PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island is known for a lot of things: spectacular beaches, the Newport mansions, and a rich history of mobsters and corrupt politicians. It was long hailed the Jewelry Capital of the World, and its rebel patriots have been credited as the ones who actually started the American Revolution (sorry, not sorry Boston).
We’re also known for having an unbelievable dining scene. And so, the state decided to bring one of the Ocean State’s most iconic seafood dishes to life in its new tourism campaign.
Rhode Island is deploying 250-pound “stuffie” installations around America. But some Rhode Islanders on social media have not been too kind to the idea of larger-than-life stuffed clams being the symbol for the state.
It “looks like a creature from Star Trek,” one person on Reddit wrote.
“Ugly, unappealing, not at all the Rhode Island I enjoy,” said Betsy Cazden.
Benjamin Branchaud, a graphic designer in Warwick, said he was “all for keeping tourists away from our beaches,” but using gigantic fake stuffies to do it “might go too far.”
The styrofoam sculptures will be placed in “key flight market” airports, starting Sept. 2, and will make the rounds to Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Los Angeles through the end of 2023. The first stop is the Michigan State Fair on Saturday. Governor Dan McKee said he’s sending some “fresh” stuffies to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office next week. (Neither he or his spokesperson have responded to questions as to which restaurant the state ordered from).
According to R.I. Commerce, the state’s economic development organization, these oversized stuffies “will play a pivotal role in promoting tourism to Rhode Island.”
It’s true that clamming (or, in Rhode Island, “quahogging”) plays a big role in the state. Rhode Island’s shellfishers are helping grow the state’s $5 billion blue economy, and the baked bivalve is a signature state dish. (The edible version is made of quahogs, parsley, and breadcrumbs.)
R.I. Commerce boasted in their announcement Friday that the dish is unique, and “lesser known.” But that might just be the problem. Will anyone outside of Rhode Island even know what it is?
“Looks like a giant blob of moldy bread on a shell,” wrote Gayle L. Gifford on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The dozens of comments on Reddit were even more merciless. One user said it looked like a tumor. Someone said they’d “have a dermatologist look at this.”
“How the heck do you even find out what it is?” asked Shriram Krishnamurthy. “I think this is the result of the ‘I never leave R.I.’ mentality. Locals have no idea what non-locals know, care about, value, etc.”
“Seeing one of these makes me want to leave,” wrote someone on Reddit who said they’ve lived in Rhode Island their entire life and love the dish. “At that angle, it’s tough to recognize in the first place, and probably impossible for someone who knows nothing [about it] — which is who we’re trying to entice.”
Others had better ideas.
“They should’ve done this, but with calamari and pepper rings,” one wrote. So much for being the calamari comeback state.
The draw of the classic savory stuffie is its smell and taste. But their visual appearance is lackluster, and looks like a “mound of vaguely vomit-hued mush piled into a clam shell,” said one Redditor, who recommended the state set up food stands at airports and make stuffies that travelers can sample. This “is not an effective marketing technique.”
Rhode Island has attempted some interesting ways to promote the state in previous years. There was the 2018 “Fun Size” promotion that showed how easy it is to have a whole host of experiences here in a short period of time — from sitting on a beach in South County to dining out in Providence in the same day.
Before that there was the “Cooler and Warmer” campaign. The slogan was confusing, and the video included shots in Iceland and restaurants in Massachusetts. People lost their jobs over that one. The backlash was swift, the media had a blast, and the jokes have never stopped.
“It’s the cooler and warmer stuffie,” said one Redditor. “We’re cringing here.”
“Kinda looks like a necrotic flesh wound, but can’t decide if it’s warmer or cooler,” wrote one message on Reddit, comparing the stuffie sculpture to the short-lived 2016 tourism campaign.
“Cooler and warmer was better than this,” wrote another. “I can’t believe we’re literally distributing that disturbing thing.”
“Rhode needs to stop promoting tourism,” another quipped.
The giant quahog isn’t the only way the state is marketing itself. In addition to the clam replica, there will be traditional photo and video campaigns, and a Newport Mansion installation is being sent to the Brea Mall in Brea, Calif., where it will stay for a month, said spokesman Matt Sheaff.
At least the money to pay for these jewels stayed local. Suzanne Ellis Wernevi, a small business owner herself, said the craftspeople who made these should be commended for “giving their all.”
“This place is magic in the summer. No one will know that from a giant fake stuffie,” said Ellis Wernevi.
Regardless, the stuffie is a staple. I think I’ll go order one right now.