- Scott Wild
With spring's long-awaited arrival, locals can finally follow the steam to Vermont sugar shacks, where sugar makers have been boiling down sap into maple syrup for weeks. As for tourists and other New England newcomers who wouldn't know a sugarhouse from an outhouse, they can just look for the handy maple sugar industry signs that read, "State of Vermont Pure Maple Syrup Sold Here."
Perhaps you've noticed the logo? It's the one that bears a striking resemblance to a man in a pair of green Johnson Woolen Mills trousers urinating into a red wooden bucket. Tragically for Caledonia and Essex counties, they became the literal butt of that graphic design joke. WTF?
Considering how often Vermont's maple industry has been pissed on in the press lately, the folks at the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association fielded this sticky query with good humor and grace. In the past month, they've already handled gripes about the state's new syrup grading system and the April 3 Rolling Stone story titled "The New Face of Heroin," featuring the iconic image of a flannel-clad Vermont sugar maker mainlining smack.
Matt Gordon, the VMSMA's executive director, admits that no one in the association remembers much about the origin of the "Sold Here" sign, which has been in use for at least a decade. For obvious reasons, no marketing firm or graphic designer has come forward to take credit, or blame, for the phallic faux pas.
Gordon can say, however, that the sign was created for the exclusive use of VMSMA members, of which there were 986 in 2012. They make up only a fraction of the estimated 2,000 to 4,000 sugar makers in Vermont, who collectively produce about 1 million gallons of the sweet stuff, or about 40 percent of the nation's total maple sugar production annually. But, adds Gordon, no one in the VMSMA actually goes out and enforces that policy.
Gordon also points out that Seven Days isn't the first media outlet to take note of Vermont's micturating Maple Man. Business Insider included the sign's design in its January 2014 list of the "15 worst corporate logo fails." Other notable design flubs include the London 2012 Olympics logo, which critics variously likened to a swastika, the word "Zion" and Lisa Simpson performing an oral sex act.
So, how long before Vermont's baggy-trousered syrup dude gets a redesign? Gordon can't say, but suggests that the VMSMA will probably first give the public time to get accustomed to the new maple syrup grading system, which includes such designations as "golden color with delicate taste." After all, change comes slowly in these parts.
This isn't the first time the concepts of maple syrup and urine have been paired: Medical literature informs us of a rare metabolic disorder known as maple syrup urine disease. MSUD, which gets its name from the distinctively sweet odor of sufferers' urine and earwax, prevents the body from breaking down certain amino acids, and can be fatal. It should be emphasized that MSUD is a genetic disorder and does not result from eating maple syrup or other maple products. Whew!
Finally, lest readers wonder why it took so long for anyone to spot the wang-like maple tap, consider the countless millions of travelers who've studied the official New York City subway map and never noticed that Manhattan Island was drawn to resemble a large schlong hanging in the "face" of Brooklyn. Oh, those dirty-minded designers!
Speaking of graphic imagery, for more than a year, Montpelier-based Liberty Chocolates has been marketing its vanilla-rose-flavored chocolate bar with packaging that would have made Georgia O'Keeffe proud. However, unlike the VMSMA's maple syrup sign, this logo, sported by the Sisterhood Bar, was deliberately designed to be vaginal.
As company founder Katrina Coravos explains, the Sisterhood Bar — one of 12 varieties of Liberty Chocolates now sold in more than 200 stores nationwide — was sold as a fundraiser for an international nonprofit organization that she also founded. Called Circle of Women International, the nonprofit brings together female "wisdom keepers" from different cultures to teach and share traditional women-centered ceremonies. The group's orifice-resembling logo is featured prominently on Sisterhood Bar wrappers.
Alas, Coravos says that her vanilla vajayjay bar will soon be discontinued, as the company is undergoing rebranding and product reconfiguration. Using the slogan "The creation of dreams," Liberty Chocolates will refocus its package designs on telling the story of Coravos herself, a 36-year-old single mother who launched the chocolate company in her own home three years ago while homeschooling her two kids.
Other bars' wrappers will feature the stories behind local food businesses whose ingredients Liberty uses, including the Vermont Peanut Butter Company, Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, Vermont Shortbread Company and Vermont Coffee Company, to name a few.
One maple-flavored bar will tell the story of a Vermont sugar maker. We have to ask: Will it contain nuts?