What a world of cookies

Justin Runquist

Sometimes I wish I were a cookie salesman.

I don’t think this often, but when I do, I feel pretty good about it. Who doesn’t enjoy working with cookie dough? Who doesn’t love buying and eating a cookie? Life just seems simple and straightforward whenever you’re dealing with cookies.

Remember “The Graduate” in 1967? “One word… ‘plastics.’ There’s a great future in plastics!” Indeed, plastics took off soon after that.

Well, it’s 2005, and I foresee a bright future in cookies. Chocolate-chip cookies. Peanut-butter cookies. Even plain cookies. Sara Lee and Hershey investors enjoyed an outstanding return in 2004. Just think of all the cookies those wise folks must have consumed while sitting back, watching their share price climb.

They might have envisioned what I see now… that cookies might just become a new niche in medicine – a remedy for almost anything! Feeling cold this winter? Eat warm cookies. Got the munchies after Happy Hour? Eat a cookie. Need a friend? Don’t get counseling; give out cookies!

There is so much growth potential with cookies! Think of all the possible markets where you could sell cookies. Think of the demand-once people get hooked on cookies, the tobacco and liquor companies will be gasping for air. And imagine all the people, living life in peace, enjoying their soft, chewy cookies. Really-has anyone, in the history of the world, ever entered a bakery without a smile on their face?

I don’t know why I’m just discovering all this now. After four years of stretching myself at the university, I’m now barking at myself like Napoleon Dynamite: “Flippin’ idiot!”

But alas, we’ve been groomed to be more than cookie salespeople here. We may have once considered becoming chefs or driving fire trucks, but for better or for worse, now we’re about to become derivative traders, actuaries, law school students and accountants. Our exorbitantly high-priced college education has pushed us into warp speed toward crazy jobs we never dreamed about as kids.

I’m excited as I almost finish buttoning my white-collared shirt, about to drive into some big city to start selling something important, like securities or pharmaceuticals. But there’s a significant part of me that would be content selling some simple pleasure, like cookies. Deep down, I love cookies. I’ve never, ever gone wrong when I’ve shared cookies with others. That’s because most people love cookies too.

After living eight months in Europe last year, I realized how much we’re missing out on these simple pleasures in America. And now I find myself missing Europe.

I miss how Italians and Spaniards spend two hours at a time having conversation over great cups of coffee.

I miss how the French take their obligatory month-long vacation each year and travel to the Riviera. I miss how the Dutch ride their bikes everywhere, the Swiss paraglide off the Alps and the Germans just hang out in beer halls and gardens several times a week. I especially miss my mornings in Paris, where each morning I’d enter a new, hole-in-the-wall boulangerie and pick up my day’s batch of cookies.

Truth is, from an innovative, modernist standpoint, the simple, surviving cookie and mom-and-pop businesses of the world might not have a future of boundless growth. But as these old-fashioned folks proudly smile and offer us their handmade products, in the process they offer us more than we’ll ever know.

Bartenders at our local pubs show us a good time and keep us coming back. Barbers mush warm shaving cream on our necks and send us off refreshed with a clean, soothing shave. Even Tony in the local pizza shop may smile as often as a personal injury attorney, but we recognize and appreciate that he’s proud of his recipe.

Sometimes I think these old-fashioned folks have more going on than the so-called geniuses running this country.

As they eat their cookies, let’s step back and look at America’s report card. Fast-growing federal budget deficit? Check. Record-breaking current account deficit? Check. Falling dollar? Check.

Having lived for only 22 years, I’m more suited to sell cookies on campus then set economic policy anytime soon. But the American philosophy of “grow, grow, grow,” seems more scary than promising.

“We are a society that has lived beyond its means for a long time,” Peter Schiff, chief executive of Euro Pacific Capital said in a recent Forbes magazine. He added that this downward trend has been evident for two or three decades, and it’s especially gone off the deep end in the last five years.

“I think something in the near future…will make us realize the error of our ways,” he concluded. “The further into the future this [realization] starts, the worse it will be for Americans.”

I often forget that America has only existed since 1776 and has only been a “superpower” for a century or so. In a playful way, Italians call Americans babies-and rightfully so. Where our landscape sprouts Wal-Marts, Italy and Europe is scattered with old churches, parks and mom-and-pop stores that have not grown but simply matured like fine wine. Europe is drenched in history, and an appreciation for the small things-like art, like dressing well, like good food, like cookies.

Renowned economist, U.N. initiative setter and peace-making good guy Jeffrey Sachs is another old-fashioned chap at heart, trying to offer his cookies to George W. Bush.

In a column in Esquire magazine, “What the President Doesn’t Want to Hear (But Let’s Hope He’s Listening),” Sachs shared his perspective.

“More than most Americans, I watch America from the outside looking in… and my constant wonderment is how a world so united by instant communications, global markets, global brands, and international travel has become so divided in outlook, needs, hopes and fears.”

Globalization-or more precisely, Americanization-can be considered colonization of a fast-growing culture onto a sacred other.

As you read this, my Italian roommates and friends are likely watching another McDonald’s being built next to Giuseppe’s Trattoria and another American movie replacing a night at the opera. It’s difficult, they say-seeing the simple places and pastimes of Italian culture slip away.

But, in the end, they make sure their own cookies are still tops. Our complex-ified, warp-speed influence can only affect them so much. Globalization can’t extend its tentacles into an Italian home. It can’t stop Italians from slowing down and eating home-cooked pasta together. And it surely won’t stop Italians from filling their favorite coffee bars.

That’s because not a single Starbucks exists in all of Italy. Not one.

After all, maybe cookies really are a secret of life. Maybe we can have our cookies and eat them too.