An Earth-looking Squishmallow on a light pink background.
Design by Reid Graham.

Whether you’ve heard of the specific term “treat culture” or not, you may have observed a trend (which, one could argue, while not directly derived from “Parks and Recreation,” has deep origins in Donna and Tom’s “treat yo self day”) in which people indulge for the sole purpose of making themselves happy, usually in the form of a “little treat.” (Note: “little” is not a reference to actual treat size but an addendum to emphasize cuteness). While “little treats” are not limited to food items — sometimes taking the form of a new house plant, Squishmallow or another object that brings you joy — it would hardly be a stretch to say iced coffee is the “little treat” selected most often (although Meghan Trainor and husband Daryl Sabara of “Spy Kids” fame, for their part, choose Oreos).

Treat culture has several possible revolutionary capacities. First, in the food category, it refutes the core tenant of diet culture: that we should refuse foods we enjoy because we’re “being good.” Second, it emboldens us to stop people-pleasing by wanting and taking things for ourselves rather than seeking to fulfill the desires of others. Finally, while there are financial barriers that limit the degree or frequency to which people can partake in treat culture, it espouses that everyone deserves to enjoy nice things. Treat culture is staunchly anti-hustle culture — central to treat culture is the belief that you don’t necessarily have to “earn” your little treat but that you are innately deserving, while hustle (or burnout) culture maintains that you should work incessantly and that even when you do, you are never deserving of a break or “little treat.”

Times like these are hard enough — so hard, in fact, that my fingers hover over the keyboard listless, seemingly incapable of expressing the gravity of the situation with words. Times are particularly tough for, well, the people who always suffer the most: marginalized people. Women and the Queer community, particularly trans individuals, are watching their rights slip through their fingers in real time, fearing for their safety — and, as usual, it’s people of Color who are at the highest risk of attack. However, although marginalized people are the most fiercely punished for their existence, no matter who you are, it is a scary time to exist. Climate change, viral threats, gun violence and the threat of fascism bear down on all of us, and while intentional structural inequities mean some will suffer more than others, no level of privilege will allow for a complete escape of the consequences.

It is now, more than ever, that we must embrace treat culture. Dire circumstances create a certain pressure to spend every minute of every day fighting: fighting the odds, fighting our adversaries, fighting structural inequity. It’s certainly not time to give up, but there’s a reason that hustle culture is also dubbed burnout culture: It’s not sustainable and will leave you unable to continue. Hustle culture will not save us. In fact, hustle culture, and the capitalism and white supremacy in which it is rooted, will kill us. In the toughest of times, it’s essential that we employ a culture of self and community care; we can’t fight until the very end if we incapacitate ourselves before then. 

If the world really is going to “go up in flames,” it will happen whether or not you decide to get that iced coffee or Squishmallow or plant or Oreo cookie. However, that “little treat” might give you the boost you need to go on, and eventually, as a collective, it might give us the energy we need to save ourselves.

Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at