The cupcake boom is over. Good riddance.
When Crumbs Bake Shop announced it was closing all of its locations earlier this month, the internet was quick to explode with a barrage of think pieces about the "end of the cupcake era." It wasn't the first time cupcakes were "over," though. Here at The Week alone, we declared that the cupcake bubble had burst in 2013 and again this past April. And while Dippin' Dots owner Marcus Lemonis wants to re-open select Crumbs locations (though with many other offerings in addition to cupcakes), it's hard not to see the dessert giant's demise as the final nail in this industry's sprinkle-covered coffin.
So why have Americans turned on the seemingly innocent, frosting-laden treat? Perhaps they've grown weary of finite cake flavors — you'd be hard pressed to find black sesame or cereal milk in cupcake varieties, for example. Or, as Darren Tristano, a food industry analyst, suggested to The Wall Street Journal, they've realized how exceedingly easy it is to make cupcakes at home.
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I'd like to think, though, that dessert consumers have come to realize what I've always thought about cupcakes: They're completely, utterly, obscenely un-American.
Fancy cupcakes went mainstream in 2000, when New York City's Magnolia Bakery appeared on HBO's Sex and the City. And it's not a coincidence that a show about stereotypically self-conscious women was the cupcake industry's placement of choice. Cupcakes are, by definition, a smaller version of sliced cakes. They're the dessert for people who can exert self-control. Small portions are enough for the Sex and the City ladies — they can have their cake and eat (a very small amount of) it, too.
Not only is this an affront to true, American-sized food portions, but it sends the wrong message about body perception and health.
We've all heard about eating in moderation: Having a cheeseburger or an ice cream cone every once in a while won't kill you, if you're exercising regularly and still eating fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. In fact, a Stanford University study published earlier this month found that lack of exercise, not overeating, is the cause of America's rise in obesity.
And yet, consumers, especially women, continue flocking to extreme methods of deprivation to achieve a target weight or appearance. For these women, a full slice of cake is too much. A few bites of overpriced cake smothered in frosting is all the dessert a trendy, health-conscious person needs. That's not a healthy way of thinking, and aside from that, it's just depressing. Life is short. Go ahead and eat the full cake slice.
As if cupcakes weren't restrictive enough, Magnolia and Crumbs' success gave way to another cupcake outpost: New York's Baked by Melissa, which specializes in mini-cupcakes. Baked by Melissa opened its first SoHo outpost in 2009 and now has more than a dozen mini-cupcake shops across the city. But Baked by Melissa's original SoHo location is permanently closing today — and I hope this is the beginning of the end, both for the hanging-by-a-thread cupcake industry and the deprivation-as-health model as a whole.
As The Office's Kevin Malone so astutely points out in the clip below, mini-cupcakes are ridiculous. They're a smaller version of cupcakes, which are already a smaller version of cakes.
Each of Baked by Melissa's mini-cupcakes are roughly the size of a quarter and will set you back a full dollar. That's highway robbery. And worse, it's doubtful that a bird-sized morsel will satisfy a normal human's sugar craving.
Yes, America has an obesity problem. And yes, most of us need to eat more produce and less processed junk. But going to the opposite extreme doesn't help, either. If you're going to treat yourself to a dessert, you might as well make it worth the calories and eat a hearty portion of cake (or ice cream, or a cookie, or whatever else your sweet tooth desires). Should you eat a full cake slice every day? Probably not. But downsizing the joy of baked goods to an overpriced portion that's smaller than your fist isn't the answer, either.
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