Despite the fact that baking is supposed to be a salve for the anxiety of being alive in 2018, it has been a difficult year for cookies. It is almost as though there is no comfort left.
Month by month, the cookie drama mounted, like Real Housewives, but with chocolate chips. There were cookie threats and cookie lawsuits; we saw cookies in places where cookies should not go. Cookies are a battlefield, like love. As the year comes to a close, let us reflect; in our cookie scandals, perhaps, we can better see ourselves.
The Girl Scout cookie dispensary scandal
Taking advantage of her state’s then-new law fully legalizing marijuana, an enterprising California Girl Scout set up shop outside a dispensary, where she sold more than 300 boxes of cookies in six hours. It was an example of exactly the kind of entrepreneurialism we purport to encourage in our youth — is there a better market for boxed cookies than people who either are or will soon be stoned?
But as a nation, we are still not totally sure how to feel about marijuana. When the dispensary posted a picture of the scout to Instagram, commenters responded with passion on all sides. Some people felt it was “child endangerment” and an “example of bad parenting and business ethics.”
Others pointed out that Girl Scouts sell cookies outside of grocery stores all the time, even though they sell alcohol and tobacco, which are both deadlier than pot. It was not a fight about cookies, but — like many of this year’s best baked-good scandals — a fight about American values vis-à-vis cookies. The Scout raised $1,500. In this case, the cookies won.
The Oreo vs. Hydrox lawsuit
A raging, century-long battle between Oreo (which makes chocolate sandwich cookies cradling a disc of bright white cream filling) and Hydrox (which makes chocolate sandwich cookies cradling a disc of bright white cream filling) came to a head in what may be the most vicious cookie showdown of the year. In August, Hydrox filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing Oreo (and its parent company, Mondelez) of trying to put them out of business by intentionally hiding their products in grocery stores.
It is not easy being Hydrox. The cookie debuted four years before Oreo, but, while near-identical, failed to capture the hearts and minds of Americans and became a distant runner-up in the sandwich cookie landscape. (It is, however, kosher.)
According to Hydrox, Oreo has this power because of the way they distribute their cookies — direct store distribution (DSD), Munchies explains, which means that Mondelez employees are the ones who arrange the products on grocery store shelves. Allegedly, they are using this opportunity to relocate competing Hydrox products to unfortunate spots, such as out-of-reach top shelves, or behind “hanging tags or other products.”
Hydrox knows this, Hydrox says, because a buyer from “one of the largest chains in the US” told them. “Mondelez is going to hide your cookies all over our stores to make sure you don’t get any sales, in hopes of being discontinued,” the buyer warned, according to the company’s account. “You’re going to have to hire people to go into each of our stores and make sure Hydrox is not being hidden.’” Hydrox is seeking $800 million in damages. Oreo says the accusation has no merit.
The “Oreo Run” suspension
This is not the only Oreo-related scandal of the year: in October, 10 Northern Illinois high school football players were suspended for participating in a not-hazing practice known as the “Oreo Run,” which — according to the Rockford Register Star — involved moving “across the school’s football field with an Oreo wedged between their buttocks.” If this act reveals anything about America, it is that Oreo is indeed the default chocolate/vanilla sandwich cookie of this nation: The Associated Press has never been forced to cover a butt-related “Hydrox Run.”
The cookie dough warning (holiday redux)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got into the holiday spirit by reminding all of us that eating raw cookie dough is a bad idea because you might get poisoned in not one but multiple different ways.
The issue is not just raw eggs — a prominent cookie dough ingredient, and one that can carry salmonella, the CDC warned — but also raw flour, which, while seemingly benign, is actually apparently sinister, because it can carry E. coli. According to the agency, 63 people got E. coli infections linked to raw flour in 2016. Between the anxiety and the procrastibaking — baking you do to avoid doing something else — one can only imagine the 2018 threat is even worse.
In response, people were sad, and sometimes defiant, because eating cookie dough is one of the great pleasures of being alive, along with petting dogs. Talking to The Cut, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, a raw-dough-eating public health expert, noted that, while yes, there is some dough risk, humans take food-related health risks all the time, by doing things like eating lettuce.
“It is interesting to note that with healthy foods that have risks, we seem to tolerate them. But when we get into cookie dough, which we can all admit is not the most healthy food, it seems as though the health officials feel more justification in saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t eat that,’” he said.
The gingerbread war on Christmas
In a gesture in support of gender equality, the café at Scottish Parliament replaced their traditional “gingerbread men” with more progressive “gingerbread people.”
Fox News host and noted Christmas crusader Tucker Carlson picked up the story, calling the de-gendering of the seasonal cookie in Scotland part of the general “spiritual neutering” of Christmas. “Obviously they’re men,” opined fellow Fox News personality Tammy Bruce.
This is not the first move to diversify the ginger cookies of Britain: Earlier this year, Pret A Manger rebranded their own humanoid ginger snack as “gingerbread biscuits,” although the specific offerings within that category — two edible characters named “Annie,” and “Godfrey” — remain gendered.
The Case of the Missing Hershey’s Kiss Tips
As Carlson raged, bakers all across America had an equally pressing cookie concern: Hershey’s Kisses, little dollops of chocolate joy, seem to be widely missing their genre-defining tips.
Here is the problem:
The issue first emerged, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when multiple bakers in the Wedding Cookie Table Community Facebook group noticed that when they went to unwrap the kisses to make Peanut Butter Blossoms — a Peanut Butter Blossom, at the risk of oversimplifying, is a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey’s Kiss on it — and discovered that the kisses were consistently decapitated. Across the country, bakers were finding that their Hershey’s Kisses had uniformly broken tips.
It is true that broken Kisses taste much like perfect Kisses. But to suggest that therefore the integrity of the kiss shape does not matter is to ignore the fact that cookies are a visual medium as much as a gustatory one. Incensed, bakers began reaching out to Hershey’s for an explanation.
At first, one member of the group reported, a representative from the company told her that truncated kisses were intentional, because the tips “only break off in transit.” Later, though, a different representative told her that the machines that drop the chocolate sometimes malfunction, cutting off the tip, suggesting that the snipped kisses are not, in fact, intentional. As of this writing, Hershey’s is “now looking at the issue.” In the meantime, the company is encouraging us to “celebrate our differences,” as illustrated by a line-up of both tipped and tipless kisses. Responses have been mixed.
In 2018, sea levels rose, and reefs receded; elections came and went and were recounted; babies were born, and celebrities died, and yet we still had time and mental space to rage over the humble cookie — a testament, above all, to human resilience.