Cuckoo for Cupcakes

(drawing by Mario Zucca)

by Stacey

You know grown-ups have veered too far into the world of children when they are seriously arguing over the merits or detriments as it may be, of the very serious topic of…cupcakes. Last Sunday the NY Times ran an article that laid out the pros and cons of the debate.

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.

Of course it does. Life is pretty, pretty good when someone hands you a cupcake. And if it’s your birthday and you’re the one to hand them out, then everyone loves you, on your birthday, which is exactly what you want on your special day.

But people are afraid that too many sweets in school only contributes to the obesity epidemic among our nation’s children. Marion Nestle, the media go-to nutritionist from NYU, calls it “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.”

Why not control the fact that kids don’t get recess anymore? Why not give them physical education a number of times a week? I have an idea. Why not get the PTA to have a bake sale to raise funds so the kids can get a chance to run around for an hour every day at school? Don’t blame it on the cupcakes! Those kids need to move.

Despite the controversy, the article says that cupcakes have grown in popularity in recent years.

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.

Whatever. That’s confusing. And here’s where it gets a little nuts.

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 [a cupcake advocate] 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.

Seriously? Okay, I’m done. I’ve got stuff to do. See you at the next PTA meeting. You know how I’m going to vote.



Filed under children's health, food, kids, life, parenting

3 responses to “Cuckoo for Cupcakes

  1. that’s just plain old exhausting.

  2. exignatz

    I guess I can’t figure out the concept behind school cupcake bans, and sort of wonder if any school has ever had one. Is the concern that some kid might bring a cupcake as part of her lunch, and that’s bad for the kid, but cookies are a-ok? Or is the concern that parents might bring cupcakes for the whole class on their kid’s birthday, and (assuming that every parent did so) a cupcake every 10 days or so would make kids diabetic? Right. Sounds like a trend story in search of a trend, to me!

  3. I think it’s the latter – ban on cupcakes as a snack for the whole class. I don’t think it’s a concern that the cupcakes would make kids diabetic. It’s more about the problem of obesity (although obesity can lead to diabetes…) I agree, “the cupcake problem” as it is called in the article seems ridiculous.

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