By JUSTINE McGUIRE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Children who live about as far away from Mackinac Island as possible while still in Michigan are the inspiration for a bill that would make Mackinac Island fudge the official state sweet.
A class of fourth- and fifth-graders from Defer Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park were required to write to their legislator this past spring, but they wanted to take it to the next level by requesting new state symbols, said Kari Mannino, who taught the class.
The students researched possible symbols in groups — three fourth-graders wrote the letter requesting fudge, she said.
“They were so excited,” Mannino said of their reaction to the introduction of the bill. “I’m really glad they were honored for their hard work. – I’m really proud of them.”
Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, recently introduced the bill. It is cosponsored by Sens. Jim Ananich, D-Flint; Glenn Anderson, D-Westland; Steven Bieda, D-Warren; Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Coleman Young II, D-Detroit.
“We thought it was very sensible to make Mackinac Island fudge a state symbol,” Johnson said. “Mackinac Island really has become the hub of fudge production – it’s in our DNA.”
Also part of Michigan’s culture is a high obesity rate – the state ranks ninth in the nation. While the nutrition facts for a serving of fudge varies by size and variety, it’s all calorie-laden.
Johnson said he doesn’t expect official recognition to have a large effect on the consumption of fudge or the state’s overall health.
If the proposal becomes law, Michigan would follow other states paying homage to the sweet tooth, although none label their symbols as a state sweet. For example, Florida boasts a state pie — key lime — while Louisiana’s official donut is the beignet, the chocolate chip cookie is Massachusetts’ state cookie and it also has a state pie – Boston cream.
Michigan already has a wide range of state symbols, including a fossil (mastodon), a soil (Kalkaska), a reptile (painted turtle) and a wildflower (dwarf lake iris).
Johnson said the bill is primarily about the children who presented the idea because government is about people, and more people should approach legislators with their ideas.
“From time to time we try to have a little bit of fun in the Legislature and give over to the whimsies of what young people ask for,” Johnson said.
Mackinac Island is home to six fudge businesses and more than 15 shops. The tradition of fudge in the vacation spot started with Murdick’s Candy Kitchen in the late 1880s. The oldest fudge family on the island today, the May family, bought the original candy shop in the 1940s.
Mary McGuire, executive director of the island’s tourism bureau, agreed that fudge should be the state sweet.
“Why wouldn’t it be? What else could be better?” she said. “They call it our sweetest souvenir.”
Every August, Mackinac Island hosts a fudge festival. There’s even a book about fudge history called “Fudge: Mackinac’s Sweet Souvenir” by Phil Porter, who is also the director of Mackinac State Historic Parks.
The bill is in the Senate Government Operations Committee.
At least six other symbol bills are in play this year. Three are about a state fruit: One asks for cherries, another for tart cherries, and the third boosts blueberries. Another bill asks for an official state song. And the Eastern gray tree frog would become the state amphibian if its bill passes.