What the Fluff?
Alum helps Somerville promote local pride, marshmallow spread
Three years ago, Jason Kean (CAS’04) moved to Somerville’s Union Square and fell for the oft-overlooked hood, home of the first American flag-raising and Prospect Hill Monument. More important, the city is the birthplace of Marshmallow Fluff, that sweet white sandwich spread that has punctuated the days of so many schoolchildren in Massachusetts and beyond. Union Square denizen Archibald Query concocted the gooey delight more than 90 years ago. So devoted are residents to this legacy that a mini-revolt broke out two years ago when a local legislator proposed a ban on the sugary peanut-butter-and-Fluff sandwich known as the Fluffernutter in public school cafeterias.
When Kean first moved to Union Square, Fluff wasn’t the first thing on his mind — he was more concerned about the litter on the sidewalks. He began volunteering for a cleanup initiative with the community organization Union Square Main Streets, which then led to his involvement with Second Wednesdays, a monthly arts and performance event in the square. This year, he’s helping honor Somerville’s hometown hero as a volunteer at the annual What the Fluff? Festival, presented by Union Square Main Streets and featuring games, live music, politicking, odes, and of course, Fluffernutters. WBUR’s Robin Young, award-winning local chef Will Gilson, and Taza Chocolate co-owner Alex Whitmore will be on hand to judge a Fluff-based cooking contest. Kean, a legislative aide at the Massachusetts Statehouse, is manning the all-important election table, where the inaugural Fabulous Pharoah of Fluff will be decided. He spoke with BU Today about his role in extolling Fluff.
BU Today: What made you get involved with Union Square Main Streets?
Jason Kean: You meet a lot of people and get to know your neighbors, and you get to have input in the direction you want your community to go. It gives you a great medium to be creative and share ideas with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Most of all, you get the opportunity to be involved in a festival to celebrate marshmallow crème.
What can people expect from this weekend’s Fluff Festival?
This is the third annual Fluff Festival, and it’s going to be the biggest year yet. There will be local stores and artisans selling their wares, and we’ll also have a few vendors offering savory foods to counteract all the sugar. There’s a cooking contest using Fluff as the main ingredient — the winner can win a tour of the Fluff factory in Lynn. We’re also going to be having strawberry- and raspberry-flavored Fluff items this year. And there’s going to be two stages with live music from local bands. One of the main attractions this year is the Flufferettes, a fluff-themed burlesque group.
Do they use Fluff in their act?
I don’t know. They wear fluffy white costumes. I don’t think last year they incorporated Fluff. But it’s definitely part of the theme.
What qualifications do you need to be the Fabulous Pharaoh of Fluff?
Anyone can try and be the Fabulous Pharaoh of Fluff — it’s about whatever you visualize the Fabulous Pharaoh to be. You can come dressed any way you want, and you don’t have to come dressed as anything. You have to give a speech of no more than 300 words, explaining why you deserve to be named the Fabulous Pharaoh of Fluff. An undying love of Fluff is the only prerequisite I can think of.
It’s an election, and the people will be voting. I’ll be working the election table.
Is the Fluff crowd an untapped voting bloc? Do you expect a lot of politicians?
A lot of the local politicians do come. I imagine the mayor will come, and a few of the local representatives and senators. I think Obama and McCain may pass us up this year just because they have bigger battles. They probably know which way Somerville leans.
What are the Fabulous Pharaoh’s responsibilities?
You get a crown. You will sign an oath with the Somerville city clerk. You will be responsible for upholding the playful and sweet spirit of the festival and of Fluff and spreading the word far and wide.
Is there still a campaign to make the Fluffernutter the official sandwich of Massachusetts?
No. But the legislature isn’t in session right now, so that could come up next session. I wouldn’t oppose it.
Any other Fluff-related activities on tap?
They’ve been working on a ton of different games. There’s bowling with Fluff jars for pins. There will be a Fluff Fear Factor — a take on their eating contest.
Like Fluff on cockroaches?
I don’t know if there will be bugs, but it will put you in compromising situations as far as what you’re going to eat. The festival organizers are going to go shopping for interesting foods in the square.
What’s your favorite thing about Fluff?
It doesn’t make your bread soggy like some other spreads, and I’ve always really liked the container it comes in.
The third annual What the Fluff? Festival is presented by Union Square Main Streets as part of ArtsUnion, an initiative shepherded by the Somerville Arts Council and funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The festival takes place Saturday, September 27, 2008, from 4 to 7 p.m. (rain date: Sunday, September 28; in the event of rain all weekend, the festival will take place the following weekend). For directions by car, bus, or T, click here.
Caleb Daniloff can be reached at email@example.com Comments