Once upon a time, in a magical land called California, presenters and performers at the glamorous Academy Awards received gift bags to thank them for their time and talent. From the 1970s through 2006, this munificent Eden persisted. Then the IRS came along and ruined all the fun, declaring these expensive tokens income and thus subject to taxes. In 2007, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences discontinued the gifts. By then, private companies had already swooped into the coveted swag space, distributing goodies to everyone from award-winning actors to unnaturally tan reality stars. The most elaborate of these offerings have been put together since 2003 by marketing company Distinctive Assets, whose “Everybody Wins” gift bags ensure that nominees who don’t get a golden statue still walk away with armloads of consolation prizes worth thousands (one year over $100,000).
The swag bags feature an array of beauty and fashion finds (this year’s most extravagant include a hair-transplant procedure worth $16,000 and a $2,700 O-Shot to rejuvenate a woman’s…well, you can probably guess), plus fancy vacations like a $9,000 “Best of Las Vegas” trip. Bon Appétit, however, is, of course, only interested in the edible items. Here’s what the A-list has taken home in recent history:
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2003: The Year of Dinner for Two
Some actors have trouble snagging an Oscar, but surely most can scrounge up a willing dinner date. That seemed to be the thinking behind the first “Everybody Wins” gift bag, which offered dinner for two at eight different Los Angeles restaurants, including: Opaline, Spanish Kitchen, Sona, Sonora Café, Mirabelle, and Fenix at the Argyle Hotel. BA‘s own restaurant and drinks editor, Andrew Knowlton, remembers Sona as “one of the first places that was doing Asian-inspired crudo dishes. Oh, and it was the first time I heard about a guy named David Myers.” But since then, all of these restaurants have closed. Call it the swag bag kitchen curse…
2004: The Year of Alcohol and Chocolate
Effen vodka from Holland, Kron choocolate from New York, tequila from…Sammy Hagar? It was all in the 2004 bags. And in case those items didn’t satisfy the nominees’ sweet tooth, there was also a Champagne-and-chocolate basket awaiting them in the complimentary penthouse accommodation at Caesars Palace, where they were also given $3,000 to spend at Palace restaurants.
2005: The Year of No Food
Effen Vodka made the cut again in 2005, but there was nothing else edible included. Perhaps that was because the swag theme that year seemed to be oral hygiene. Included were Crest Whitestrips, the Intelliclean System from Sonicare & Crest, and a complimentary dental consult with “America’s Dentist”—perhaps to remove all the damage from last year’s alcohol and chocolate bonanza?
2006: The Year of Fancy Water
Celebrities’ delicate digestive systems are not equipped to handle the crusty old tap water us Normals drink. Instead they must hydrate their finely tuned bodies with a higher order of liquid extracted by beret-wearing French elves from a golden-ash-spewing volcano—or wherever Volvic comes from. A case of H20 newcomer Hint, the now ubiquitous naturally flavored water, was also included.
2007: The Year of $1,000 Balsamic Vinegar
Scrolling through the list of edibles from 2007, one comes across several modestly priced options: chocolate-dipped Altoids ($2.50), Voyant Chai Cream Liquer ($25), Allie’s Edibles Comfort Sweets ($32.50). And then there’s a non-Googleable brand of balsamic Italian vinegar with the inexplicable value of $1,000 next to it. Distinctive Markets told BA it was an extra gift from an Italian fashion company included with the other items, made by a friend on a limited basis.
2008 and 2009: The Years of Recession
The “Everybody Wins” bags were purposefully understated in 2008 and 2009, with items focused on “fun, functionality and relaxation” over “opulence.” So it was the perfect time for the all-American mother-daughter company Jennie and Vera’s Cookies to get into the mix. There was also a brand called Booty Pop on the 2009 list, which is not some sort of naughty lollipop, but instead is entirely non-edible padded underwear.
2010: The Year of Portion Control
Suave, skinny actors make us average-sized humans look like obese giants. Should we resign ourselves to the fact that their lithe physiques are the product of incredible genetics or do they actually have some sort of secret weapon, say, plates with swirly designs that are a secret code for how to divide up protein, carbs, and vegetables? If the inclusion of Slimware portion-control plates in the 2010 swag bag is any indication, it just might be the latter.
2011: The Year of Chocouture
Diamond, emerald, pearl, ruby, sapphire, topaz, onyx, and amethyst—all the chocolate jewels a girl or boy could want were in a nine-piece “jewelry box” of chocolates worth $75. The Slimware plates were included again in 2011, perhaps to somehow offset all the chocolate.
2012: The Year of the Artisan Mixologist
This year’s nominees were offered “one of the country’s foremost artisan mixologists” to “tend a premium stocked bar, complete with custom Disaronno cocktails, at the location of their choosing, for up to 100 guests,” valued at $15,000.
2013: The Year of the Dukan Diet
Remember those royal rumors that the already-slim Kate Middleton had lost a bunch of pre-wedding weight with the Dukan Diet, with different phases that sound like a war strategy (attack, cruise, consolidate, and stabilize)? In 2013, America’s royalty got $400 worth of Dukan Diet goodies, including goji berries, oat bran chocolate chip cookies, oat bran coconut almond bars, and free diet coaching.
2014: The Year of…Maple Syrup?
2014’s bag has plenty of edible items: chocolate-dipped bacon, herbal tea lollipops, English toffee, plus vodka and wine. But the biggest culinary splurge is $280 worth of organic maple products: syrups, salad dressings, jellies—even maple mustard. Nominees will also receive a certificate of adoption for a real live maple tree in Quebec. Hope they’ve got someone to guard it.