Sunday, August 03, 2008

The meaning of donuts

For all that they are a relatively simple food, donuts (and, yes, I know that I'm not spelling it right, but I'm being lazy which is somehow apropos to this entry) are a food in our culture that is loaded with baggage.

Donuts are shorthand, in our culture, for gluttony and sloth. Think of the ways in which obesity is served up with a heavy hand of MacDonald's and a generous dozen of donuts. But long before the obesity "epidemic" donuts were maligned.

There is the cliche of the police officers sitting at the donut shop while crimes run rampant around them. There is our friend, Homer Simpson, a simple man who would OD on donuts if given the chance.

Layer on top of this a culture of women who thinks that fats and carbs are the road to hell, and an obsession can be created. The Rotund recently wrote about her experience with a particular romance writer in which it is clear that the write has some sort of fetish-gone-wrong with donuts signifying instant fat. It is ridiculous, and yet anyone reading the piece can resonate with the images that this woman presents.

I have just finished reading Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. It's another romance novel with a fat heroine. The obsession with donuts takes a very interesting turn in this novel that felt somewhat refreshing and fun.

First off, Min, Crusie's heroine, is a fat woman with self-esteem issues. I'm still waiting for a well-adjusted fat woman. But her lack of acceptance has a really powerful source: a mother who is herself obsessed with size and has denied herself foods that would, in her mind, cause her to be fat.

The set-up is a powerful one as well. Min is to be her sister's maid of honor and her mother has ordered a dress that is deliberately too small with the intent that Min should lose the weight to fit into the dress. Weddings plus neurotic mothers are the nightmare of our body-obsessed female culture.

Into this situation walks Calvin, the hero. He is initially not drawn to Min, as she hides herself behind a defensive attitude and ugly clothes, but when he gets to know her, he glimpses the real Min peaking out in her eclectic choice of shoes and her sheer joy at good food.

Where do donuts come in? Well, they are the vehicle for eroticism in their first kiss. Cal feeds Min a "forbidden" Krispy Kreme and, in that instance, the donut becomes script for everything that is pleasurable that has been forbidden to this woman. There is donut play when they first have sex, and a huge cake of donuts is served at a rehearsal dinner...a decadent foretaste of the future marrieds' joy.

Despite having difficulties with her self-image, I really liked this book. Both Min and Cal had issues related to family upbringing, but this did not stop them from having friends who were supportive and loving. They both struggled with self-esteem, so there was never the sense that Min was completely alone in her angst. They had work that they loved and lives that were fulfilling to them. And they were suitably unsure of the Happily Ever After - there was no assumption that their lives would be perfect from here on out, just a recognition that whatever the future held it would be better if they were in it together.

I also much prefer the donut as a vehicle of pleasure and sensuality, as well. It really isn't a bad little food and it is too bad that most people have such a fear and hatred of it and its association with "the fatties." Let's just be clear, I like my donuts, but if I ate them everyday or even every week, they lose a bit of their nummy-ness.

P.S. As I was writing this, it occurred to me just how unfair the whole lazy-cop-at-a-donut-shop trope is. I think of the life of a beat cop - hours of boredom interspersed by moments of sheer terror. Often, cops are unable to take much time to sit down and eat a full meal, and donuts are a quick fix in that equation. What does it say that we do not allow for those people who are supposed to be protecting us to have enough of a break in their schedule to give themselves something more nourishing than a donut...and then we begrudge them the break of a snack that takes less than a minute to consume?


roro said...

Thank you for this excellent post! I'm always appalled when doughnuts are used as signifiers of laziness and greed. There are generally fewer calories in a doughnut than in a croissant, but croissants are somehow aristocratic while doughnuts remain the commoners. Maybe if we start calling doughnuts "beignets" instead, they'd get more respect.

Given my own doughnut fetish, I clearly have to read Bet Me. It sounds like a lovely (delicious) read. Thanks for the review!

Aravis said...

Sounds like a good book!