The Great American Cooking Scam

May 27, 2004

The Bottom Line As for the Cooking Club of America, take your $330 membership fee and go buy yourself something youíll actually use. Like half a tank of gas.

Back around December of last year I got an unrequested information packet in the mail from the Cooking Club of America. At the time, I was very into paper making and often used junk mail as starter for acid free art projects. I opened the packet and glanced over it. Mind you, I enjoy cooking and am not half bad, if I do say so myself.

The letter and enclosed glossy flyers promised a magazine subscription, fabulous gifts and prizes and free enrollment in a rating program where you are sent various kitchen gadgets to use, review and keep free of charge. All for the low, low annual fee of $12.

Okay, for $12, I’ll bite. Although it too me 3 weeks and another grand invitation before I would actually send in the “Sign Me Up!” form. A few weeks later I received a bill for $24, the price of a 2-year enrollment. Admittedly, I was not happy. I had agreed to 1 year. Now they were changing the rules and wanted me to commit to 2. Against my better judgment, I sent in a check for $24.

Shortly after that my first issue of the program magazine, Cooking Pleasures arrived. It contained style ideas, various reader supplied recipes and a few tricks and hints. Maybe not worth a dollar an issue, but remember, I was enrolled to get all sorts of other cool things as well.

And I did.

I first received another bill from the cooking club. I ignored it.

I next received an unrequested and completely useless book, along with a bill for $9.99 and a set of tiny measuring spoons called Dash and Pinch. I returned the book and the bill, but kept the spoons because a girl can never have too much worthless crap.

Then I received my first of what would be many offers to join other clubs which I have absolutely no interest in.

Finally, I received a bill for the book I had returned. I called the 800 number and gently chewed out a customer service representative.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, what’s 12 bucks a year for 2 years? It’s nothing. A mere afterthought. I’ve been with the club for just about 4 months now and have resigned myself to the thought that I’m getting a fairly interesting magazine and absolutely nothing else … not even the cool trial products promised in the start up kit.

You’re probably asking, if I’m so content with my $12 a year magazine habit, why go to the bother of ranting on a consumer website about it? Well, I shall tell you. Last night I came home, went out to the mailbox and retrieved a check for $27 from the completely worthless Cooking Club of America. The enclosed letter said cheerily that they were returning my subscription fee. They also went to the liberty of sending a sheet of address labels with my name and their logo – like I am going to actually put their logo on all of my outgoing mail – and a sponge. Yes, you heard me, a sponge. But not just any sponge. A completely dehydrated sponge not much thicker than a piece of cardboard which miraculously expands when you immerse in water (or spit on it, as I can verify). Oh, what marvels of modern technology!

I scanned the letter looking for the catch. Several glossy pages fell out proclaiming all the wonderful gifts I would receive for cashing my refund check. A stainless cookware set valued at over $220! Some other kitchen crap that I either already have or don’t need, but it’s all worth $29.99. And let’s not forget that I would also get free enrollment in the kitchen test group that had been originally promised months ago.

Finally, I found it. Tucked away in amongst the garble of catch phrases I found the line stating that the Lifetime Member status would cost a grand total of over $300. I believe the exact amount was $330. But after my refund, the price would only be $303 and a lifetime of advertisements, unwanted items and silly magazines.

Just so that we’re on the same page, here is the final score: What started out at $12 for lots of cool stuff has turned, in a record 121 days, into a three hundred dollar scam.

Now can you see the reason for my rant here today?

Needless to say, I am not pleased. This afternoon I will be taking that check for $27, which by-the-way the cashing of which automatically constitutes agreement to join their new club, ripping it to pieces (or scrawling with obscenities, I haven’t decided which) and returning it along with a copy of this piece in the pre-paid return envelope.

Don’t be a naÔve schmuck like me. Remember that what comes unsolicited in the mail and sounds like a fairly decent value rarely is. And as for the Cooking Club of America, take your $24 membership fee and go buy yourself something you’ll actually use. Like half a tank of gas.

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