For the Love of Cupcakes In case you missed the memo, it's National Cupcakes for a Cause Week, a time when bakers and cake-lovers unite to sell cupcakes for charity across the country. Meanwhile, school districts from Texas to New York have come out against cupcakes, singling them out for their contribution to childhood obesity.
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For the Love of Cupcakes

Listen to a cupcake expert

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15353183/15353155" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ALISON STEWART, host:

You may thank me for this piece of information. You can eat a store-bought cupcake this week and feel virtuous.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

Thank you, Alison.

STEWART: You're welcome.

You know, bakeries around the country, like Cupcake Island in Nebraska or Saint Cupcake in Portland, Oregon, they're just two of the many bakeries donating part of the proceeds from this week's cupcake sales to children's cancer research. It's part of Cupcakes for a Cause Week. The owner of Merritt's Bakery in Tulsa, he's onboard.

Mr. LARRY MERRITT (Owner, Merritt's Bakery Tulsa): Kids are real important to our business and real important to us personally. And anything that we can do to help especially those families that suffer with kids with cancer, we just really have an open heart for them.

STEWART: It's for the kids, of course. But wait, aren't cupcakes bad for kids? Aren't school districts across the country banning the evil sugary treat from school birthday parties? At least 10 school districts in New York State have imposed anti-cupcake rules. Districts in Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and other states, they have the similar birthday party food bans. The people are fighting back, though.

One New York congressman proposed legislation aimed at reversing the ban. In Texas, there is - I kid you not - a, quote, "Safe Cupcake Amendment." How did this sweet little treat become a political issue?

Krystina Castella is the cook behind the Web site crazyaboutcupcakes.com and author of the book, "Crazy About Cupcakes."

Hi, Krystina.

Professor KRYSTINA CASTELLA (Associate Professor, Industrial Design, Art Center College of Design; Author, "Crazy About Cupcakes"): Hi. How are you?

STEWART: Good. Let's have a little bit of background. Cupcakes: so cute, so sweet. Where did they start?

Prof. CASTELLA: Well, in the early 1800s, around 1820, there is a book that was released called "Receipts," and in that cookbook, measurements were changed from weighing to - so like a pound of butter, it was changed to measuring to a cup, and so the word cup comes from cupcake. But also, cupcakes were started to be baked in cups in the oven because of the size of hearth ovens. They were much quicker to bake, so it actually has a double meaning.

STEWART: So when did cupcakes become synonymous with Americana?

Prof. CASTELLA: Well, actually, it starts off in the early 1900s with the introduction of the Hostess cupcake, but that cupcake is not the Hostess cupcake that we know today. It evolved into the one with the squiggly lines in the 1950s. Also, around the late 1940s, Betty Crocker introduced some of best cake mixes that made it easy just to add water and make cakes. And to make cupcakes was even quicker and easier than making cakes, so there was a big bargaining push behind that, and that's how it's become synonymous with homemaking in the '50s.

STEWART: So 40 years ago - let's fast-forward 50 years, I walk by Magnolia Bakery in New York City and there are grown people standing in line for 30 minutes to spend two bucks on a cupcake. When did the postmodern frenzy begin?

Prof. CASTELLA: Well, it actually did start around that time with Magnolia Bakery. But I feel that it's a bigger cultural trend that - why cupcakes have become popular. Most food trends reflect our culture and our times, and this whole idea of adults staying younger longer, which is called by different authors and sociologists kidult or rejuvenile…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CASTELLA: …because people are getting married later in life, and they have actually an extra 15 or 20 years to be kids themselves. So the idea that you can have a grown-up kid's treat is part of a bigger cultural trend.

STEWART: But let's talk about the real kids, the people who are under four feet tall. With all the serious concerns about childhood obesity, you've got this anti-cupcake movement going on. Do you think it will stick? Do you think they'll be able to keep cupcakes out of schools?

Prof. CASTELLA: I guess anything is possible. Personally, I think, you know, the whole thing is ridiculous because it's more about…

BURBANK: Well, you're on the record as being crazy about cupcakes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CASTELLA: Yeah. I mean, it's more about teaching kids to eat in moderation and exercise than it is about taking food away from them. I'm actually a college professor, and the students that gain the most weight in their freshmen year are the ones that have had food banned from them as kids. And all the sudden, when they're not on restricted diets, they go crazy and eat whatever they want. So it's more about teaching kids to eat in moderation, and taking it away isn't going to do that. Also, cupcakes are special, so what I know about the situation is that there are cupcakes in schools almost every day, because almost every day is somebody's birthday.

STEWART: We need to keep it special is the idea.

Prof. CASTELLA: Yeah. Keep it special.

STEWART: Krystina Castella is the cook behind the Web site crazyaboutcupcakes.com and author and college professor as well. Thanks for being with us.

Prof. CASTELLA: Thank you.

STEWART: Cupcakesforacause.org is where you can find a participating bakery, or you can send a virtual cupcake if you're not onboard with the whole sugary thing.

BURBANK: Come on, virtual?

STEWART: You can make a donation.

BURBANK: Virtual cupcake?

STEWART: Make a donation either way.

BURBANK: All right.

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