Onward Debate: The West Cookies Saga
It all started with a simple text. Isn’t that always how it happens? Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s motorcade takes a detour, and Gavrilo Princip sparks World War One. That one seemingly minor detail with major consequences.
“Do you like West Cookies?”
That question, when posed to most individuals, elicits a sort of shocked response, as though you have no business asking the question. Everyone loves West Cookies, right? Not quite so.
“Dude no, they’re so overrated.”
With that simple exchange, a great Civil War came upon the Onward State staff.
Inside Waring Commons’ West Food District lies a dessert straight out of Penn State lore, up there with Berkey Creamery ice cream and Grilled Stickies: West Cookies. When you say the phrase, everyone knows what to picture: warm, gooey, fresh-baked rounds placed underneath sliding glass, gently laid on a bed of wax paper atop the baking sheet. What could anyone possibly have against them?
The Onward State staff was packed into our meeting room on a beautiful, late-summer Sunday evening. Going through story ideas and readying for the week ahead, the editors and staff were working vigilantly as always. There’s a certain calm to our meetings that is hard to describe, but rarely is it disrupted.
On this fateful day, Ted Hozza and I shook the foundations of the organization. By asking one simple question, we created a house divided.
Ever the source of dissent, I immediately made my passion for the crispy, crunchy-style of chocolate chip cookie allowed to rest on a cooling rack known. Jack Lukow rose in agreement, disparaging the West Cookie as some horrible Frankenstein’s monster dessert: not quite baked, not quite cookie dough. More voices joined our ranks than anyone thought would. Zach Berger, Amber Kloper, Sarah Peterson, and Anna Foley joined the chorus, and were supported by new contributing staff members, like Hailey Rohn.
I’ve been with Tim Gilbert and Kevin Horne through an awful lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a look of disgust and disappointment like that directed towards me. Alicia Thomas threatened physical violence, while Alex Robinson could merely shake his head in disbelief. Hating West Cookies was akin to a personal attack on themselves and the university.
The debate raged on with no end near. The inner turmoil of the staff grew so great, in fact, that the Onward State site became unstable, crashing often and failing to load the #content we put together in between various intra-staff street brawls and GroupMe flame wars. I was fired multiple times. The website itself was somehow fired by a loyal reader.
Just when all seemed lost, an olive branch was extended, seemingly gifted from heaven.
— PSU Campus Dining (@PennStateDining) September 10, 2014
The first Thanksgiving was seen as a sort of peace offering and mutual respect for cultures. Breaking bread (well, cookies) together, regardless of your side of the debate, was exactly what Onward State needed to get back to its roots as a staff and family. Friday at 2:30 p.m. was the ideal setup, and thus an Onward Debate could finally be settled: “Are West cookies actually good?”
We met downstairs at West. Eight of us, heretofore known as “The Cookie Dream Team,” were ready to indulge. Comprised of three West Cookie defenders, three members of crispy cookie nation, and two true neutrals, we were met by Residential Dining Coordinator Jim Meinecke, who could not have been more courteous and helpful despite the fact that a chunk of us were there to tell him that we thought that one of his products sucked. Explaining the finer details of West Cookies to us was part of the behind-the-scenes nature of the event, as we learned they use the same dough as every other cookie made by Penn State. The difference, however, is that they’re then put out to be eaten still oozing.
There were two sets of cookies available, one that had more time to rest and one in the more familiar form. Jim questioned us about our cookie preferences as the staff traded barbs over personal preference. The texture of the cookies, the ability to hold them in your hand, the temperature they’re served at, everything possible was dissected. No stone would be left unturned. We tried the cookies in a multitude of ways. As a topping for Berkey Creamery’s Alumni Swirl, with a spoon, by hand, dipped in milk, however possible.
Ultimately, we left in disagreement, but we were doing it together. The unity of Onward State returned throughout the course of the meal.
Doug Leeson, The Lawful Good
“I think by definition, West Cookies aren’t exactly cookies, and they’re barely finger food, but to the debate of whether or not they’re good, I think they’re great.”
Noel Purcell, The Willful Dissenter
“In the form that you think of West Cookies, they’re not cookies. It’s like, deep dish pizza and New York-style pizza. Deep dish isn’t pizza. If I wanted cookie dough I’d eat cookie dough, if I wanted a cookie I’d eat a cookie. If I wanted some horrible frankenstein of the two that makes me hate myself, I’d eat this. However, they’re good as an ice cream topping, I can’t debate that.”
Jon Deasy, The Manipulator of Nostalgia
“Okay I’m gonna paint a picture in your head: you go over to grandma’s house, and you can smell the fresh-baked cookies, right out of the oven. You pull them out, and obviously they’re hot and toasty and warm. They’re gonna bend a little, just like West Cookies. They give you that authentic feel of home, you know?”
Alex Calderaro, The Mediator
“You can always wait for the cookies to harden up, but you can’t make the cookies soft. So, if you make them soft from the onset, you can satisfy both sides, and also I think they’re more versatile this way because they’ll be a better ice cream topping.”
Ted Hozza, The Originator
“If I wanted salmonella, I’d eat a West Cookie just because it’s not cooked. Maybe heat it up a little bit but it’s not cooked. If it were, it would be crispy. It would be delicious. And for that reason, I’m out.”
Alex Robinson, The Staunch Supporter
“I think these guys are fucking stupid. West Cookies are delicious.”
Jack Lukow, The Anti-West Cookie Anarchist
“These embarrassing piles that are meant to pass for cookies are closer to a baby food-like representation of what a cookie might be. The only proper use for West cookies is for the teeth impaired, because at least you can have a slight resemblance of the taste and experience that cookies used to have back before your cookie chomping chicklets were taken away from you too soon. I like to eat cookies. And I like to eat cookie dough, but combining the two is not my preference in life. Some experiences just do not match, despite their seemingly similar benefits. I like being drunk, and I like sex, but, like eating cookies that are cookie dough, the combination of the two is a messy and unhealthy affair that usually ends with unusually sticky fingers. But honestly, all it takes is a smaller cookie, a few more minutes of baking, and all of a sudden your cookie and my cookie are the same cookie and we’re all happy and they’re amazing. And Mr. Robinson is horribly wrong in everything he believes in. I like my cookies to have a texture more like a cookie and less like baby food. They also sink to the bottom of your stomach like you’re eating liquid concrete.”
Ben Berkman, The Enigma
“I just came for the free cookies. I had no preference, I leave with pretty much no preference. I’d eat them again.”
We went around the table, we all thanked Jim and the West staff for their time, and headed back into the warm, sunny Friday afternoon air. We did it together, despite the turmoil and hostility. This debate shook us to our core, but we came out on the other side of it a better, closer staff, with a website that works again.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles, as the saying goes. In West Commons, however, the cookie bends and melts. What that means is entirely up to you.