TIME Business

A Eulogy for Crumbs, But Not Cupcakes, America’s Most Perfect Cake

Store Operations At Crumbs, Largest U.S. Retailer Of Cupcakes
A sign advertises hand-baked cupcakes at a Crumbs cupcake store in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

They may have peaked as a food trend, but it's still a cake you can hold in your hand and eat without a fork.

The demise of the cupcake bakery chain Crumbs was hardly a surprise to anyone with even scant knowledge of the company. Since it’s ill-fated IPO in 2010, the Crumbs stock price was meteoric, in the sense that its brief glimpse of initial sparkle heralded a rapid, fiery descent to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere of mismanagement, speculation and over-leverage along the way. Over the past year, Crumbs stores resembled ghost towns, and the recent launch of a Cronut copycat, with the Scrooge-like name Crumbnut, only made their decline that much more apparent.

But Tuesday, as America woke to news of Crumbs’ death knell and the closure of its 50-odd stores, the end of the world’s largest cupcake chain arrived in my inbox with the burning question: is this the end of cupcakes? Some wrote me with genuine concern and curiosity, but the majority did so with barely hidden glee, praying that the insolvency of Crumbs would be the equivalent for the cupcake food trend’s fate that Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers’ own demise signaled for the financial bubble Crumbs grew fat on. “Please let this be the end of cupcakes,” one friend, a fellow food writer, wrote in an email.

I wouldn’t bet on it.

The cupcake Cassandras have been predicting buttercream-frosted doom for some time, almost a decade in several cases, and each time cupcakes have proven resilient. The small handheld cakes, decorated in everything from simple frosting smears to elaborate 3D fondant figures, stuffed with creamy fillings, and even paired with booze, have retained their position as the defining food trend of the 21st century for good reason.

Cupcakes are not a new food, unlike last summer’s trendy pastry, the Cronut. They have been around for well over a century, and most North Americans have fond memories of cupcakes at birthday parties, or coming out of an Easy Bake oven to be topped by chocolate frosting and sprinkles. The modern cupcake trend began in New York City in 1996, when the original owners of the small Magnolia Bakery made a batch of cupcakes out of leftover cake batter. Though other bakeries, such as the Cupcake Café, made cupcakes in New York, not to mention other cities, these seemed to hit a chord with the neighborhood and a demand for the cupcakes steadily grew. Though lines for Magnolia’s cupcakes soon formed, cupcake fever didn’t truly take off until the early 2000s, fed by three factors.

First, the cupcakes at Magnolia garnered a brief, but highly influential cameo in one scene of Sex and the City, which instantly changed the image of the cupcake from a child’s treat to an adult indulgence that was the butter and sugar equivalent of $500 Jimmy Choo pumps. Second, the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the subsequent recession sent Americans searching for comforting, familiar foods (think mac n’ cheese or gourmet burgers), and the cupcake proved to be the perfect edible safety blanket. Finally, the rise of cupcakes coincided with the Internet age, first with broadband and blogs, and later the social networks, which made sharing stories, recipes and photos of each and every cupcake a breeze.

Cupcakes were no longer confined as a food trend by geography. Someone in Paraguay could read about the early success of a company like Crumbs, browse hundreds of photos of their elaborate decorations, and replicate that in their own business in Asunción. The cupcake became the first viral food trend of the Internet age. Every bakery, every design, every new variation on this one simple cake (mini cupcakes, giant cupcakes, vegan cupcakes!) were written about and debated with the energy we once devoted to war correspondence.

But as the press, foodies and the public tired of hearing about cupcakes, they begged for the end of the cupcake story. They didn’t want to read about cupcakes anymore. The novelty had worn off.

This is the natural fate of all food trends. They’re symptoms of our collective appetite–cultural shifts in what food we value and desire–and the energy at their heart can expand to only so many places, for so long. All food trends have their peak, their moment when they’re at the center of the zeitgeist, and cupcakes passed theirs some time ago.

But that doesn’t mean the cupcake is dead. Far from it. After nearly two decades as the reigning dessert trend in America, and increasingly the world, the cupcake will not go away. It will be there at birthdays, graduations and office parties. It will still elicit palpitations of excitement on sight, even from those who cursed its constant attention, because fundamentally the cupcake’s enduring strength is its very essence: a cake you can hold in your hand and eat without a fork. A cake you can eat in the car. America’s perfect cake.

And tomorrow, while Crumbs’ shareholders will be counting their losses, and their baking equipment is auctioned off to other cupcake makers, someone in your community will still be making cupcakes, and others will buy them. Because as much as people say they hate the cupcake trend, what kind of a human being would truly want to live in a world without cupcakes?

David Sax is a freelance writer specializing in business and food. He is the author of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

TIME Sports

Crepes vs. Bratwurst: World Cup Matches Reimagined With Food

Soccer has never looked so delicious

The World Cup isn’t just about soccer or athleticism — it’s about bringing people together and taking pride in one’s country and culture, right? To emphasize that part of the event, artist George Zisiadis decided to focus on one key part of culture: food.

He chose one popular dish from several different nations — mussels and fries for Belgium, acarajé for Brazil, and so on — and then combined them.

“Rather than focus on its adversarial nature, I wanted to playfully re-imagine the World Cup and celebrate how it brings cultures together,” Zisiadis told Mashable. “Just like futbol, food also represents nationalities and brings people together.”

George Zisiadis
George Zisiadis
George Zisiadis
George Zisiadis
George Zisiadis
George Zisiadis

Head over to Zisiadis’s website to see more World Cup food pairings.

TIME Exercise

It’s Lack of Exercise—Not Calories—That Make Us Fat, Study Says

Low section of woman exercising on treadmill
Low section of woman exercising on treadmill Maskot/Getty Images

One study says American diets have remained the same for the last 20 years

A new study published yesterday in the American Journal of Medicine reported over the last 20 years there has been a sharp drop in Americans’ physical exercise, and an increase in average body mass index (BMI), but that average caloric intake has remained the same.

The Stanford University researchers looked at NHANES data over the last 20 years, and found that the number of U.S. women who reported doing no physical activity went from 19.1% in 1994 to 51.7% in 2010. For men, the number increased from 11.4% in 1994 to 43.5% in 2010. During the same time frame, the average BMI of men and women also went up.

“At the population level, we found a significant association between the level of leisure-time physical activity, but not daily caloric intake, and the increases in both BMI and waist circumference,” said lead study author Dr. Uri Ladabaum, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in a statement.

The drop in physical activity is worrying, but it’s worth taking a closer look at the reseach. The dataset in this study did not show that Americans were consuming more calories over the 20 year period—but it should be noted that USDA data shows that Americans are consuming about 500 calories per day more than they did in the 1970 and 800 calories more than Americans in the 1950s.

It’s certainly true that Americans are more sedentary than they used to be, but when it comes down to it, calories are a major component when it comes to weight gain. And though the researchers report that calorie intake hardly changed, they did not look at the makeup of the participants’ diets. Therefore, they have no idea where people were getting their calories—home cooked meals, fast food, processed food?

It’s true that we’ve started relying too much on calories, and the simple advice of eat less exercise more isn’t always the answer. Well-respected researchers in the nutrition community argue what’s more important is avoiding the refined carbohydrates like white bread and sugary processed foods which have become staples in our diets. Instead, we should focus on better food quality, and of course, getting more physical activity.

The obesity epidemic is caused by many factors, and it’s solution will have to incorporate many different strategies. At this point, we know that, and pulling out one cause ultimately isn’t productive—or accurate.

What we should take away from this new study is that Americans are moving less and less—and that’s bad news.

TIME Companies

Crumbs Bake Shop to Close All Stores

The cupcake craze is on its way out

+ READ ARTICLE

Crumbs Bake Shop, the country’s largest specialty cupcake chain, told employees on Monday that the New York–based company would be shutting down all of its stores at the end of the business day.

“Regrettably Crumbs has been forced to cease operations and is immediately attending to the dislocation of its devoted employees while it evaluates its limited remaining options,” the company announced in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. A spokeswoman told the paper those “options” include filing for bankruptcy.

Though the 48-store company had shut down three stores in 2013 and six stores in 2014 with more closures reportedly on the way, the news came as a surprise to employees.

“I come into work today, I’m happy, I’m skipping to work, and suddenly I don’t have a job,” a Brooklyn Crumbs store manager named Kareem Wegman told the Journal.

The company began being publicly traded in 2011 when the appetite for the cupcake craze was still strong, but on July 1 the Nasdaq Stock Market suspended trading, saying the company did not have the either mandatory shareholder equity nor had it met required benchmarks for market cap and net annual profit.

[WSJ]

TIME Food

Internet Raises Over $11,500 For Some Guy to Make Potato Salad

And the money keeps coming in

Folks, when a regular guy tries to crowd-fund his potato salad and ends up with an unexpected windfall of $11,500, you know the American Dream is alive and well.

A Kickstarter created by Zack “Danger” Brown of Columbus, Ohio asked the Internet for a mere $10 to make a potato salad. But the Internet heard his call for help, and he found himself with over $11,500 of potato salad funding, and the money keeps rolling in.

Brown posted that if he reached $3,000, he would rent out a party hall and invite the whole internet to eat potato salad. But no updates have indicated what he’ll do with this much money. How long does $11,500 worth of potato salad keep in the refrigerator?

Not to be deterred, another would-be chef in the UK has asked Kickstarter for £10 to make coleslaw. At the time of writing, he was up to £12.50.

 

TIME Culture

WATCH: The Delicious History of the Hot Dog

The history of tubular meat goes way back.

+ READ ARTICLE

Red hots, dogs, brats, frankfurters, wieners, sausages — whatever you call them, you’re probably getting ready to scarf down some hot dogs on the Fourth of July.

Before they were on your picnic table, hot dogs graced the fires of ancient Greece, the beer houses of Germany and the White City of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Whether accompanied with sauerkraut, slathered in mustard or just nestled in a bun, no food represents America’s melting pot better than the well-traveled, immigrant hot dog.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 4: Eating Haves and Have Nots

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A Pakistani Muslim man arranges Iftar food for Muslim devotees before they break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on June 30, 2014. ASIF HASSAN—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Recently, a friend offered a social commentary that really stuck with me. He said, “You know there’s something wrong when too many people in the world are dying because of starvation and, at the same time, too many people are dying because of overeating.”

It reminded me of a simple yet quite profound advice in the Qur’an: “O Children of Adam…eat and drink, but not excessively: verily, God does not like the excessive” (7:31). Reflecting on this teaching, the Prophet Muhammad advised: “No human being overfills a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any child of Adam are some morsels of food to keep their back straight. But, if they must [eat more than this], then let one third be for food, one third for drink and one third for easy breathing.”

Moderation is an oft-repeated virtue in the Qur’anic discourse on living an ethical life. When it comes to our eating habits, it goes beyond our individual ethics to a more communal ethics. When extreme food waste and extreme lack of food coexist as a reality not only in the world but even, often, in the same cities, then we’ve really got to re-think how we eat and how much we eat. For example, the USDA estimates in a 2014 report that around 40% of food in America goes to waste. And, it is also estimated that 50 million Americans (1 in 6, and more than 1 in 5 children) go to sleep hungry everyday.

Of course, the problems as well as the solutions are much more systemic. But the shift in how much we eat and how we treat food needs a cultural revolution. It requires an honest conversation about the epidemic of obesity, on the one hand, and a critique of the “ideal” body type – which is just as much part of the problem – on the other hand. And, it begins with all of us, individually and in our homes, considering how we can reduce food waste and reduce the imbalance between those who have and those who do not have.

Fasting really makes you re-think the role of food in your life. It is a proof for how little we actually need to stay strong and healthy and how our appetites are so much more adjustable than we think. Breaking fast together in community also makes you think. When food is shared, it seems so much more plentiful as a little bit goes a long way when you eat in good company. As the Prophet Muhammad would say, “food for one is enough for food for two, and food for two is enough for food for three” and so on.

Just some food for thought during this month of Ramadan.

TIME U.S.

Woman Claims She Got a Bag of Marijuana With Her French Fries

French fries
Getty Images

The discovery at Sonic really puts the pot into fried potatoes

Finding a complimentary baggie of weed in your order of French fries would be pretty great if you’re a character in a Seth Rogen movie — but probably less cool if you’re a mom planning on feeding those fries to your kids.

That’s what happened to Carla McFarland, a Maryland woman who took her kids to Sonic for lunch last week and then found marijuana in her container of fries, the Frederick News-Post reports.

“I just kind of sat there in my car in shock,” McFarland told the newspaper. “I kept thinking, what if my kids had eaten it?”

Soon, McFarland called both Sonic’s management as well as the police. An employee claimed responsibility for the weed and said it must have fallen out of her apron. That employee was fired, but no charges have been filed.

 

TIME

I Can’t Believe Americans Ate That Much Butter!

FRANCE-ECONOMY-FOOD-ISIGNY-STE-MERE
A worker packs butter at the production site of the Isigny-Sainte-Mere dairy co-operative in Isigny-sur-Mer, northwestern France, on April 4, 2014. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU—AFP/Getty Images

Butter is mounting a comeback in the U.S., but it's nowhere near the butter craze of the roaring twenties

Americans have rekindled their love affair with butter. The Wall Street Journal reports that the average American downs nearly 23 sticks of butter a year, pulling ahead of margarine for the third year running. The reversal in tastes coincides with a growing backlash against processed foods and new research suggesting that fat might have been unfairly singled out for vilification.

But don’t call it a comeback. Butter consumption today has got nothing on the roaring twenties, when the average American used to spread, melt and eat it with abandon, downing 18 pounds, or roughly 72 sticks a year.

MK-CN390_BUTTER_G_20140625175704

Stocks were up, butter was booming and nobody saw the crash coming.

[WSJ]

 

 

TIME animals

Global Warming is Tough on Chickens Too, You Know

FRANCE-AGRICULTURE-HENS
Getty Images

High temperatures are associated with sicker chickens. Researchers are using selective breeding to come up with a solution

May was Earth’s hottest month on record — and as the planet gets warmer, chickens are struggling to adapt. Their body temperatures rise, which leads to higher mortality rates and an increased risk of disease that may threaten global poultry supply in the next decades.

Enter geneticist Carl Schmidt and his team from the University of Delaware, who believe that reducing a chicken’s feather count — making it look bald, basically — will cool it down and reduce health risks.

“We’re going to be seeing heat waves that are both hotter and longer,” Schmidt told Modern Farmer. “And we need to learn how to mitigate the effect of climate change on animals — we need to figure out how to help them adapt to it.”

For three years, Schmidt and his team traveled throughout Uganda and Brazil to study birds with featherless necks and heads in the hopes of crossbreeding them with the feathered North American breeds.

Researchers stress that this is selective breeding, not genetic modification.

Schmidt and his team will spend the next two years analyzing the DNA of the bare-necked birds – however it’ll be much longer until crossbreeding actually takes place.

“It could take two decades of research before resulting in any actual chickens,” he said. But at least a start is being made in preserving a food source that can only become more important as the effects of climate change make themselves more broadly felt.

[Modern Farmer]

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