THE BLOG

I Bake For You, Therefore I Love You

12/16/2011 12:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2012

I have been strolling memory lane over the past few days, and the sensory trigger has been... cookies.

First Jennifer Steinhauer decided it was a good use of space in the New York Times Dining Section this week to scold parents (read:mothers) who bring store bought contributions to school bake sales. She approvingly quotes Lynne Olver, the editor of Foodtimeline.org, who says: "...traditional American society associates 'homemade' with love and caring. Which means contributors choosing to buy goods are regarded as cheap and dismissive."

Steinhauer's piece caused quite the uproar, with Madeline Holler over on babble.com, among others, pointing out what should be obvious:

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?

Doesn't it make you nostalgic for the 50s? Wasn't that the last moment in the US when it was completely acceptable to equate how much a woman (read:mother) cares, with how much (and how well) she bakes? How retro of Steinhauer to bring it back, no?

Or maybe it's the early 90s that she's channeling, during the brief reprise of the cookies-as-the-measure-of-a-mom meme on the campaign trail. First Hillary Clinton off-handedly quipped that she had better things to do (read:her full time job as a lawyer) than prove her worth with a baking tray. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas," she said. "But what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession."

Cue resulting outrage. Then fast forward a few months to the recipe-off in Family Circle magazine where readers got to vote for Clinton's chocolate chip recipe "made with oatmeal and shortening," the Times made sure to tell us back then, against Mrs. Bush's, "made without oatmeal but with butter." (The Bushes won the cookie vote; the Clintons won the vote that mattered.) With Clinton now duly (and newly) respectful of the importance of cookies, Jacqueline Leo, the editor of Family Circle at the time, could turn her attention to Margot Perot, wife of oil magnate/dark horse candidate Ross' Perot, who clearly hadn't gotten the "cookies as a measure of one's womanly worth" memo. Perot had been invited to participate but had not submitted a recipe, Leo said, adding "My feeling was that she orders in."

But this here is a new century, right? And the au courant measure of good parenting (because there always has to be one... we always have to measure...) has become NOT sending homemade cookies out into the world where they might hurt someone.

Two years ago, the bake sales Steinhauer sees as a test of love and honor, were banned in New York City schools. Cue the outrage again, and that order was amended so that homemade treats, specifically, were banned, on the theory that anything could be lurking in the treats -- stray allergens, bacteria from unclean family kitchens, laxatives from someone with a warped sense of humor. Only store bought items, with reassuring nutritional labels, were allowed.

But that is all SO last year. Now the trend is to keep anything homemade out of our schools. At one Chicago school, for instance, children are not allowed to bring homemade lunch and must eat what is served in the cafeteria, which was, by definition, cooked by the lowest bidder. And there will be no sweets at holiday parties at at least one Boston school district this year. The superintendent says no, this is not the attack on Christmas that some are accusing, but rather an attempt to fight child obesity.

"We aren't trying to take the Christmas out of Christmas. We're not trying to take the enjoyment out of children's lives," Everett Olsen told WBZ NewsRadio yesterday.

Phew. I am glad to hear there is a message. Because, clearly, a cookie can't just be a cookie.