Hot Donuts Now

From The Satellite magazine, 2008

It is one of the most glorious sights of the New South: the red-and-green neon informing the world of nirvana within. Few things in life are more tantalizing than the beseeching “HOT DONUTS NOW” sign.

A girlfriend and I once did one of those action-movie turns, squealing tires and honking horns, when we saw the sign at Krispy Kreme. We bought a dozen hot and ate them all, just the two of us, before we got home. We were like sugar vampires, and soon were pasted with glaze over cheeks and fingers.

So it’s about time we got Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut. Purdue anthropology professor Paul Mullins dives into the country’s obsession with this most hole-y of foods and there’s a lot more to the sugary confection than you might imagine.

A few observations from Glazed America:

Mullins cites William Safire’s ability to see the food’s politics. Doughnuts, with their unabashed celebration of indulgence,  are conservative food . The more austere bagel, Safire says, is by definition the food of a guilty liberal.

Doughnuts, by their portable nature, are the byproducts of America’s rootless society. It is the quintessence of finger food, perfect for a nation on the move.

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The doughnut has come to symbolize the American Dream for millions of immigrants. As evidence, Mullins notes that 90 percent of California’s doughnut shops are owned by displaced Cambodians.

Because its existence is a testament to decadence, Mullins traces the long intersection between doughnuts and eroticism. The profusely illustrated book gives us visual evidence that conclusively makes the case that the doughnut is the Jenna Jameson of American food.

Nearly 100 years old – it was invented by a Salvation Army volunteer – the doughnut has been elevated to a nearly spiritual level by such diverse creatures as writer Roy Blount and cartoon dad Homer Simpson. It takes a very talented professor of anthropology (at its base “the study of stuff”) to pull off this feat. From this slight pastry product has come a substantial book that, with a wink, takes us through a pop-culture history of the 20th Century.