Most people who write about, research and prepare food show some interest in the connection between nostalgia and what we choose to eat. Look at the ubiquitous allusion to Proust and his Madeleine. Everyone has their own nostalgic food, whether or not they continue to eat it. While I may choose to not eat Pop-Tarts, I can still remember the flavor of cold blueberry ones from the vending machine in my Dad’s office. Nostalgia is the over looked sixth sense, as important to taste as smell.
Which is why Entenmann’s announcement that it will close its Long Island plant is so fascinating. Discussing the closure in light of the economic ramifications for the community only begins to analyse how the factory’s demise will impact the area. Shuttering the Long Island Entenmann’s plant removes a source of nostalgia and identity from the lives of Long Islanders and other groups who grew up with chewy cookies and squishy doughnuts. Although the company reassures its customers that freshness will remain a priority as the treats are produced further afield, without the mark of Long Island the nostalgia for the products will soon disappear. Why would someone buy a pack of Entenmann’s chocolate frosted doughnuts if they were no longer connected to their identity as a Long Islander? You don’t eat Entenmann’s because it’s supposedly fresh — it is a packaged factory product. As the cakes are produced elsewhere, their meaning will shift. When they’re no longer marked with Long Island pride and quality, it seems evident that the regional loyalty to the company will slowly fade away.
Entenmann’s mythology is rooted in North East culture. Think of the Seinfeld episode when Elaine replaces Peterman’s historic cake with Entenmann’s because they ‘have a display case at the end of the aisle’. My mother, from New Jersey, fondly remembers their Devil’s Food Cake. No elementary (or middle, or high) school bake sale was complete without Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies or doughnuts. While I welcome the removal of processed foods from our diets, the closing of Entenmann’s won’t reduce the consumption of packaged sweets. Rather, it will shift the marble loaf cake craving to a bland, national brand. A brand that likely favours more processing and preservatives.
What will happen to Entenmann’s? They’ll continue for a while, but without their Long Island base, they’ll soon fall out of favor in certain East Coast circles. Go enjoy some Devil’s Food Cake while you can.