What is a food holiday?

(“…and why isn’t it in my mouth?” as one of my colleagues would say.)

Pi pie. Nipped from geek.com, which offers an origin story of sorts.

Pi pie. Nipped from geek.com, which offers an origin story of sorts.

Since you, reader of this food culture blog, are likely a somewhat geeky person and likely have a fairly geeky social circle, odds are very high that you’ve noticed people celebrating Pi Day today. Pi, of course, refers to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, a number usually abbreviated as 3.14. Although Pi Day is technically a math holiday, whatever that may be*, it essentially takes the shape of a food holiday. Outside of the classroom, great numbers of people are celebrating today by baking the homophonic and conveniently circular pastries. My own workplace celebrated the day with two shoofly pies: one to photograph as a promotion for our Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook, and one stunt pie (or “action pie,” as I like to say) for eating.

These playful pi(e)s are overshadowing the day’s officially sanctioned star: it is National Potato Chip Day. The actual food holiday for pie, according to the American Pie Council (!), is January 23rd.

So what is a food holiday? According to The  Nibble, food holidays can be designated by petitioning local or federal government to approve a “special observance” day, although there are no legally mandated observances such as paid time off, and “observance” (such as eating the officially celebrated food) is purely volitional. Primarily food holidays are requested by organizations with an interest in promoting awareness or consumption of a specific food–say, the Walnut Marketing Board, which proclaimed a National Walnut Day, which was approved by President Eisenhower nine years later. Usually, though, the provenance of each day is lost knowledge to the internet, buried somewhere in a municipal archive. And there are so many. Some foods have more than one day or even a day and a month, petitioned by different organizations and approved at different levels of government; for the same reason, some days of the year are designated to observe more than one foodstuff.  Foodimentary, linked above, has been posting food holidays daily for several years; Wikipedia has a wide range listed as well.

Odds are, though, that you haven’t heard of most of them. Why hasn’t National Pie Day caught on the way Pi Day has? There must be several reasons–no one likes to feel like they’re being marketing to, for one–but I suspect it’s also because your average food holiday doesn’t have a hook. Pi Day allows for  shared whimsy and viral reposting through a similar appeal as musical vegetables or performance art salad: desiring and eating pie is a very physical experience, math is conventionally imagined as a highly abstract, highly conceptual process; and the juxtaposition of the two is humorous.


*Just kidding. I wholeheartedly celebrated Mole Day in high school, not least because our clever chemistry teacher made it another quasi-food holiday and brewed up a punch with the dramatic special effect of frozen CO2.

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