Wednesday's Words, by Morgan Ashbury

Different geographic areas have different symbols—images that on their own represent the emotional, and maybe even the spiritual essence of the place it represents, both to its inhabitants, and to the world at large.

For my country, Canada, it’s the maple leaf. Although there are maple trees in so many different locations throughout North America, the maple tree and its distinctive leaf are special here, north of the 49th parallel. And while it means many different things to individual Canadians, you can be certain that to each of us there is an almost visceral connection to the image of it, when it appears before us.

Of course, symbols aren’t just nation-wide. Sometimes they’re province wide or—in the case of my neighbors to the South, state-wide. For Nova Scotia, for example, the symbol most often associated with that Atlantic province is a picture of the light house at Peggy’s Cove; for Alberta it’s Banff National Park, with Lake Louise prominent; for Ontario, it’s the C. N. Tower in Toronto.

This isn’t only, as I’ve already pointed out, a Canadian phenomenon. In the United States, geographic areas have their symbols as well. Of course the first image Americans hold dear is their flag. Americans have a stronger emotional connection with the Stars and Stripes than we Canadians do with our own flag. That’s completely understandable since the red and white Maple Leaf has only been our flag since 1965.

There’s the Liberty Bell, the image of which makes us think of Pennsylvania. I’ve spoken to Pennsylvanians who have a distinctive emotional, pride-filled reaction to seeing that symbol. Other areas as well have their “symbols” – pictures that once seen, stir the heart and the spirit and engender pride and love. For Michigan it’s the Great Lake that bears its name; for California it’s the Golden Gate bridge; and for Texas? Texas has two great symbols as is befitting that state—The Alamo, and a container of Blue Bell ice cream.

April 20th of this year was a dark day for my Texan friends. You see, on that day Blue Bell announced a recall of all of its products, and that production of its ice cream had been suspended due to a Listeria outbreak. This total recall is the final stage in a process that began last month with a limited recall, the very first one in the family-owned business’s 108 year history.

Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly, and any whose immune system is weak. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill with Listeria each year, and about 16% of these become fatalities.

Clearly, a total recall until the source of the contamination is found, and the problem fixed, is the right thing to do. Personally I applaud the company for doing the right thing. What has to happen is that all of the manufacturing equipment has to be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned, as this bacterium is stubborn and can live for a very long time.

The CEO and President of the company, Paul Kruse, has promised to make sure all products are safe before they go back on sale. This is a very good thing. In an age when we often feel that greed steers the ship of commerce, this is a very good thing indeed. Blue Bell has put the welfare of their customers ahead of profits. This is more than commendable. This justifies the importance of Blue Bell as a symbol of the Great State of Texas.

It is, however, a devastating situation for many Texans. After reading the reports and observing the discussion in social media, I have come to appreciate just how emotionally attached some are to their Blue Bell ice cream, and what a deep and meaningful symbol it is to many Texans.

A lot of grocery stores don’t have shelves of different kinds of ice cream for consumption the way they do up here. They have two freezers for Blue Bell, and a tiny token space for all the other brands, combined. As one person said, “Blue Bell isn’t just an ice cream it is the only ice cream. If there’s no Blue Bell, there’s no ice cream, period. We might just as well cancel summer.”

To my friends who are suffering, I urge them to take heart. Doing the right thing is always the right thing. The ice cream will flow again, and all will be well.

It’s simply a matter of time.


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