Where’s the yeast?

My social feeds are filled with people baking as they stay home during the pandemic. The grocery stores report shortages of yeast and flour as everyone gets their bake on.To borrow a line from Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau’s long running political cartoon series, we’re eating more carbs, y’all!

I’d like to think that today’s post will add to that happy relationship, but I fear not.  Back in January, I heard about a new cookbook so I wrote off to the publishers to request a review copy. As a long time baker who has done her share of contributions to feminist fundraisers including a long running stint as a producer of 20 pounds of butter crunch yearly for the rape crisis centre, I was intrigued.

Rage Baking, by Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford, promised a look at the transformative power of flour, fury and women’s voices. In a way it did, but not I imagine, in the way the authors thought it would or should.

I am not going to cover the ground already well trod by other writers. Suffice it to say Tangerine Jones, the creator of the concept of rage baking as a female-empowered political act against racism, wrote an incredibly detailed piece here about her work was appropriated, capitalized, ignored and initially denied by the authors. Her post covers everything from the silencing of black women’s voices to the lack of acknowledgement for her creative act within the greater context of similar acts of oppression. And you can go here to read the response from the authors, who thank Jones for starting the conversation (an ill conceived approach to a serious allegation, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Alford says in the introduction she was inspired to ragebake in response to the Bret Kavanagh hearings in 2018 and tat as she began to explore the idea, she found others doing similarly. Curiously, she did not include Jones but see above for more about that.

For the record, I find ragebaking as a concept antithetical to the change work I engage in. Baking for me is an act of comfort, to release stress and rage. If I actually did bake in a rage, whatever I would produce would not be fit to eat. Food, and the sharing of it, has also been a constant presence in my last 40 years of active feminism.  Or as my friend’s child noted once when they saw her making a familiar casserole: “Another feminist potluck, mom?”

Setting aside my own feelings, I read the book looking to learn how baking actually served as a transformative process. I struggled with the idea that feminist, woman-powered rage started in 2018. Or even 2016. There is a very long, very rich tradition of food as a tool for organizing, and I didn’t get any of that history, or any sense of connection to earlier movements made change happen without the internet, social media, or even faxes.

To suggest women’s anger is a recent phenomenon is a huge disservice. It’s interesting that the one entry that does look at women’s anger (by Rebecca Traister) will be removed from future editions of the book at her request in light of the Jones’s fiasco. She writes:

Women’s anger has been buried, over and over again. But it has seeded the ground; we are the green shoots of furies covered up long ago.

We are the green shoots of furies covered up long ago. Yes, yes we are. And we are angry for a multitude of reasons, many of which Traister described in her own very good book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. But Rage Baking is not really going to help with any of them, except for our filling our need for comfort and calm with food, the kind usually comes with a good cup of tea and a hug, before we hit the trenches again.

The problem with this book is that it is neither fish nor fowl. It wants to be a cookbook and it wants to be a political handbook with essays driving action and change. There are lots of interesting recipes from some fabulous, radical women and some of them have cool story to accompany them. And there are some interesting essays. Overall though, it left me pretty flat, or as my younger friends say, it was meh. There is a lack of cohesion here, as well as, surprisingly, a lack of heart, both of which defy understanding. Had Jones been involved from the start, we would likely have had a very different book. As it is, we have so much work left to do, that it might be best if you considered other approaches, unless your goals, as is Jones, is to build a kinder, more caring community as an antidote to the system oppressions which surround us.

— MarthaFitat55 writes and bakes in St. John’s.



2 thoughts on “Where’s the yeast?

  1. No indeed, women’s rage is not new! Nor is wild yeast–freely available on our windowsills. My partner has a sourdough starter going for the breads and pizza doughs he’s baking.

  2. Thanks, Martha, for this review. I missed the controversy when it came out, and am now (better late than never, though!) furious about the mealy-mouthed non-apology to Tangerine Jones. Also, these white women make no sense at all in the WaPo interview, showing how disingenuous they really are. I have to copy this here:

    Since you were aware of these people who were rage baking before you, why didn’t you originally give them a shout-out or ask one or a couple to contribute?

    Alford: We absolutely knew this had to be a nontraditional cookbook. We really didn’t have a lot to refer to in terms of creating a book like this. I mean, obviously, with all the discussion that’s been going on, in retrospect, we understand the importance of acknowledging our fellow rage bakers in this space and in the next imprint, we are going to do that. And this is obviously very surprising and clearly not the intent. This is not the story we wanted to create in any way, shape or form. We saw this as a pro-social tool to use and leverage our skills as professionals and as women to change the conversation around rage and baking.

    WTF? I have no idea what the above passage means. Other than “in my panic, and having been lawyer-advised not to apologize, I’m saying whatever comes into my fool head”.

    Then there’s this:

    Was there a reason that you didn’t just apologize to Jones in your statement and say, ‘We’re sorry for not including you and talking more about racial justice’?

    Brown: We believe fully that our joint statement from Tiller Press and Kathy and Katherine addresses those issues.

    But that doesn’t really answer my question. I mean, what was there to lose to say, ‘We’re really sorry for any hurt this may have caused?’

    Brown: Our position is the joint statement.

    That is cold-blooded and clearly lawyer-advised. I want nothing to do with them.


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