Yesterday was National Donut Day, so I decided it would be a good time to do a little field work. I gathered a crack research team – a third grader (9 year old girl), first grader (7 year old girl), kindergartener (6 year old boy), and preschooler (4 year old girl) – and we set off to tour a few of the donut shops in town.
Before we started, I asked, “Why do you think there is a National Donut Day?”
Third grader – Maybe to get the national donut industry going.
First grader – A lot of people like donuts.
Kindergartner – People want to eat them.
Preschooler – I don’t know what’s in them. I’m allergic to polenta and carrots.
We decide to call ourselves The Donut Reporters, a name suggested by the first grader, and we piled into the van. First, we went to my office to pick up a copy of The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg. It was given to me by the poet, Matt Mason, years ago. It is informative, interesting, and true to its subtitle: “The origins, history, literature, lore, taste, etiquette, traditions, techniques, varieties, mathematics, mythology, commerce, philosophy, cuisine, and the glory of the donut.” However, as far as I can tell (since it doesn’t have an index), it has nothing to say about National Donut Day. Nevertheless, the third grader found it fascinating and asked if she could take it into school.
We began our tasting research at Dunkin Donuts. Since the first grader is allergic to peanuts and soy, we needed to find out what was in the products. We asked the man behind the counter, and he shrugged, “I don’t know.” We asked him why there was a National Donut Day, and he repeated, ‘I don’t know.” Then he added, “It’s not a Dunkin Thing.” The first grader decided just to get a chocolate milk. The others made their selections, and I distributed tasting sheets.
The third grader picked a bowtie, which was surprising, since she usually gets something pink with sprinkles. She explained, “I wanted to get something different.” Her notes included, “Sweet. Good. Tastes like a donut but with an odd shape.”
The kindergartener picked a specialty Undercover MIB (Men In Black) chocolate donut “because it has stars on it and looks chocolately.” He bit into it and was delighted. “Hey, there’s chocolate inside too!” The preschooler told him “You picked the coolest one!” She herself chose a chocolate with sprinkles because it had “chocolate and sprinkles.” Her tasting notes, given orally, were “It’s good. I like chocolate.”
Since she didn’t get a donut, the first grader was responsible for reporting on ambiance. Her notes for the Dunkin Donuts eating area read “Small but colorful. Very good view of parking lot.”
Next we went to Krispy Kreme. Driving up the kids began to shout, the Christmas colors having a Pavlovian effect.
Personally I have always been wary of Krispy Kreme. For one, in the 20s, during a boom-time for the Ku Klux Klan, businesses would call themselves things like Komfy Kozy Kabins. Luckily, it’s not Kool Krispy Kreme. For another, the Krispy Kreme way is to run everything through its glazer which makes the whole store seem to have an atmosphere of sugar mist.
We had a hard time finding a parking space, and the line stretched outside. Not surprising the ambiance notes for the place read, “Very crowded.” They also said, “Smells like donuts. Trays of donuts. Very colorful. Shiny.” The line went quickly, and the kids stayed calm by watching the assembly line process through the plate glass windows and by trying various ways to wear their free hats.
The Krispy Kreme worker couldn’t tell us whether there was soy or peanuts in the products, so once again the first grader refrained. As for the reason behind National Donut Day, the staff member said, “I have no idea. Ask the man in black.” We looked around, but there was no man in black. I thought there was something deep about this, but the rest of the team was just puzzled.
The preschooler selected a chocolate with sprinkles because it was chocolate and had sprinkles. The kindergarten picked one that was “Icy with a lot of icing.” And the third grader also chose a chocolate one because “you don’t want to experiment all the time.”
Our last stop was Starbucks. Personally I find the idea of buying a donut at Starbucks silly and even antithetical to the whole donut ethos (not to mention expensive). But in the interest of research, we went. The staff member didn’t know it was National Donut Day, had no theories as to what it was about, and refused to give us any free donuts or any discount. Three staff members together couldn’t figure out what was in the donuts, so the first grader got another chocolate milk. As for the ambiance, she observed Starbuck’s was, “Boring. Not so colorful. Quiet. Not much going on. A bunch of grown-up drinks.”
Starbucks offers only one kind of donut – the Old Fashioned -- so there were requests for cake, suckers, popcorn, and anything within their sight-lines. It became difficult to keep the team focused, but eventually they settled down to the task of eating more sugar baked in a circular shape. They couldn’t concentrate enough, however, to take tasting notes.
When asked to review which had been their overall favorites, the kindergartener immediately replied, “All of them.” The preschooler said with a zen serenity, “I like this donut that I have here right now.” The third-grader said, “The bow-tie. It was different, but still a donut.” And, the first-grader with allergies snarled, “I hated all the donuts because I didn’t get any,” but she admitted that she still had fun.
Everyone agreed that it had been a successful National Donut Day.
And, the result of our research? A unanimous belief that it’s a good, important, holiday about which people display a shocking lack of knowledge. And, a spoiled dinner for all of us.