September 26, 2010 in Features

Apple lore: Maybe it’s finally time to replace regional symbol

It’s been a wonderful ride, though
Story By Paul Turner The Spokesman-Review
 

The scene:The Northwest’s signature fruit, the apple, has been summoned to an urgent meeting with the executive who heads the agency that hires and fires regional symbols.

Man in a suit:“Apple! Hey, big guy. Good to see you. Thanks for coming in. Have a seat. Can I get you anything?”

Apple: “No, I’m fine.”

Man in a suit: “Boy, how many years have we been working together? It’s been quite a ride, Apster. But look, I’ll get right to the point. We’ve decided to go in a different direction, and we’re letting you go.”

Apple:“You’re what?”

Man in a suit: “I hate like heck to do it. Believe me. This hurts. But the thinking here is that Washington and the Northwest need to project an image that shouts ‘2010!’ instead of, say, ‘1959.’ ”

Apple:“But…”

Man in a suit:“Attaboy. I knew you would understand. Thanks for coming by. Call me. We’ll get together soon. There will be some papers to sign on your way out. Buh-bye.”

OK, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The apple remains near and dear to the Northwest’s heart. It is still an important agricultural product. And it continues to represent tradition and wholesomeness.

But is it still the perfect regional symbol? It depends on who you ask.

“So much has changed, your icons have to change with it,” said Jeanna Hofmeister of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.

She likes apples but wonders if maybe the fruit’s time as a front-and-center symbol has come and gone.

That doesn’t have to mean totally replacing it with depictions of jetliners, software or lattes.

Hofmeister suggested mountains, evergreen trees and grape clusters were among the other images that can say “Washington.”

Of course, the apple isn’t just a tourism image. It is food. And our feelings about it as a snack can shape our regard for its potency as an image.

On this, there are a lot of low-hanging opinions out there just waiting to be picked.

“In a state so divided on climate, politics and attitude, it is our one rallying symbol,” said Johanna Brown, a 24-year-old residence hall director at Washington State University.

Brown is a proud apple snob. (She prefers cameos.)

On a recent trip to Oklahoma to attend a WSU football game, she found herself facing a quickie-mart produce display with a single measly apple. When it was suggested that she purchase the sorry little specimen, Brown succinctly explained why her standards would not allow her to do so.

“I’m from Washington,” she said.

Spokane’s Dr. Kelley Mathia remembers the best apple she ever ate. Though she grew up in Ritzville and went to WSU, it wasn’t one she had here. It was, however, a Washington apple.

“It was in St. Louis when I was homesick at medical school my first year,” she said. “It was a little taste of heaven from home.”

Today her family chomps its way through a couple of sacks of apples each week. You’d think they grow on trees.

Not everyone is such a fan. More than a few Northwesterners have drifted away from eating apples.

Frequently, blame for this is directed at the poster-boy red delicious. Though photogenic, that variety was once famously described as too often being “about as delicious as a wad of cotton.”

That is what is known as bad word-of-mouth.

You don’t have to look hard to find people who are blasé about apples.

Bill Cook, a Bureau of Land Management employee who lives and works in North Idaho, has been known to bite into a Granny Smith now and then. But he does not regard it as a magical moment.

“I have no special regard for apples because I live here,” he said. “The ones on the old apple tree in my parents’ backyard in Massachusetts tasted just as good.”

Blasphemy or truth-telling? Depends on your perspective.

Eating apples has been likened to playing golf. Filling your mouth with a crunchy chunk of an extra-juicy one can be like making a terrific shot out on the links. You think, “This is how it should be every time.”

But some golfers then go a long stretch without making another fabulous shot. A few finally conclude that they can live without the game.

The same goes for snackers who experience a sustained streak of fruit-bin disappointment. After one too many mushy, flavorless apples, they can decide to look elsewhere for munchies.

For such individuals, seeing the graphic representation of an apple might not quicken the pulse and prompt a desire to spend money in the beautiful Northwest.

So if you suggested to the president of the Washington Apple Commission that a fair number of people were bored with apples, what would he say?

“My response would be that there is a taste for everyone,” said Todd Fryhover. “Get out there and try some of the new varieties Washington’s progressive growers are making available.”

But even if you love the honeycrisp or the gala, that doesn’t really address the matter of the apple’s suitability to be our regional emblem.

“The apple is still a vibrant symbol of our state’s agricultural success,” said Tammy Guill of the Washington State Tourism Office.

Yes, but does it trump salmon, Mount Rainier, the Columbia River, wheat fields or marmots?

“Thirty years ago, I might have considered using an apple as a symbol for Washington state or the Northwest, but not today,” said Rick Hosmer, co-founder of a Spokane communications and design firm.

“Washington is such a diverse state that using an agricultural symbol is too narrow a branding focus,” he said. “Actually, using any one symbol would be too narrow. I’d say the shine is off the apple.”

This sort of debate is not new. It surfaced when the designs for the state quarters were being discussed a few years ago. It will come up again.

It’s difficult to imagine the Northwest not having a special relationship with the apple. Maybe it always will.

But perhaps promoting our Garden of Eden requires more of a cornucopia than an obsession with one fruit.


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