It's no surprise that the U.S. Postal Service is once again standing on the brink of a financial disaster; doesn't the USPS go through this crisis every five years or so? The problem is obvious; the Government Accountability Office has recently stated that the USPS can "can no longer rely, as it once did, on growth in mail volume to help cover costs."
I'm not going to try and disseminate their current crisis, but I have heard of a project that may have lines forming at your local post office. Addie Hassef, head of USPS Special Projects and famed Chef Homaro Cantu have collaborated on a set of soon-to-be-available commemorative stamps that not only smell like the fruit depicted on the face of the stamp, they taste like it as well. That's correct: Chicago's famed menu-munching chef has helped the USPS put together a stamp for each state that depicts that state's commemorative fruit. Now licking stamps has become a lot more challenging, but for a new reason. Very soon postal customers in Maine will be licking wild blueberry stamps by the sheet, Alabamans will be enjoying books of blackberries, those of you in Oregon will have your pear stamps and for my friends in North Dakota, try not to choke on those chokecherries.
Mr. Hassef spoke to me recently and he was incredibly excited as well as concerned:
If this project is as successful as some of Mr. Cantu's other collaborations, we could see lines at our local offices that our USPS team members are not used to dealing with, which could be both a blessing and a challenge. We want our offices to sell their representative stamps, and most of us buy stamps in the morning so if you live in North Carolina, how wonderful will that be to buy a sheet of strawberry scented stamps at 9 a.m.? But if you're a resident of New Hampshire, it may be a challenge to see a sheet of pumpkin-flavored stamps as anything other than stamps.
I jokingly mentioned that some customers may not make it down the street before they devour the entire sheet and perhaps Utahans may find themselves stocking up on cherry-flavored stamps as soon as cold and flu season hits. Mr. Hassef was not laughing.
That's our goal. That our postal customers see these new stamps as more than stamps, we want them to be seen as party favors, gifts to budding foodies, cake decoration or garnish for a bowl of Cheerios when your bananas are way past their prime. We've printed posters of tasting notes to remind our customers of what stamps will work best with certain foods because we don't want our USPS team members making uninformed recommendations to an increasingly food-savvy group of customers. We've even hired famed NY mixologist Michael Flannery to design a line of martinis that will use our stamps as a final flavoring ingredient. How cool is that? Now your appletini can be garnished with a NY apple stamp. The first time he was met with the apple stamps, Mr. Flannery cut a thin, round piece of apple, poked it with a knife, crimped the stamp, inserted it into the apple and voila, an edible apple sailboat for your appletini. And I thought he was just going to skewer the stamp with one of those little plastic swords.
When I asked about states that do not have official fruits such as Pennsylvania or New Mexico, Mr. Assef assured me that Mr. Cantu has created stamps out of indigenous fruits in those states, so New Mexico gets prickly pear and South Dakota gets gooseberries. I don't care for the idea of a gooseberry flavored stamp but I was assured that Chef Cantu does "wonderful things with gooseberries."
I asked Mr. Assef if there has there been a downside to this endeavor.
Well the people that make those sponges that are marketed to heavy stamp lickers aren't happy. But on the plus side, many states have more than just a state fruit. Florida has a state pie, the key lime. Illinois has popcorn as a state snack; Louisiana has a state meat pie; Ohio has a state meal, the chicken fried steak. And we've had several envelope manufacturers approach us about complimentary-flavored envelopes, you know, strawberries and bananas, apples and blueberries, the possibilities are endless.
Indeed they are.