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Novelty Baking and the Death of Imagination

Updated on June 12, 2012

While shopping for cake mix these past few months, I have noticed a decrease in the variety of cake mixes still out there. This is no doubt the result of the bad economy - companies probably had to downsize the number of varieties they package and distribute, particularly the ones that don't always sell well. It's back to basics as it were, and basic is, well, boring. Conformity is the death of intellect, but playing it safe could be the long-term solution to stablizing the economy. Fortunately, playing it safe does not automatically imply the need to be boring. There are still seasonal promotions to be conceived.

Just when I had lost hope for this industry, I saw something at the grocery store that seemed to be flying off the shelf in the weeks before Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer. The answer seemed to be a variety of cake mix by Pilsbury called Pink Lemonade. Personally, I prefer it in drink form, but its use as a flavor of cake intrigued me and, apparently, others. Once could only imagine that pink lemonade mix could have been added to the dry ingredients package in place of sugar, but whatever works will sell. More of the cake mix seemed to be selling than its frosting counterpart, but I would guess that putting pink lemonade frosting on top of regular lemon cake (or vice versa) would be just as creative and delicious, if not different and interesting. Come to think of it, pairing it with the strawberry flavor might not be half bad either. That is, if all the shelves have not already been overstocked with plain white or yellow cake with hardly any flavor.

Substitution is a great way to fuel new ideas as well as switch out ingredients that may or may not be on hand. Recently I substituted grape jelly for food coloring in a recipe I'd kept from middle school called Kaleidoscope Cookies with similar results (tastier too, as food coloring has no flavor or nutrients). The Japanese restaurant near where I live has red bean ice cream on the menu, but when I asked about it they said they didn't have that. My next course of action would have been to go to the grocery store and buy a small container of vanilla ice cream and a can of red beans, their intended destination the blender, but my mom harpooned that idea along with denying purchase of the cake mix. Approval from the proper channels is imperative for these ideas to get off the ground, otherwise they just wither and die inside a person's head and left untested in the real world.

Imagination is something that can be used to salvage any industry. When times are tough, you need to get more creative with your solutions, especially in the current market. However, not everyone is willing to take a chance on new or creative ideas, preferring to stay inside the box until it eventually collapses on top of them. Playing it safe may work for a while and may even be preferable during these uncertain times, but we cannot hide inside those constructs forever no matter how safe they may seem. There is no guarantee that new ideas are necessarily profitable or will catch on with the general public; the world at large is a very fickle sphere and cruel and indifferent to boot. Even so, giving something new a chance is still better than sticking to the same boring monotony that is barely keeping business afloat on its own. To quote Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!" Although that course of action may not always be practical, it's sound advice nonetheless.


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