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September 24, 2008

Doughnuts as a symbol of consumer culture



My earlier post on Krispy Kreme's woes reminded me of a press release I got on a new book, Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut by Paul R. Mullins, associate professor and chair of anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis:

It explores the development of America’s consumer culture through our relationship with the doughnut, beloved by many, a symbol of temptation and unhealthiness to others.

I wrote back saying I don't exactly see how a soft, warm, yummy glazed doughnut could be a symbol of America's consumer culture, only I sounded more serious and less hungry than that.

Dr. Mullins kindly sent me this explanation: ...


If you think about what are usually taken as the key elements in 20th century consumer culture--suburbanization, car commuting, mass production, chain stores, and an embrace of modestly priced commodities like fast food -- doughnut marketing and consumption were significantly bolstered by all those transformations. 

For instance, in the 1920s doughnut machines began to churn out massive quantities of doughnuts, which really made doughnuts a mass-consumed commodity instead of a food folks fried once in a while in their kitchens; when chain stores began to provide standardized supplies to franchisees (which really hits doughnut stores in the 1950s), doughnut chains expanded very rapidly led by Dunkin' and Krispy Kreme as well as a bunch of regional chains; and if any food has ever been well-suited to car culture and suburban commuting, it is the doughnut, which is easily delivered in drive-throughs, can actually be consumed while driving (or at least more easily than an Egg McMuffin and the competitors), and doughnuts are inexpensive and filling. 

Like lots of other changes associated with 20th century fast food, there are genuine undersides of such transformations, so at the same time doughnuts' history stresses the implications of such shifts in how we buy and consume food.

I wish I had asked him whether he like Dunkin' Donuts or Krispy Kremes better. Or whether he likes doughnuts at all.

(AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:38 PM | | Comments (24)


224 pages on the doughnut. This is why I've never been able to write a book. I run out of things to say after about 1,000 words.

There's a film that's been around for a while (at least since the 70's) called something like American History in 5 minutes. I remember it starts out very slowly showing paintings and images of famous events up until the industrial revolution, then it gets faster and faster and faster. They kept adding new clips on to update it, but it came out before the personal computer, so I can't imagine how many frames in the last 25-30 years they'd have to add on - and how long would it be now? My point? I see doughnut history as a pimple on the greater picture. Maybe that's just me though...Could be cause doughnuts give me reflux so I avoid 'em like the plague...

Speaking as an academic, I'm betting he started the book loving donuts and ended up hating them.

Aw wow,
This just reminded me, down here, they have a couple Spudnuts stores.

Doughnuts made from potato flour! They are most excellent!!

Bucky, they might have a couple out your way since they are based in Seattle.

PCB Rob - Indeed we do have Spudnuts (alas, they spell it Spudnutz) here. And I agree with you...they are one of life's simple pleasures.

John T. Edge wrote a great book on donuts -- it's called Donuts: An American Passion. It's got recipes and stories about donuts from various American regions. Really fun read!

And if you like it, try his other books -- Hamburgers & Fries, Apple Pie, and Fried Chicken -- all of which cover the various regional differences between these American foods. Tasty!!

I think doughnuts are the new cupcake --- at least in Seattle. There's Top Pot Doughnuts and the delicious vegan delights at Mighty-O Donuts.

Then again, we have Fractured Prune out here ...

I miss very little about the area where I spent my first 50 years (the metropolitan St. Louis region) but one thing is donuts from mom and pop shops. They are everywhere in the region and the donuts are a thousand times better than Krispy Kreme and Dunkin. When Alton Brown traveled through St. Louis his main emphasis was on the donut shops. Really good eats!

SpudNuts? Hee hee hee....

Funny, that was my prison nickname.

Like lots of doughnut fans, I am attached to a local doughnut shop (Long's Donuts) thats like many of the little bakeries many other folks frequent everyday--Long's has more than 50 years experience in Indianapolis managed by the same family, and they make an exceptional doughnut. Still, in a pinch there is a certain charm to a Dunkin or Krispy Kreme doughnut too.

I just remembered!

The long johns you can get up in Amish country, mostly in and around Lancaster.

A long john reminds me of a slim hot dog roll with icing on it, but that doesn't do it justice. Its way better.

If I remember, its on New Holland Pike and the bakery is called Stoltzfus. There might be more places that make them.

Many years ago our intellectuals would write about things like truth, liberty and free will. Nowadays our intellectuals write of doughnuts. What progress.

Many years ago our intellectuals would write about things like truth, liberty and free will.

I give a lecture on these topics every Thursday. Unofficially it's called "Hey, bartender buy that douche at the end of the bar a mug of shut the f*** up." Epistemology Wings Wednesdays are even more fun.

Tirng of us, RoCK?

PCB Rob, at my local bakery, Woodlea, they have a pastry called Bismarck that I think is the same as the long john. They might be filled, tho, so maybe not the same thing, but boyohboyohboy are they good!

Had an explosion at my local bakery,

all the Napoleons were Blownaparte

No, I'm not tiring of the blog, but I do think that anthro-soc books on doughnuts are proof of the diluting of intellectualism. Then again anthro-soc in general is proof of the diluting of intellectualism.

This book on doughnuts could have been written on pizza delivery with very little changes. There is nothing special about doughnuts. They are just one of the many products, and I would doubt they are the prime example, of products that developed to fit a changing culture.

I of course might be biased. I never buy doughnuts. For that matter I never buy any food to eat on my drive to the office.

I remember the Woodlea Bakery. The family would go there often on Saturdays to get doughnuts and pastries for Sunday mornings.

RoCK--this blog never promised you a rose garden ... or intellectualism. It IS a blog about food, though (from time to time, anyway ...)

Actually I think RoCK makes a very interesting point.

And another example of the dilution of
Last week a reporter asked Michael Douglas, the actor, his views on the financial market collapse! All because he had the role in the movie "Wall Street".
There are some real morons out there!

Susan - I know!!! Was that too weird or what? I thought, "clear your head, Joyce, cause you can't be hearing this story right!"

Nothing beats a real, from scratch fried donut, preferably fresh out of the oil. All the other donuts around are tasteless, nothing but sweet and sticky messes in comparison. Junk food, not food.

Icelandic donuts, however, are very close. Kleinur aren't overly sweet and must be eaten within 8 hours or less of frying.

Dahlink, this blog promised me everything.

And on the Mike Douglas comment that reminds me of the time Sissy Spacek testified on rural poverty on the basis of her staring in "A Coal Miners Daughter".

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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