If you go to the store and buy a package of chewy chocolate chip cookies and try to pawn them off onto other families at your child's school bake sale, head of the New York Times' confection Staatssicherheit Jennifer Steinhauer thinks you should be locked up with all the bear wrestlers in Alabama so you can think about the cultural damage you're doing to America's proud pot-luck tradition of foisting slimy pineapple upside-down cakes onto friends and neighbors. In her article, "‘Store-Bought' Spoils the Pot Luck Spirit," Steinhauer explains how those mothers who use flimsy excuses like full-time jobs to avoid breaking out the electric mixer for a school bake sale are part of a more insidious trend of substituting store-bought for homemade food, a trend, by the way, that is eroding one of pillars of the American middle-class: pot-luck. Is nothing sacred? Lest you still can't grasp just how egregious the store-bough sin is, Steinhauer is ready to re-frame her outrage in even more domestic terms:
Look at it this way: You would not resell socks you bought at Macy's on the art-sale crafts table. Respect the cookie!
Oh, that makes way more sense. Ayelet Waldman, however, was not convinced that Steinhauer's complaint had any merit at all and fired off the following outraged tweet in which she takes what is the equivalent to a heated debate at the U.N. and punches in the nuclear launch codes:
Hey, you sanctimonious bitch, I have 4 kids, a fulltime job. I don't have time to bake cookies. Lucky you that you do.
This was followed today with an article on Time's blog by Judith Warner, who acts as something like a mediator, politely explaining that, while Waldman may have gone a tad overboard, for her own part, she prefers to shove the break n' bake cookies in the oven and call it a day. Emily Matchar of the blog "New Domesticity" got in on the action right away, and offered a very articulate, well-reasoned explanation for the Ayelet Waldman hell fury that broke int he wake of Steinhauer's grand baking edict:
While I think writing personal, name-calling attacks against writers you disagree with is really unacceptable, I do think there's something to be said about Steinhauer's piece perpetuating some deep-set sexist assumptions. Mothers are still considered the moral guardians of the family kitchen in this country, and it's mothers who are being judged in Steinhauer's piece – several judgmental moms are quoted in the story, included one who says she gossips about people who bring store-bought stuff to bake sales.
Look, before I read this article I was still convinced that school bake-sales were something that only happened on family TV shows, so if Steinhauer dutifully answers the call for baked goods at her children's school and genuinely feels like parents who shamelessly peddle Chips A'hoy (best cookie name ever) next to her homemade macaroons are cheating, she's right — they are cheating. So are people who bring fancy vintner-bought wine and artisan cheeses to parties instead of stamping their own grapes like Lucille Ball or milking their own uddered barnyard mammals. Of course it's relatively easy to bake something and there's some sentimental mush that goes in the batter with all the eggs, flour, and sugar that the baker most likely didn't gather, bleach, or farm because the simple act of yelling at your kid to stop licking the goddamn batter before she gets salmonella creates an unbreakable bond between parent and child. Or, as one mother that Steinhauer interviews contends, store-bought baked goods miss the point because baking is, "an expression of you." Steinhauer interviews a woman from Los Angeles and herself writes for the New York Times, two localities that are in short supply of farms and much greater supply of grocery stores. It's the modern world, people, and the difference between baking from scratch and picking up packaged cookies is relative. Is reasonable for Steinhauer to be a little miffed that she works hard to put out a tray of hand-crafted treats while another lazy slag is dumping out a ziplock bag of E.L. Fudge cookies? Sure. When someone makes you chocolate chip cookies from "scratch" does your heart give a little leap to know that someone cares enough to burn their fingers on cookie sheets to satisfy your sweet tooth? Of course. Are you going to refuse a piece of a carrot cake because someone went out of his or her way and bought it at Whole Foods and is offering it to you for nominal fee so that the school can buy more calculators?
That's what I thought.
The Better-Bake-Sale Battle [Time]
Image via jordanpattern's Flickr.