May 1, 2020 3 min read

The Beautiful Normalcy of Oreos

In these not-so-normal times, get curious about what gives you comfort

  • Culture
Jon Berbaum

Jon Berbaum

Something strange happened to me during the first week of the pandemic. After grocery shopping, I got home only to realize that I had impulsively bought a ton of alcohol and sugary junk food. My wife looked at me with shocked—but accepting!—raised eyebrows.

Never mind the Jameson and Tito’s—she understood that. What really surprised her was the case of Coke, the bag of Sour Patch Kids, those perfectly powdered Little Debbie Donuts, and the package of Oreo cookies.

I don’t eat for comfort. I’ve never had that kind of relationship with food. I’m not a foodie and I’m certainly not the healthiest eater on the planet but this was definitely out of character for me. My go-to snacks are typically carbonated water and smoked almonds! What was going on?

In any event, I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I just chalked it up to my id getting the best of me on that particular grocery run. Besides, I was too busy worrying about the pandemic, my family, my co-workers, our clients, essential workers, and first responders. But sometimes, while at home, these fogs of existential anxiety would part—only for me to realize I was munching on an Oreo, feeling guilty, and the puzzle would return.

The power of a ritual.

My best friend is a barista at Starbucks. He worked until late March when his store was shut down. We’d often talk about how busy he was at work that month. The drive-through line seemed to wrap around the building and into the parking lot from open to close.

“The customers,” he posited, “aren’t here for the coffee these days. They’re here for the normalcy. They’re here for the ritual.”

The ritual of an Oreo cookie.

Then it clicked. Eating an Oreo, separating creme from cookie with your fingertips, symbolizes normalcy, safety, and comfort. Childhood. They remind me of begging my parents for money for the ice-cream truck. They remind me of birthday parties at roller skating rinks.

Beyond that, I realized the Oreo is a symbol for the macro-cultural normalcy of the late-stage capitalism we’ve all grown so acclimated to.

If I’m holding an Oreo, it means that our supply chains are functioning. There are trucks hauling across America’s heartland, marketing teams are buying ads, R&D departments experimenting with new flavors, stocks are being traded, sugar is being purchased and refined…

T. S. Eliot showed us fear in a handful of dust.

T. S. Etters will show you society in a handful of Oreo crumbs.


What does this have to do with Highland and our blog?

It has to do with our People First value. Now is a time when fear, anxiety, and sadness seem to be at an all-time high. Most days, it can feel impossible to escape the news and the horror of the uncertainty of it all.

I invite you to get curious about that part of yourself that seeks normalcy, safety, and comfort. Love that part of yourself. Listen to that part of yourself.

What’s your Oreo? Remember: it’s okay to eat the Oreo.