Starting in the 90s and accelerating in the past decade, gourmet cupcake stores have popped up everywhere. Magnolia, Crumbs, Sprinkles. Do we really need stores devoted entirely to cupcakes? No, we don’t.
Gourmet cupcakes are evil. Not just bad, over-hyped, or unhealthy — evil. Here’s why.
A cupcake is a miniature cake. Cakes are for special occasions and celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings. We eat cake at times that have meaning and purpose. Times when it is natural to want to feast and indulge. Mama Rose, my lovely grandmother, always made a stunningly delicious angel food cake with coconut shavings on our birthdays. It was out of the ordinary, and it signified and enhanced the greater meaning of our celebration (comfort food).
Enter the cupcake. A mini-cake in a little cup. Not only is the cupcake a physically smaller version of a cake, but it also requires less psychological justification to eat it. It’s cake’s casual cousin, and it can be eaten just for fun. The very act of eating a cupcake can be the cause of the mini-celebration. Rather than having a special occasion that merits indulgence (birthdays, weddings), the act of indulgence is the cause for celebration.
And here’s the kicker. There used to be a stigma to eating cake on ordinary days. And there still is, to some extent. Few people go around eating cake on a regular basis. Nice cakes are too big, too expensive, too luxurious. The challenge that the cheap, standard grocery-store cupcakes always faced is that they were too cheap, too standard, too inexpensive. They weren’t special enough — conscience and the last vestiges of social stigma could outweigh enjoyment. But when gourmet cupcake makers fancied cupcakes up a bit and started charging $3.25 a pop, it provided that little excuse: "Now THIS is a special cupcake." And eating this gourmet cupcake is a special occasion. It’s all backwards. Evil, thy name is comfort food.
Comfort food is a mood-booster. Kind of like a little drug. Actually, exactly like a drug. One day we will call comfort food by it’s true name: a sugar addiction. A manageable drug addiction that won’t bankrupt you, won’t put you out on the streets, and may not have noticeable health consequences for 20 years or more. Kind of like smoking. But it’s a drug addiction nonetheless. And just like cocaine is the upscale version of crack, gourmet cupcakes are a rich girl’s Twinkie.
What happens if people don’t get their fix? Beware the man who gets in between a Manhattan woman and her gourmet cupcake. Get your Sex and the City cupcakes here.