Young and Hungry

Official State Status Eludes Maryland’s Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich

One Maryland state senator is not giving up the fight to make the soft-shell crab sandwich the official state sandwich of Maryland, despite his proposal dying in the legislature earlier this month.

Sen. Richard Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican, said he is willing to introduce his bill again in the Maryland Senate, where it passed 43-1 in early April, or wait for another version of it to move in the Maryland House of Delegates, which shelved the bill on April 9. Colburn is taking solace in history. "It took about five years to get the state dessert passed," he said. (Maryland's state dessert is the Smith Island cake.)

Colburn hoped that designating the soft-shell crab sandwich as the state sandwich would boost tourism and support the dwindling fishing industry on the Eastern Shore. "The Eastern Shore watermen are a dying breed," he said. Colburn's father was once one of them—"I'm the only son of a waterman in the Senate"—but there are only around 5,000 today, "and they aren't what we would call 'working watermen.'"

He chose the soft-shell crab sandwich over the crab cake for reasons concerning legitimacy rather than taste. "I certainly don't have anything against the Maryland crab cake," he said, but pointed out that a crab cake can be made with non-Maryland crabs. "The soft crab in a soft-crab sandwich is going to be from Maryland," he said. Plus, "it's the only sandwich you can order where there are legs sticking out of the sides."

Colburn's proposal faced limited opposition in the Senate. The lone dissenting vote came from a Baltimore County senator Dolores G. Kelley, who expressed concern that the state's Jewish population would be excluded from eating the state sandwich if the non-Kosher soft-shell crab won the designation. Kelley also told the Huffington Post, "I think this stuff is kind of silly anyway."

Silly as it may be, Kelley should know that Maryland is actually somewhat behind on the official-state-food game. More than a dozen states have officially designated edibles, including pastries (Texas: sopaipilla and strudel), cookies (New Mexico: the bizcochito), dessert (South Dakota: kuchen), snacks (Utah: Jell-O; Illinois: popcorn), muffins (New York: apple muffin), and meat pies (Louisiana: Natchitoches meat pie). Maryland is, however, further along than D.C. or Virginia, neither of which has officially designated foods.

Colburn indicated no interest in officializing any Maryland pastries, snacks, or muffins.

"Not at this point," he said. "We'll do one at a time."

Photo of a soft-shell crab sandwich via flickr user juliusmayojr.

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