CO, AR, OK ): Weaver Snacks



Northwest ( WY, MT, ID, OR, WA):

Southwest: (AZ, NM, NV, UT)

Alaska/Hawaii:Diamond Bakery Cookies and Crackers (HI)