During a heated February debate in the Maine legislature over what sweet treat deserved to be designated as the official state dessert, state Rep. Donald Pilon (D-Saco) correctly described one contender, the Whoopie Pie, as a "frosting delivery vehicle" that "lists lard as its primary ingredient." Pilon would rather see blueberry pie named the Pine Tree State's official dessert. The Kennebec Journal quoted him fretting over the result of "glorifying" Whoopie Pie "at a time when 31.3 percent of Maine's children are considered overweight or obese."
But in preferring blueberry pastry to chocolate minicakes, he falls prey to the classic blunder in evaluating the merits of various foods. Most people—even savvy state reps—are easily confused by the halo effect when it comes to food. The presence of lard and chocolate sets off alarm bells, endowing the whole dessert with a wicked glow. Whereas healthy, natural blueberries confer a positive halo, making diners forget about all the butter or even—gasp—lard in the crust.
In fact, neither dessert can be classified as health food. Both treats are, in their best forms, homemade, so their nutrition statistics vary wildly. But a slice of blueberry pie can clock in north of 450 calories, while some versions of Whoopie Pie can be closer to 250. Depending on your recipe, those numbers could easily be reversed, but that's exactly the point.
Maine, thankfully, is looking to celebrate a dessert rather than ban it. But the same kind of irrational preferences—and invocation of the nation's chubby children—are sure to pop up again when the same legislators consider bans and taxes.