“Cake” is a word for which I have entirely positive feelings. I have very much enjoyed thinking about it over the past couple of days… maybe a bit too much. Indeed, I am writing this post at the first available opportunity so I can stop thinking obsessively about cake.
I have been reflecting on all my most wonderful cake-eating experiences – the banana cakes and sultana tea cakes of my childhood, the treasured gateaux carefully selected from French patisserie windows, the homemade Women’s Weekly birthday cakes – and have realised that while cake is indeed delicious, the joy of cake is not really in the taste, but its symbolic social role. You don’t eat cake alone. Well, you shouldn’t.
This was, for me, the hardest thing about being a vegan. Giving up butter and cream was easy, but not partaking in the social ritual of sharing sweet treats was unbearable. It seemed the most antisocial thing a person could do, to reject a cake which someone had lovingly baked, purely for the purpose of giving and sharing. I spent my veganism baking vegan cakes to try to compensate for my rudeness, but vegan cakes are by definition revolting. Bringing a vegan cake to a tea party is almost just as insulting as not eating cake at all.
If ageing has taught me anything, it’s that’s holding steadfastly to one set of morals doesn’t make you more righteous, it just blinkers your view of all the other morals you’re violating, to make you feel more righteous. These days I’m much happier with the imperfect complication of reality, the balancing act of values and life philosophies and feelings that informs my decisions. I still support most of the ideas behind veganism, and would certainly like to return to not eating any factory-farmed animal products soon, but I won’t ever subscribe to capital-V Veganism again. Instead I’ll just make decisions on a case-by-case basis, according to what I’m comfortable with, and that includes eating cake. For me, the hypocrisy of violating an ethical stance is less personally troubling than self-exclusion from the world of baked goods.
I think one of the reasons that this world – the one of baked goods – is so important to me is because it’s so very clearly for, and about, women, always has been, and always will. Our grandmothers nattered with their sisters and friends over tea and a slice in the same way we meet under the pretext of craft, but we all know it’s for the cake and the gossip. I have a very clear image of what my friendships will look like in my old age, and it’s the same image of my friendships now – ladies, around a table, with a teapot and treats. And I wouldn’t give that up for the world.