But now we have become a car culture, people on the move, in a hurry, looking for a quick bite of something just a tad wicked. And the car, Mullins argues, is the donut's best friend. You can eat a donut with one hand, leaving the other hand free to answer the cell phone, wave to friends and dodge through traffic.
All these social factors have changed the mom-and-pop donut shop into a slick chain with drive-up windows, treats that are both upscale and downscale, and oh-so-American.
Health concerns notwithstanding, Mullins sees nothing wrong with an occasional visit to the corner donut shop.
"It doesn't strike me as a big contradiction," he said. "Donuts are a treat. I recognize desire, I can articulate my desires, and every once in a while..."
In fact, just hours before the interview, Mullins stopped at the small donut shop that he passes on his frequent runs. He wasn't looking for a carrot. Or a plate of sushi. He was looking for the real deal.
"They had these cupcakes that must be 500 calories," he said. "I don't want to know what's inside them. I'm sure there's some lard or fat-like substance, and they were frosted with sprinkles.
"If you had told me in the car that they were going to have these cupcakes I would have said, 'Naw, I don't want one.' But that powerful yeast smell hit me when I came in the door, and I saw those cupcakes and I thought, well, man."
He said he would go for a long run later in the day.
Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.