Discover more from Boston Cream Review
KFC & Donuts Sandwich, Kentucky Fried Chicken - Northport, Alabama
NB: These are the opening remarks of an AWP panel I moderated titled "You Write What You Eat: Essayists on Their Food Obsessions" with Natalie Lima, Karissa Chen, Bruce Owens Grimm, & Noah Cho.
There has been a convergence on my social media feed these past few months: while the purpose of social media has become a lot more transitory and focused more on creating and influencer culture—meaning that we are all crafting things for a general audience, there is still room for direct posts; those “have you seen this?” links that are meant to inform; to pay attention to something that might have slipped through the constant barrage of dog photos, Alabama football score updates, and general nihilism.
In my case, every single one of these posts are about the same thing: donuts. This is not surprising to any of you who are here today who know me—I am very much a “donut person”. I currently have accumulated four free drinks in my Dunkin Perks app. Every Saturday morning routine starts the same: I wake up, I take a shower, and I go to one of four donut shops in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, order a half-dozen or dozen donuts (usually depending on whether or not we’re having company that day), and eat at least two donuts before I even think about touching an actual breakfast. I am a runner, and I own a pair of donut compression leg sleeves which the West Alabama 5K cohort know me by. I have run my local Krispy Kreme Challenge not once but twice: running a mile, eating a dozen original glazed donuts, and then running another mile. I finished fourth & am officially retired from international donut running competition. I take a picture of every donut I eat—it is deeply my brand. Every time I post a food item that is not a donut, I am flooded with replies saying “yes, but where is the donut?” On my Notes app I have a list of every donut place I have gone to: and for those who will inevitably ask, I am making a pilgrimage to River City Donuts as well as Maybelle’s while in here in San Antonio. I am the type of person who refers to these outings as pilgrimages.
For a while these posts were about the Saucony x Dunkin Kinvara 10 shoes: a collaboration in celebration of the Boston Marathon: a pair of running shoes adorned with sprinkles and the familiar orange and fuchsia hues of the Dunkin logo. Of course, people were sending me the link to the 2019 version of these shoes, not knowing that I had already purchased a pair of the 2018 model, which were much more donut-centric in their design: the 2018s having a giant pink sprinkled donut on the heel which is missing from the sleeker 2019s.
Recently, however, there has been a pivot to links to donut-related monstrosities. These are food items that I like to call “donut adjacent”. None exemplifies this more than the Kentucky Fried Chicken & Donuts sandwich, released in early February. The KFC & Donuts sandwich is exactly what it sounds like: a piece of hot chicken in between two glazed donuts. This is not a new concept: the Atlanta Braves have long served a “Luther Burger,” which is a bacon double cheeseburger in between two Krispy Kreme original glazed. Donuts are having a "thing," now, with it being a hot new trend: espresso bars have their homemade donuts available under glass next to the scones and pain au chocolat, brunch places are selling beignets to share for eleven dollars, there are countless t-shirts with whimsical donut sayings. For better or for worse, donuts have entered the realm of “quirky desserts,” which is something that we saw with the cupcake trend of the late 2000s, as well as the creation of massive unicorn-inspired sundaes and Thai-rolled ice cream of recent age. I have had a donut ice cream sandwich and a nitrogen infused donut milk shake. I’ve had a cold brew and bourbon martini with a mini powdered donut speared through a toothpick. I’ve stood in line for cronuts: croissant-donut hybrids that cost eight dollars. I’ve had donuts with Himalayan salt, with Texas Pete hot sauce, with rose petals, with rosemary, with pulled pork.
“Have you heard about the KFC Donut Sandwich? You gotta try it,” my mentor Michael Martone tells me one weekend. And he’s right—I do. The problem is, I really don’t want to. Like, at all.
These donut hybrids are still very much donut centric, even though they are still pretending to be something they are not—often, they are replacing something that is perfectly serviceable with a donut. It reminds me of the “baconating” of the world, where liking bacon became a replacement for a personality trait and people were putting bacon into every dish one could possibly imagine. I find myself asking why is this even necessary? Is it not enough to accept things as they are? Where is this demand coming from? Is the simplicity of a donut not worthy of introspection and Instagramming? I find myself stuck: on one hand, I am appreciative of the innovation being afforded to this thing that I love, but I am also skeptical of outside sources changing something that is beautiful and established into their own image. I have loved many things that have been forgotten about, only to be made “better” and well-accepted: in a recent talk with the poet Ada Limón, she discussed the fear of writing about obsession—that someone is going to write about the thing that we love most, and do a better job of it. I too fear this: I know there are people who construct better narratives, better essays, about the things that I hold dear. I am feeling pressure to finish a manuscript about my body because someone will write about their body in the way that I feel about mine, and somehow that will render my thoughts obsolete. It isn’t rational, certainly, but it is a real fear: that our obsessions will somehow be erased by someone who obsesses more about them—the person who wears the “Who needs abs when you have donuts?” t-shirt, who covers their laptop in stickers of chocolate sprinkled yeast-raiseds, who is first in line to eat the KFC & Donuts Sandwich, who LOVES it more than any other food item in the world, and is ready to shout it from the rooftops. It is one thing to have our obsessions laughed at, but another to have them validated by someone else. A trick we suddenly can’t pull off as well as we thought we could.
Perhaps this is why I started writing about donuts—one thing you need to know about me is that the majority of my best ideas start as jokes: on twitter one day people were having a conversation about a piece in the Boston Review, & I said something along the lines of “I am starting my own magazine called the Boston Cream Review,” only to have my friend and fellow food-lover/writer Theresa Beckhusen say “you need to do this,” while walking down West 7th Street in St. Paul, Minnesota towards Mojo Monkey Donuts to get a highly anticipated dozen. If I am to obsess over things, I might as well write about them in a way to help protect myself from falling too deep into the obsession: it is one thing to be known as “the donut guy”; food obviously has a stigma attached to it in that it can be associated with gluttony, or diet culture, or even just regarded as simplistic and written off as something pulp. To write about donuts somehow validates my obsession—taking a Lyft and spending 30 dollars on boutique pastries? Why that’s field research! Look how dedicated I am to my craft! I eat donuts for you, the audience! This is not a selfish act!
In writing about donuts, I worry about I myself being a donut adjacent phenomenon—that I am inserting myself into a thing that already exists and does not need my insight: this is the problem with a lot of writing about food—we write from the perspective of critic and consumer, rather than allowing our obsessions to “consume” us—to place ourselves within a larger landscape and to work out how it all affects us; after all, food enters our bodies and becomes one with us; our sugared blood, our sticky hands.
My reasoning for this panel was to assemble lovers not only of food (& friends!), but writers who have allowed food to shape them and their work—to talk about how they’ve recognized that food is not only a part of their identity, but how it has defined their identity. When I am asked about my various obsessions, I find myself explaining that I don’t write about video games, or about professional wrestling, or about donuts, I write through these things: that they are texts that I am in constant collaboration with because that’s how obsession works—that instead of seeing yourself as dominant over a particular topic, you are amongst it; you are a part of its culture—as integral as making sure the canola oil temperature doesn’t dip too low. Whether it’s Noah Cho’s insistence of putting cheese on noodle dishes, Bruce Owen Grimm’s mastery of the Starbucks Secret Menu, Natalie Lima’s insistence that every food is sexy, or Karissa Chen’s love of Taiwanese food-themed races, I hope that everyone feels welcome at the smorgasbord that we have set for you today—as while sometimes I roll my eyes at yet another friend sharing the same article I’ve seen for weeks, it is nice to recognize that while food and obsession are deeply personal endeavors, it brings me light to recognize that they are also communal—a table where we all feel invited and welcome.