Dunkin’ wouldn’t need to change its name if we stopped moralizing food

Maybe ditch the donuts, though.
Maybe ditch the donuts, though.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Dunkin Donuts sells donuts. This is a fact that, god willing, will always be true.

But in this day and age, that is not enough. In order to appeal to some combination of investors, millennials, Gen-Z, and wellness warriors, the point of Dunkin’ Donuts can’t just be deep-fried, sugar-coated discs of dough anymore. It has to be a lifestyle brand, a dynamic coffee concept, a corporate chain that somehow manages to “refill optimism with each cup.”

That, at least, is the rationale behind the move to drop the “Donuts” from the food chain’s name and branding, though not from its actual shelves. Stores will be known only as Dunkin’ beginning in January 2019, an overhaul reportedly costing the company $100 million.

It’s a move that’s highly reflective of the food culture we live in: one that is simultaneously terrified by and obsessed with food. In this culture, a donut can mean many things to many different people. Eating one may be an act of transgression, a source of shame, a cheat-day binge, an addiction carried out in secret, or a treat that’s been earned after a grueling workout. But while we may eat donuts, we sure as hell don’t want to broadcast that fact by way of the logo on our coffee cup or grease-stained brown paper bag. That would make us look weak.

Moralizing food this way has robbed us of the ability to see that a donut is just a donut. At most, it’s one small food choice out of many we make each and every day. All of these choices, taken cumulatively, amount to our diet—which in and of itself is only one slice of the pie that is our overall health.

But Dunkin’ seems to know that, in a world that often judges people’s worth based on their weight and how they eat, buying your coffee from a place with “Donuts” in the name says something about who you are. Nobody wants to seem like the kind of person who eats donuts, even though most of us actually do. (I, for one, am partial to DD’s cinnamon sugar cake donut.)

In a similar vein, Weight Watchers may be WW now, but it’s still a company built on the conceit of attaching a numerical value to every morsel of food you put in your mouth. No slick piece of branding will ever hide that.

If we listen to our bodies, we probably don’t need a newfangled version of WW to tell us that eating a donut for breakfast every day is not the healthiest choice. But when we do eat donuts, by god, let’s eat them with pride—even if the place that’s selling them seems to think differently.