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April 05, 2011

Rep. Peter Welch, Maple Crusader

If, like gravel-voiced songtress Bonnie Tyler, you're holding out for a hero, well, wait no more, friends. Our hero has arrived and his name is Maple Man. By day, Maple Man is the mild-mannered, bespectacled and moderately balding United States Representative Peter Welch.

But when trouble calls, and the Vermont maple industry is in danger, Welch heads to the sugar shack, takes a few slugs of Grade B and emerges as Maple Man, hero to man and tree. With his sap-bucket helmet, his maple-bark suit of armor and his cat-o'-nine tails fashioned from some old taps and leftover tubing, Maple Man is able to vanquish any foe. Multinational corporations, government bureaucracies and Republicans are no match for Maple Man.

Over the past year, Maple Man has been slogging it out in the trenches, working to preserve and enhance Vermont's roughly $38 million maple industry. And he's made fast friends with the nearly 2000 maple producers in the state. Let's recap Maple Man's crusading:


A year ago, Maple Man introduced legislation aimed at providing funds to support maple-syrup production in Vermont (and other states, but who cares about them?). The Maple Sugaring Access and Promotion Act authorized $20 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to open up state land for tapping and to provide incentives for private landowners to get to their maple on. Sadly, a villainous anti-maple lobby was at work in the House and the bill expired when the new Congress arrived.  

Not to be defeated, in September, Maple Man threatened the makers of Log Cabin "All Natural Syrup" with death by drowning in an evaporator of boiling sap if they did not remove the caramel color ingredient from their product. According to FDA guidelines, caramel color isn't all that natural, and Maple Man was not going to let that one slide. Pinnacle Foods, which manufactures the sugary imitation, agreed to comply with FDA regulations, mostly out of fear of the suffering Maple Man had in store for them if they didn't.

But Maple Man wasn't satisfied with Log Cabin merely tweaking some of its ingredients. In a press release written after the victory, Maple Man had this to say about the maple impostor:

By removing what is clearly an unnatural ingredient from its Log Cabin table syrup, Pinnacle Foods, Inc. has taken an important step to comply with FDA guidelines, but it does not go far enough. By continuing to market its product with jug-like packaging and 'all-natural' labeling, Pinnacle leaves consumers with the impression that Log Cabin table syrup and Vermont maple syrup are one and the same. As Vermonters know, they're not even close. It's time for Pinnacle to stop misleading customers and stop imitating the Vermont maple industry.

Oh, snap, Maple Man. You told them! Vermonters won't fall for that kind of packaging flimflam and labeling trickery, Log Cabin, so don't even try. 

A few months later, Maple Man was at it again, demanding that national supermarket chains shelve Log Cabin's slop in an aisle far, far away from Vermont's liquid gold. In a nastygram to Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco, Safeway, Supervalu, Hannaford and Price Chopper, Maple Man told the grocery retailers to "take a stand against consumer deception and misrepresentation of a product attempting to masquerade as real maple syrup." In a word, Maple Man wants syrup segregation, and he's not going to take no for an answer. So far, none of the chains has responded. If only they knew the sticky-sweet wrath they are inviting with their silence.    

In March, Maple Man struck again, this time resurrecting the maple promotion bill he proposed last spring. This updated legislation, called Maple Tapping Access Program, seeks to "expand tapping access, promote the industry through marketing and provide funding for maple research." It has the support, on the Senate side, of Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and lover of pancake breakfasts. 

If all goes well, Vermont maple producers (the most prolific in the country with 890,000 gallons last year) should have some cash coming their way, all thanks to Maple Man. But what's his motivation? It's not like the Vermont maple lobby is threatening to politically kneecap Maple Man if he doesn't pull through. Nor are they enriching his coffers (and if they are, how can I get in on that?). The reason for his vigilance, explains Scott Coriell, Maple Man's communications director, is that "few things hit home for Vermonters like maple syrup." The very fabric of our community is drenched in maple syrup. Plus, while Congress debates whether or not to shut down over budget disputes, there's not really much else to do. 

So, what's next for the sap evangelist? Replacing bottles of water in legislative hearings with pitchers of Vermont Fancy? Making Grade A Medium the official condiment of the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria? Promoting investment in maple syrup as an alternative fuel? One can only hope.  

Photo illustration by Tyler Machado. Welch photo courtesy of Rep. Peter Welch. Syrup jars photo by Flickr user astanleyjones. Sap bucket photo by Flickr user sebastien.b.

If Bill Sorrell finds out that Maple Syrup is basically liquid sugar, will he tax it or work to ban it outright?

sorry we dont want or need "maple man's" help
he cant get his priorities straight and stop spending our tax dollars on things other than what the constitution says our gov. should spend it on. cut all but what is in our living document. thats what true sugarers want to see, free us from debt and we will do just fine

"Tim:" Sorrell will tax it if he can figure out how to stick low-income people with the bulk of the tax. That's how he enacted his $7.00-a-pack cigarette tax, knowing that the people most hurt by it didn't have the resources to stop him.

Welch's next crusade, now gearing up, is against Breyer's, Hood, and other ice cream makers, for selling white vanilla ice cream. He explains that the white ice cream too closely resembles snow, and is causing irreparable harm to the Vermont Ski Industry. After that, the salmon industry will be prevented from continuing their practice of coloring salmon orange, which, the congressman says, is costing the Florida and California orange industries millions of dollars a day, due to people believing that "Orange Juice is not just for breakfast anymore," but can be consumed by eating more salmon and steelhead trout.
"We will RID this great country of the unBEARable draining of profits among America's legitimate businesses, by scamming people who are too stupid to use common sense when making their food choices," says the caped, crusading, congressman, now fondly referred to by all freedom-loving Americans as "MAPLE MAN."

In related news: The State of Vermont, led by tin-foil-hat-wearing Peter Shumlin and independent tax-creator Bill Sorrell, is suing Vermont Maid Syrup, because their syrup contains no actual Vermont maids. Despite the fact that no one with any common sense at all actually believes that there is a Vermont maid in each bottle, the Pete-and-Bill Show insists that such misleading labeling is contributing to the demise of the Vermont business community. Also: The State of California is suing Post Cereals, because of the misleading and confusing name "Grape Nuts," which actually contain NO grapes. - Finally, the Ecumenical Council is seeking a cease-and-desist order against General Mills and Betty Crocker, due to their claims that one of their cake mixes is made of "Angel Food." Counsel for the Council states unequivocally that there is presently no available knowledge of what kind of food angels eat, and that millions of people may be led to the false belief that eating said offending product will provide them with Eternal Salvation.
President Obama's consumer affairs experts are conducting an investigation into other food scams, but won't have to deal with one of the worst, since Vermont has ensured that all Vermont McDonald's restaurants will now serve Real Vermont Maple Syrup with any order of oatmeal.
In a move toward a class-action civil lawsuit, there will be a meeting next week of all Vermonters who may have been adversely affected by the McDonald's scam giving them a false sense of Maple Security. A closet in the Montpelier State House has been reserved for the meeting. The remaining space in the closet will be occupied by a meeting of all Central Vermont Yankee fans.

I'm not sure, but I don't believe Girl Scout cookies contain any girl scouts, either. What's more, they're not sold by Girl Scouts, but by moms and dads at their offices. Someone please call the AG to stop this fraud.

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