Oh, come on. I’m not buying Jennifer Steinhauer’s sorrowful lament in The New York Times over the persistence of store-bought goods being laid out at bake sales and potlucks. What on the surface is supposed to make us want to be better people is actually an attempt to remind so many of us that we’re not giving enough of ourselves to institutional traditions.
We’re destroying the “potluck spirit.”
This divide between moms who bake and moms who don’t is old and tired and, incidentally, only ever seems to bother moms who bake (if it actually bothers them at all). The moms who bake are putting in more time, but then again, they like to bake. So what’s the problem? For Steinhauer, cookies with a label downgrade the rest of the fare. (Though I would argue, it makes heroes of home bakers.)
One other thing: store-bought cookies sell.
Steinhauer already knows why store-bought has made its way onto the fundraising tables of America: some people don’t like to bake, others don’t have the time. We’re a generation of parents trained to consider allergies and dietary restrictions. Store-bought items conveniently list ingredients. What the writer has missed, though, is the whole obligation of all these potlucks and fundraisers — an obligation that plenty of us don’t exactly want to shirk and yet would prefer not having to dirty up a bunch of pans in order to meet.
Fundraisers requiring home time and some element of craft and skill have become kind of unrelenting these days. Bake sales used to be once a year to raise money for a special trip or a new jungle gym. Now we organize them for the basics: library books, a P.E. teacher’s salary, toilet paper for the bathrooms. Firing up the KitchenAid for yet another two dozen frosted cupcakes feels like a silly charade at some point. Donate my time and money to make junk food that gets sold back to my own kids? Here, take this bag of cookies and mark it off the list. There’s a sadness to my utter lack of interest in baking for these projects, sure, but it has more to do with desperation for funding than the fact that the best-selling items showed up in shrink wrap.
Steinhauer calls bakery drops tacky, like re-gifting. I think of it as better than bringing nothing (a move that also has its critics). Steinhauer argues Rice Krispie treats take less time to make than a trip to Safeway. Ahhh, but not when that trip to Safeway is being made on the way to the bake sale!
Dropping off pre-packaged goodies sends a message, according to Steinhauer and another mom ruffled by the intrusive fare. From the NYT:
“For me, it comes down to the essence of what baking is,” said Waverly Gage, a mother of three in Houston whose favorite contribution to bake sales is bundt cakes, and who bristles, too, at the store-bought fare. “Whether it is to raise money for your school or your church or whatever group, you’ve been asked to bake something and put something of yourself into it, and when someone goes and buys store-bought cookies, it misses the entire point,” said Ms. Gage, who blogs at the Web site peaceandloveinthekitchen.com. “Baking is supposed to be an expression of you.”
Look, I make a pretty good bundt cake myself, but 40 minutes in the oven is hardly the sum of what I want to say to the world. Steinhauer and those like her are reading too much into hand-decorated cookies and muffins with a delicate crumb. Don’t get me wrong, a table groaning with homemade goods is wonderful to behold, so let this be a blanket “thank you” to all those bakers who make it happen. Keep up the nice work! Couldn’t have done it without you! You’re the spice that makes this bland group a delicious community! I’ll just set this prearranged tray of store cookies over here in the corner.
Now how about a dozen of your famous homemade snickerdoodles?