Hey, it’s National Donut Day! Or it will be, come Friday, June 1. In celebration, we thought we’d put our sticky fingers to work reviving an old question. When it comes to donuts (and life in general), what’s better? Less? Or more?
Donuts have come a long way from their humble origins as a Dutch import to colonial New York. (Washington Irving mentions them by name in his 1809 History of New York.) These days, you can get a donut with just about anything on it—from bacon to wasabi cheese to champagne glaze. But do any of them really hold a candle to a classic plain glazed?
We’ve been hearing that “less is more” since we were big enough to swing a xylophone mallet. We heard it from our elementary school piano teacher. We heard it from our junior high band director. And we heard it from every other member of the post-punk band we played bass in during high school. They wanted, they said, to hear the silence between the notes. Or maybe just silence.
We didn’t listen to them. Truth is, we probably couldn’t hear them. But then we went to college. We learned about Mies van de Rohe—his minimalist, “less is more” aesthetic in architecture—and we listened to minimalist music, and appreciated the minimalist approach that arose from the cultural upheavals of the 20th century. Like this classic Volkswagen ad, which made a big deal out of being small. Small car, small print, small price.
There’s something to be said for the minimalist approach. It strips away the excess distraction and noise and lets us concentrate on just what is essential. And, as the Volkswagen ads demonstrated, “less” can be every bit as attention-grabbing as “more,” especially in a cultural setting where “more” is the norm.
But don’t write off “more.” It has its charms as well. What kind of world would it be if maximalists like Wes Anderson, or Bjork, or Kehinde Wiley had been convinced to “take it down a notch and maybe listen to yourself once in a while”? (To quote a certain guitarist we knew in high school.)
You might say that the donut as we know it began with a minimalist, form-following-function moment: In 1847, Hanson Gregory, a New England ship’s captain, poked a hole through the center of a lump of fried dough to help the whole pastry cook through more evenly. Or you might argue that later elaborations in glazing, topping, and flavoring have multiplied the donut’s charms—and filled the mouthwatering, tiered display cases that we associate with most modern donut shops.
But do we really have to choose between having it all, and having it small? On this Donut Day, of all days, couldn’t we just have one (or maybe three) of each?