Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Not all cakes are created equal

The main objection I see to office cake is the dynamic of cake rejection. Often, the baker demands a reason, and won't take no for an answer. As for the reasons, there are the weight issues, which are the most obvious. While average-sized person who says, "Oh no, I really shouldn't," get a pass, a skinny person (woman especially) who does the same comes across as vain if in need of an intervention, whereas the baker will seem ridiculous telling someone visibly overweight who says he'll pass that he "really should" have some cake at 10:30am. And yes, there are genuine eating disorders, which pose their own problems around cake-time.

Less obvious, but also problematic, are dietary restraints, religious or medical, that someone may not want to discuss openly at the office. Maybe your kosher officemate thinks you'd be offended if you were accused of having possibly baked your cake in the same tin as you'd previously baked a ham, supposing a bundt-shaped ham. Will the officemates confuse a physiological condition or religious objection with an eating disorder, an eating disorder with narcissism? It's easiest just to take the cake and throw it out later.

But there's a missing angle here. The office-cake issue is always presented as though the cake in question is something everyone would gladly eat were it not for Issues. But sometimes, bakers, your cake just doesn't look appetizing, at least not to everyone in the office. Sometimes, it's 4pm, and someone who absolutely could eat your cake gets a whiff and makes a mental note to sneak out for a Twix from the vending machine. This gets lost in all the discussion of cake and weight and neurosis, but is probably the number-one reason offers of cake are unwelcome.

As a side note, on the flip side of someone not wanting to announce religious dietary restrictions, it is also possible to lie-by-omission about a lack of religious dietary restrictions when rejecting unwanted snacks. If you're Jewish, and someone comes at you with a less-than-appealing muffin, then hesitates and says, "oh, but you keep kosher," now is not the time to correct them. Consider it the culinary equivalent to "It's not you, it's your religion."

As a side note to the side note, I think it speaks volumes that even though I'm writing my dissertation on intermarriage, the interfaith aspect of the Clinton wedding just about slipped my mind. Intermarriages between the non-famous were reported as events in 19th century French-Jewish newspapers. Today, aside from general, demographic complaints from parts of organized Judaism (ahem, Birthright Israel), I doubt if, as Joseph Berger claims, "the seemingly incandescent wedding of Ms. Clinton and Mr. Mezvinsky has churned up ambivalent reactions among the nation’s almost six million Jews." OK, perhaps "among" as in, there exist Jews who felt so-so about the royal nuptials. But this article struck me as quite dated, as though we were responding to the union of a Yiddish-speaking peddler and a Vanderbilt. The non-event-ness of intermarriage today makes it unlikely that all or even most American Jews responded to this wedding as an intermarriage. Of all the various narratives - Chelsea-as-blossoming-woman, super-high-achieving-meritocratic-NYT-Weddings-ready, sneaky-pol-dynasties, and so forth, the interreligious one just struck this Jew, at least, as a bit uninteresting.


Withywindle said...

I noticed, but specifically because there are a lot of Jewish-Methodist intermarriages in my extended clan, and this one is another. (Note for a different discussion: Chelsea is Methodist like her mom, not Baptist like her dad. Did Hillary make an issue of it, and/or did Chelsea choose on her own?)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I suppose I also noticed but it wasn't the angle I was drawn to. But you're right that Chelsea herself is the child of intermarriage - that hasn't gotten any play, from what I can tell. This is one of the challenges I'm having framing my dissertation - how Jewish-Christian intermarriage was and was not like Christian-Christian mixed marriage, which depending when and where in France, was problematic in its own ways.

All of this alerts me to the fact that I've never, to my knowledge, met a Methodist. In my NY-Paris, Franco-Belgo-Judaic bubble, I haven't met terribly many Protestants all-around.

Britta said...

I think in general various anglo sects of mainline protestantism (which doesn't really include Baptism, but it can be close enough) are so similar, an e.g. Methodist-Presbyterian "intermarriage" doesn't carry any cultural or ethnic baggage with it. I mean, "oh, you get dressed up and eat lamb on easter? so do we!" isn't really all that riveting. Also, people hop denominations easily--I have a friend who was raised Presbyterian become Episcopalian. I know lots of people who church shop, and across the mainline protestant denominations there aren't that many huge systematic cultural or theological differences, so its more about finding a congregation you like. Plus, most people who are only nominally part of a protestant denomination generally don't identify that strongly with being a cultural member. I always tease my husband about being part of an interfaith marriage, because he was baptized into the Anglican church, whereas I was raised Lutheran (which is probably the most "ethnic" of the mainline protestant denominations), however, the only faith my husband identifies with is Atheism.

What bothered me in that article was the "who would believe the grandson of a grocer can marry into American royalty!" line. Since when are the Clintons "American royalty?" When Bill Clinton ran, the whole point was that his poor, southern, (dare I say it) "white trash" upbringing meant he could feel our pain. The article should actually read, grandson of grocer marries granddaughter of poor single mom. That is also more of the American ideal--that people who are relative "nobodies" when it comes to breeding or background can become wealthy and powerful.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for the info re: Protestantism in the US. Protestantism anywhere remains a mystery to me. Aside from one college friend whose mother's a Lutheran pastor (minister? are these different?), I really haven't known many Protestants that well over the years. Catholics, atheists, and Jews, or really, atheists raised as Catholics, atheists, or Jews.

The grocer's-grandson line got to me as well, because anyone over the age of 12 remembers Clinton-as-"hick" discussions. The two families are, as you say, quite comparable. But I was mainly bothered by the implication that "most" or "many" American Jews are worked-up about this wedding, an assertion that's not backed up (unless I missed a survey?) and that to my mind seems implausible. The ultra-Orthodox aren't reading the gossip blogs (or not openly), and the secular-to-Reform really couldn't care less. Or let's just leave it at, the article was grasping at straws, or most-emailedness, or whatever.

Sigivald said...

Am I the only one who thinks that the idea of churning up ambivalence is in itself odd?

Andrew Stevens said...

I don't regard the "intermarriage" between the Clintons too seriously. Chelsea was raised Methodist because the Clintons chose a Methodist church to attend (all the Clintons attended a Methodist Church throughout Clinton's Presidency, despite Bill's continued identification with the Southern Baptists, which was probably for political purposes, since I believe it's the majority religion in Arkansas). Bill is pretty mainline Protestant, though that isn't necessarily true for all Southern Baptists. Now a Lutheran marrying a Congregationalist is quite different. The two traditions have radically different styles, despite both being Protestant.

The major difference between Protestants is whether they are actually serious about their religion or not. In general, the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians (and Anglicans generally) are not and the Southern Baptists, Pentecostals (and Charismatics generally), and Quakers generally are, but Bill is a pretty clear exception from the Southern Baptists. Methodists and Lutherans (and, for that matter, Catholics) can go either way. There are very serious Methodists (George W. Bush) and not-so-serious Methodists (Hillary Clinton). I should note that this is not necessarily a right/left divide though certainly people serious about their religion are generally on the right, but the Quakers are usually very serious about their religion and pretty far to the left. You can also get that in African-American Baptist communities.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thanks! This thread has turned into everything I always wanted to know about Protestantism but was afraid to ask. For a Jew, it can be tough to picture religion without an ethnic or (strong) cultural component and that's really just about belief. I mean, Protestantism can have those as well, but it's not like each sect is a different ethnicity in the US at this point. Whereas with, for example, French or Belgian Catholicism, even though that's Catholicism, as an American Jew, it's something I can kind of get my head around.