A Taste of New Orleans: Sweet toxicity of Café De Monde

Cafe Du Monde Beignets

Fat shaming. Literature, media, etc. repeatedly teaches “never judge a book by its cover”, but when it comes to size, American society loves to judge. A recent study has shown that over half of the population has experienced fat shaming within the past year. Whether it be on a social media post or in person, this topic is exceedingly present in American society.

According to The Conversation, it has been proven that fat people have a more difficult time being employed, earn less money compared to their thinner acquaintances, and have lower status jobs. It is no wonder statistics show that fat people have a higher risk of living in poverty.

Further, ostracism of bigger bodies starts as young as school age for children. Being overweight as a child carries significant psychological and social struggles, such as being left out of friendship circles and play time. 

Now, let’s talk about Cafe du Monde.

Upon entrance into Cafe du Monde in City Park, the smell of sugar, similar to the funnel cake at a carnival, is accompanied by the sizzle of pillowy, bronzed pastries. Dough that has been fried in cottonseed oil; yet somehow, the smell is reminiscent of freshly baked cookies, right off the tray at Grandma’s house. These endorphin releasing treats are called beignets. 

Beignet orders come in pairs of three, shaped in a rounded-square and stacked like fluffy, white pillows. All held on the signature green trays. Surrounded by olive green umbrellas on the outdoor porch, live jazz music, and lush greenery, munching on beignets here is an experience that has earned it 20,000+ five star reviews on “Tripadvisor”. A crowd of sugar-loving kids and adults alike line-up inside the cafe where white and green stripes paint the walls and the crown molding anchors every wall to the ceiling that’s dotted with circular chandeliers.  Even at peak times, however, workers crank out the tried and tested recipe like pros, meaning that a french donut will be in hand within minutes. 

Image by Brooke Theis

Beignets laden with powdered sugar at Cafe du Monde. (Photo by: Brooke Thesis)

While going to Cafe du Monde to pick up these fluffy pillows of joy, reviewers warn that the experience will get messy. Generous heaps of napkins are given as precautionary measures, but somehow, customers scramble for extras. DIY wet wipes are often created, dipping edges of paper napkins into water. However, clean faces are short lived; a bite later and powdered sugar is worn like lipstick.

Similarly, powdered sugar on clothing becomes part of the attire at Cafe du Monde. As a rule of thumb, most regulars advise to never wear black while enjoying beignets. Despite this, some choose to wear their sugar in pride. Two reviewers in a CDM featured video explain, “We always wear black, so that we can have powdered sugar all over us and everybody knows where we’ve been”. Giggling about the white dust on their clothing, they explain that this experience is exactly what Cafe du Monde is all about. 

The things that bring us happiness, memories, and comfort into the world feel like they should be harmless. However, sometimes the most innocent joys in life have the power to kill. Namely, sugar.Too much sugar in diets, which is considered amounts above 6 teaspoons, contributes to a risk of higher blood pressure, inflammation, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and a plethora of heart problems. Due to its high caloric density (and addictive, delicious taste), it is a large contributor to obesity and weight gain. Further, although there is no “direct link”, studies have supported that those who included added sugar in their diet have a significantly higher risk of esophageal cancer, pleural cancer, and small intestine cancer. If sugar still does not seem potent enough for physical health, it can have severe impacts on mental health, too. According to Verywell Mind, “even a single instance of elevated glucose in the bloodstream can be harmful to the brain, resulting in slowed cognitive function and deficits in memory and attention”. Additionally, studies show that those with the highest sugar intake were found to be 23% more likely to develop depression. Unfortunately, the list only goes on. 

Reviewers describe that Cafe du Monde’s beignets are addicting, and have them coming back for more and more. In fact, a tourist explains to “Tripadvisor” that her first beignets were “Crack in a bag!! Enough powdered sugar to share with everyone in New Orleans.” Although not meant to be taken in a literal manner, this comment does have basis in the scientific world of sugar addiction. According to the AddictionCenter, several studies have proposed that cocaine and sugar might be equally addictive substances. Following sugar consumption, the body releases dopamine, which triggers a feel-good sensation. This “high” associated with sugar lights up the reward center of the brain. Just like any other drug, due to the pleasurable sensation, the brain seeks to re-create this feeling. In accordance, the brain craves more sugar, so it can receive more feel-good neurotransmitters. Further, Bjork from Healthline adds that “Every time we eat sweets, we are reinforcing those neuropathways, causing the brain to become increasingly hardwired to crave sugar, building up a tolerance like any other drug.” 

Back to Cafe du Monde, it is noteworthy that the menu is limited to a few items. Specifically, it consists of Beignets, Café Au Lait (hot/iced/frozen), Café Mocha (hot/iced/frozen), hot chocolate, straight black coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, white/chocolate milk, and a handful of sodas. Although CDM’s sugar content and nutrition facts are not readily available to the public, considering that they use around 1200 pounds of sugar each day, one can assume that high amounts of sugar are used in their items. Despite no information from CDM themselves, based off of beignet videos, about ⅓ cup of sugar seems to be used on an order of 3 beignets. Considering that the average customer eats approximately 2 beignets (based on reviews), one would be consuming 44 grams of sugar in the course of 30 minutes (average stay time). To remind, the recommended intake for an entire day is said to be only 36 grams of sugar. Needless to explain, this amount of sugar is enough to trigger dopamine receptors into wanting more, and thus, an “addiction”. 

Beignets with a view: nature and duck pond outside of Cafe du Monde. (Photo by: Brooke Thesis)

Although sugar addicts and food addicts in general are typically looked at negatively, Café du Monde is a place where sugar addicts are both allowed and embraced. Cafe du Monde uses visual aid and open aromas to entice customers into eating sugar, and to make it feel as if it is acceptable. On the back counter, a clear jar full of frozen coffee churns velvety ice in a whirl-like motion. While eager children and parents wait in line, it happens to be within perfect eyesight, whilst giving off sweet coffee aromas. The smell of sizzling beignets encompasses the atmosphere in addition, triggering mouths to water. 

Even while eating, children leap onto the swing set in the distance, bringing nostalgia and joy. Live jazz music flows effortlessly, and open greenery fills the area. Laughter accompanies bites of hot donuts, while nose tips get frosted in sugar. There is an association between sugar and happiness, allowing sugar addicts to be viewed as making a (psychologically) healthy choice. Cafe du Monde combines sugar lovers and joy seekers alike, in an all encompassing, beautiful experience.





This piece was edited by Emma Carter as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University. 


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