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S'mores Bismark, Mojo Monkey - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Today is National Donut Day here in the United States--a holiday that dates back to 1938 & is synonymous with the US War Effort in World War I. Last National Donut Day, I talked at length about this holiday and how donuts were used as propaganda for the war effort; "Donut Dollies" would serve hot donuts in the trenches and were often used on posters to encourage young men to enlist with the promise of a brunette and a pastry before every firefight. National Donut Day was created to celebrate World War I Veterans, but also to drum up some nostalgic support for the United States' inevitable entry into World War II. You might die, but donuts!
Of course, it was these wars that caused the massive donut boom in this country--soldiers returned to the home front changed, but their routines stayed the same; a cup of coffee with a donut is a portable breakfast--something that you can snag on-the-go before starting your day. The majority of donut places in the 1950s & 60s were 24-hours--and while most donut places these days have limited hours, they still tend to open on the early side; my local places open at 4am and 5am. Part of the reason for this is that donuts are labor extensive; there is the dough making process, followed by proofing. Many donut shops simply thought it would be easier to stay open all night than close for a few select hours. Furthermore, these donut shops had actual clientele during the evening--even in large cities, there were not a lot of late night food options during that time period. There were some 24-hour diners, but late night dining didn't become much of a thing until the late 60s & early 70s with the rise of fast-food, late-night drive-ins, and the drive-thru window. As a result, the donut shop was often associated with third-shift workers: plant workers, healthcare workers, and, you guessed it, police officers.
And thus, the connection between the military, the police, and a fried pastry make a donut-shaped loop--it was war that started the popularization of the donut in this country, as those veterans that returned home still had a taste for an old-fashioned, which in turn caused demand for bakeries to have fresh product in the morning, causing donuts to be synonymous with police officers filling up on dozens while on night patrol.
There are many articles that talk about how police have embraced the donut stereotype--while researching this essay, I came across a few quips that essentially said that embracing their love of donuts "made police more human," more relatable. By poking fun at the "all the cops in the donut shop" mentality, they could bring levity to the job.
Lord, I wish we lived in a country where I could believe that a donut would actually make police relatable; I think that's why every video of a police officer doing the Cupid Shuffle, or giving out water, or not actively tear gassing, shoving, and/or roughing up innocent protestors gets such a rise out of us. I want to believe in a donut as an act of kindness--an olive branch, if you will, but it's not. I think often of Lewis Hyde's "The Gift"--the example that my mentor Michael Martone always used was being offered a stick of gum on an airplane. It is never a gift--you take it, and you feel as if you owe the person a conversation in return; a "so, where are you from?". It's the same economy that causes men to buy pretty girls they've never met drinks at bars--they're not doing it altruistically, they expect something in return. Sure, you can have this video of a group of NYPD officers kneeling with protestors, but what do they believe they are owed? And, as we've seen many times over this week, much like when the girl says "thanks for the drink," and turns her back and goes to dance with her friends, the "gift giver" lashes out.
The militarization of police has made this relatability impossible. The 1033 program transferred $5.1 billion dollars worth of military material to police agencies since 1997. The ACLU has done numerous studies showing that law enforcement is encouraged to adopt a "Warrior" mentality--for me, one of the most jarring pieces of footage was a police officer in Minneapolis, in full riot gear, pacing back and forth hyping himself up, barking at protestors, as if he were about to take the field at US Bank Stadium. One in five police officers are combat veterans; and while the Justice Department and the International Association of Chiefs of Police advocated for veterans to transition to civilian life by becoming police officers, their own handbook even came with a warning: "Sustained operations under combat circumstances may cause returning officers to mistakenly blur the lines between military combat situations and civilian crime situations, resulting in inappropriate decisions and actions—particularly in the use of less lethal or lethal force."
A large majority of police precincts do not offer de escalation training, citing cost and "lack of effectiveness". Crowds in Huntsville, Alabama chanted "I don't see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?" before police officers teargassed the crowds. Paramilitary policing has become the default to the point where even the police officers blocking off roads during a charity 5K are in MOLLE vests. This militarization of policing has caused many police officers to think of the people they serve as combatants--a divide especially apparent when these "combatants" look differently than the officer.
This week, one of my favorite donut shops in the world made an Instagram post. Mojo Monkey, located on West 7th Street in St. Paul, Minnesota, has become part of my routine whenever I visit the Twin Cities. Their donuts are extravagant and creative: root beer float donuts for the 4th of July, rose petal candy glass for Christmas. Their bismarks are especially amazing--the contents are spectacular, but the actual donut has a perfect texture. I've never had anything quite like it. This week, my parents put their house in New Jersey on the market. When they do move, I don't know if I'll ever make it back to Hunterdon County--there's nothing for me there without my parents. Tasha's dad moved away from the Twin Cities a few years ago, but we still make it back there to visit friends--to me, it has become a special place. I wouldn't go as far as to call it an "adopted hometown" just yet, but Mojo Monkey is definitely my "hometown donut shop" whenever I am there. It is as integral to the visit as seeing Tessa & Danny & Joe & Sal & Theresa & Andy & Nora & all of the wonderful people that make us return over and over again.
Lisa, the owner of Mojo Monkey posted this: "You have seen me as the woman-owner of a small business who has a permanent sun-kissed tone. You know me, you know my daughters who have worked at the shop and you know all of our employees. You came because of a love of donuts, a strong cup of coffee, and a sense of community. Thank you for coming. I hope you will continue to visit. FYI--I'm black. I didn't just come back from Florida."
She goes onto talk about how she passes for white, and has used that privilege--to apply for loans, to go shopping. "George might have stopped at our shop, we might have met. I hope we did. But I don't know to have known him to know what happened to him was predictable in our system...I am a black woman, a mother of three and a small business owner."
The system is predictable--we're seeing it unfold every single day when a camera captures yet another instance of police brutality. It needs to be replaced. If public safety is the ultimate goal (which it should be), we can decriminalize things such as homelessness and mental illness. We can use the billions of dollars of funding wrapped up in military-grade gear and instead have a network of counselors, and restorative justice programs, and behavioral health emergency responders, and community-based centers, and social workers. Wouldn't this better serve all of us? Wouldn't these "good cops" be better suited turning in their guns and riot gear and using their talents in these social programs?
In reclaiming public safety, we too can reclaim the donut--while we associate the rise of the donut with war and conflict, the truth is, a donut and a cup of coffee meant relief. The first Krispy Kreme I ever had was because of a Jesuit initiative to help the homeless. Donuts are ubiquitous with every political rally, canvassing meet-up, phone banking, protest, solidarity march, AA meeting, community clean-up, aid station, etc. There always seems to be someone with a box of donuts--maybe a little stale, but with a cup of coffee, it'll do the trick. I have no doubt that a few dozen Mojo Monkey donuts have been placed on folding tables in the Twin Cities on early mornings, as groups come together to help and provide mutual aid and take care of one another, knowing that when the box is empty, it's time to go to work.