Who doesn’t love cupcakes? Apparently some people! The following article appeared in the Ideas and Trends section of the NY Times.
Don’t Even Think of Touching That Cupcake
THE cupcake is at something of a crossroads. Edible icon of Americana, frosted symbol of comfort and innocence, it may not have faced such an identity crisis since first appearing in cookbooks sometime in the 18th century.
As we know, cupcakes have had a whopping resurgence: they are retro-food chic, the thing to eat for people in the know.
But cupcakes have also recently been marched to the front lines of the fat wars, banned from a growing number of classroom birthday parties because of their sugar, fat and “empty calories,” a poster food of the child obesity crisis. This was clear when children returned to school this month to a tightening of regulations, federal and state, on what can be served up between the bells.
And it has led some to wonder whether emotional value, on occasion, might legitimately outweigh nutritional value.
Schools trying to bring parents to the table in efforts to root out fat and sugar have faced what Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University who strongly supports limiting sweets in schools, calls “the cupcake problem.”
When included on lists of treats that parents are discouraged or forbidden to send to school — and when those policies are, say, put to a vote at the P.T.A. — “cupcakes are deal breakers,” Professor Nestle said. “It sounds like a joke, but it’s a very serious problem on a number of levels. You have to control it.”
While the merits of banning goodie bags filled with Reese’s and Skittles seem obvious — especially at a time when the risk of childhood diabetes is high for American children — many parents draw the line at cupcakes.
This could have something to do with the fact that in the modern age, the cupcake may be more American than apple pie — “because nobody is baking apple pies,” Professor Nestle explained.
The confection is so powerfully embedded in the national consciousness — and palate — that its future is quite possibly the only cause to unite Texas Republicans and at least some left-wing foodies behind a singular mission: keep the cupcake safe from harm.
“I think the wholesale banning of parents’ bringing cupcakes as a legal issue is over the top,” said Rachel Kramer Bussel, a former sex columnist for The Village Voice who founded the Web site “Cupcakes Take the Cake” three years ago.
The Texas Legislature agreed, in spirit, when it passed the “Safe Cupcake Amendment,” in 2005, in response to new federal child nutrition guidelines and lobbying from parents outraged by the schoolroom siege on cupcakes.
After the amendment passed, a blogger on Homesick Texan wrote: “i don’t think it necessarily warrants all the hubbub, or the intervention of legislature to intervene on behalf of the cupcake. … but then, another part of me is screaming ‘CUPCAKES!!!’ because they just make people happy.”
As Ms. Kramer Bussel, who organizes monthly cupcake meet-ups in New York City, said, “If you bring cupcakes to a party, you are so popular.”
Until the late 1990s, the cupcake often shared the mental dessert pantry with canned peaches and ambrosia; it was nostalgia food, mom-in-an-apron food, happy food.
But then cupcakes took a very chic turn. Trend-setting bakeries like Magnolia, the Greenwich Village cupcake empire, arrived on the scene; by 2005, a parody music video on “Saturday Night Live,” which was later viewed more than five million times on YouTube, included the lyrics, “Let’s hit up Magnolia and mack on some cupcakes.”
And now the new cupcake, having drifted so far from Betty Crocker, is facing fierce competition from the retro cupcake, which is the new, new cupcake that is really the old cupcake.
Americans still find time to whip up some batter and slide a tray in the oven. It’s easy, and the appeal is multifaceted. Cupcakes are portable, cute and relatively inexpensive. They are also “feminine and girlie,” Ms. Kramer Bussel said, so the majority of cupcake bakers and fans are women.
Cupcake is a term of endearment, but it can also be a rather mean-spirited word. “Cupcake teams” in sports are said to be soft and easily crushed. As food, though, cupcakes are democratic; everyone gets one. And they are libertarian; individual and independent compared with communal cakes, which may not have enough slices for everyone.
Across the Atlantic, where cupcakes have become increasingly popular in the last few years, some bakers said they were perplexed by word of an American cupcake crackdown.
“Over here people think it’s a bit like this innocent cake,” said Jemma Wilson, owner of Crumbs and Doilies, a new cupcake bakery in London. “And it seems more dignified and civilized to eat one portion, unless you kind of eat 10, which obviously happens a lot.”
A sub-debate within the cupcake debate has revolved around whether the meaning of cupcakes has been lost — and it’s not pretty.
Can the cupcake loyalist support the sale of a chocolate Guinness cupcake with green-tea cream-cheese frosting? Has the cupcake been stolen from the people by the baking aristocracy?
For a sense of how charged the subject is, consider what happened in July, when Magnolia Bakery, having vaulted to fad status by an appearance on “Sex and the City,” was briefly shut down by the city health department for not having enough sinks at its Greenwich Village establishment.
“At last!” said a blogger posting on Eater.com. “We neighbors get relief from cupcakistas who don’t realize Duncan Hines makes better-tasting cupcakes.”
After a long debate thread, another blogger wrote, “You people need to go back to the suburbs … Seriously, bunch of grown up New York City residents obsessing over a cupcake shop. I miss the gunfire and crackheads.”
I thought I had seen everything but this take the cake…er…CUPCAKE!