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How Cake Can Unite a Community

So you might have seen a certain BBC article* last month. And you may also have seen my outrage over on Instagram at said article (There’s a post on my IG grid you can see here).

But if you haven’t, let me fill you in.

BBC Article on Office Cake Culture

The head of the UK’s Food Standards Agency came out (albeit in a personal, not professional capacity) saying that people shouldn’t bring cake into offices for celebrations such as birthdays, farewells, promotions, and other milestones, or just because, likening it to passive smoking in the way that it can inflict harm on others (?!).

BBC Article on Office Cake Culture - aggressive

So there’s a few different ways to take what she said, and to explore it. And I have absolutely no doubt that a lot has been written doing just that. There’s also an academic study in the background to this which I’m not doing to delve in to either.

But I do have an opinion related to all this which I did want to share:

Cake can unite a community. And its power should not be underestimated. As the venerable William Somerset Maugham once observed, there are few things as unifying as the humble cake. Indeed, throughout history, cakes have served as a powerful symbol of community, bringing people together to celebrate, to mourn, and to break bread in the most literal sense of the term. 

Cakes and Ales Somerset Maugham

A celebration, no matter how big or small, is about a shared joy and a shared experience. And cakes are often a brilliant focal point. When was the last time you got excited to join the rest of the team around a fruit basket to congratulate Becky on her wedding? Or saved your spreadsheet in a hurry to go and celebrate the company's biggest quarterly results announcement around a platter of hummus and crudites? Or, how about that time you went over to pat Rupert on the back to congratulate him on his new baby around a bowl of olives and breadsticks? My guess is NEVER.

Work Leaving Do Cake

Cakes also have a more practical role to play in bringing people together. As anyone who has attended a MacMillan Coffee morning or office bake sale can attest, cakes and other baked goods are a popular means of fundraising and socialising. They are a low-cost and high-impact way of generating revenue for a wide range of charitable causes. A "charity sandwich sale" just does NOT have the same appeal.

Charity Cake Sale

But, all this cake, it's So UnHeALThY, Susan says. Bombshell moment - people don’t have to actually eat the cake if they don’t want to - it’s 100% possible to enjoy the conviviality without actually ingesting a single crumb.

And just thinking about it on a smaller scale, suggesting to someone that they “pop over for tea and cake” is not just inviting someone for literal tea and cake, although you’d hope they’d make an appearance. It’s also shorthand for “come for a supportive no-pressure natter”. It’s a moment to pause, share and celebrate or commiserate. And again, you don’t necessarily have to eat the cake to be part of it. As adults, with complete autonomy over our bodies, we are fully capable of resisting the beguiling charms of a slice of Victoria Sponge.

Don’t get me wrong, I do realise that sometimes people feel pressure in these social situations, especially in the workplace with clashing personalities and office politics. There's Karen saying, "C'mon, not on a diet are you?? LOLOL" or "Oh one little bit of chocolate cake isn't going to kill you!". But cake isn’t the enemy here - it’s the people like Karen using it as social currency. And unfortunately I think that says more about those colleagues than about the role of cake. 

My basic point is that cake itself - whether someone has baked for hours at home, bought it at the supermarket, Fake Baked it, or ordered from a bakery like us - is a brilliant joyful way to draw a community together to share something positive. As long as that’s the spirit, I think we should all just crack on with it! And next time Karen bugs you with one of her inane cake-force-feeding comments, you can always say, "You go on and treat yourself now Karen, I'm saving my piece for later" or, "Ah, bit of a funny tummy today, I'm hoping to tuck in later at home when I'm close to my own loo". Basically, bore off Karen, leave me alone with my cake.

PS - if you are thinking about a cake for a community focused moment of joy, but are a bit scared about baking one yourself then check out the Hero Sponge recipe which comes in lots of variations. You, and your community, won’t regret it.

* Here’s the link to *that* joy-less BBC article by the way

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