Crumbs's Fate Aside, the Cupcake Still Isn't Dead

What is dead is the hype surrounding a food that has long since solidified its position in the American mainstream.
Take that tombstone out. (disneylandadventures/Flickr)

When the announcement came earlier this week that the upscale cupcake shop Crumbs was closing all of its stores, the news was taken as a proxy for the fate of the cupcake as an idea. “As the Cupcake Declines, Crumbs Shuts Its Doors,” read the headline of a New York Times article on Tuesday that, due to what must have been an editorial oversight, was not included in the obituaries section. Jezebel was more to the point: “Ding, Dong, Cupcakes Are Dead.”

But, miraculously, food-trend equilibrium was maintained this week, as another craze crested: a Wall Street Journal article took note of quinoa’s placement in Walgreens and Piggly Wiggly stores, signaling its mainstream acceptance. The article plotted quinoa’s rise in conjunction with that of worshiping "superfoods" and anything gluten-free, which has made for what one analyst called “a perfect collision of trends”—“perfect,” in this case, likely referring to the doubling of quinoa’s price between 2007 and this year. (And this has an effect elsewhere: These increases can price out those who live in countries where quinoa is a staple.)

As a human who eats regularly, what am I to make of these trends? David Sax, author of the recent book The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy For Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue, says that quinoa may well go the way of the cupcake if prices rise beyond what consumers deem reasonable. “Even if they do, it doesn’t mean that quinoa will disappear from the face of the earth, but it certainly may not have the presence and energy that it once did,” he says.

The closure of one bourgeois chain has little bearing on the cupcake's mass appeal. The media dirges that played along as Crumbs closed down weren’t conducted for the end of the consumption of cupcakes, but for the end of the media’s interest in cupcakes as a trend—an interest that brought us treatises that would include lines like “a cupcake is a symbol for both a vagina and the female orgasm.”

“People still like eating cupcakes. They just don’t like writing about cupcakes. They’re sick of hearing about cupcakes,” says Sax. “What makes a great headline? ‘Cupcake shop closes its doors?’ or ‘The cupcake trend is over’?”

But it’s wild how things change in just a few days. The Times reported yesterday afternoon that Crumbs “may live another day,” thanks to a group of investors who might swoop in to save it. Sax was never fooled: Cupcakes will remain delicious, and thus, perennially appealing. “You’re not going to serve kids kale smoothies for their birthday parties," he says, "They’re gonna have cupcakes!”

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Joe Pinsker is an assistant editor at The Atlantic. He has written for Rolling StoneForbes, and Salon.

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