Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Does fairness = bad cake for all ?

If you are a parent, “That’s not fair,” is a familiar phrase.  “Why does she get to stay up and I don’t?”   “Why do I have to do homework if he doesn’t?”  As adults, we know deep inside that life is indeed not fair, but that is something we often feel uncomfortable telling our kids.  

Recently, I had an interesting dilemma.  We were having a joined birthday party for our 2 kids, ages 4 and 7.  The younger one is allergic to eggs, which rules the cakes out for him.  Usually I bake a tart for his birthday, which he loves.  But for many practical considerations, it would have been good to have a cake as well.  A cake can be decorated, a cake can feed lots of people (it was a large party), a cake is recognized and understood by normal kids.  While my kids love what I make for their parties, their friends turn up their noses at anything that doesn’t look like a normal sugar loaded cake.  My daughter was surprise that none of her friends last year were willing to try the plum cake I made for her.  “There is no icing,” they declared.  “We don’t want it.”  I’ve learned my lesson.  

This year, we decided to have a normal cake.  Well, almost normal.  I get my cakes from a Cordon Bleu instructor who can make these kiddie cakes taste as good as possible.  She told me she could make a vegan cake so that my younger one wouldn’t feel left out.  I’ve had my share of vegan cakes, and quite frankly, they suck.  Most likely the other kids wouldn’t notice.  If it looks cute and tastes sweet, I am convinced that most kids would eat a cake made out of play dough.  But my kids might notice.  Especially the allergic kid.  I’d tried to bake egg-free muffins for him before and his reception was lukewarm at best. I decided against the vegan cake.  If my older one gets one cake a year, why shouldn’t it be a good cake?   

Does this kid look devastated about missing out on the cake?  Who knows, he might have to work it out in therapy when he is 30, but for now he seems ok.  

I think that vegan sausage, veggie burgers, and gluten free pasta are futile ways to achieve fairness.  I don’t understand why every cookout needs to include veggie burgers.  Some good vegetarian food would be wonderful, but bad vegetarian food shaped into a hockey puck seems ridiculous to me.  Does the hockey puck shape make vegetarians feel included?  We just attended a family event for my husband’s work held at a baseball stadium.  The food was hot dogs, mac and cheese, etc.  All pastas and buns had eggs, but they dug up some egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free roll for my younger one.  It was their kill-all-birds-with-one-stone allergy food, and it was inedible.  Boy, how we would appreciate some veggies.  Allergy friendly food doesn't need to be shaped like a hot dog bun to make us feel included.  

Fairness doesn't mean sameness.  There is an enormous and very natural human desire to fit in, to be just like everyone else, and not be the one person left out.  But that is not what life is like.  We all have different needs, different limitations, and different abilities.  Learning to make the best of your situation is one of the most important life skills.  I wonder if we sometimes deprive the kids of that in our pursuit for fairness.  


JamieC said...

I've had good luck with the Vegan Chocolate Cake from the book "What's To Eat". You can find the recipe here.

Instead of two 9-inch cake pans, I've always used a 9 by 13-inch pan and baked for around 35 minutes.

Helen said...

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for the vegan cake recipe. I am sure there are lots of vegan cakes out there that make people happy. It's just that we do fine without them. To me, it's better to eat the best possible tart than an ok cake. I just find it interesting, that a chocolate cake is something that people will bend over backwards to make no matter how many ingredients they have to replace and how far the result is from ideal. Many people can't digest beans well, but I haven't seen too many beanless beans out there. I find it interesting that most people are perfectly happy to live without beans, but can't imagine living without a chocolate cake.


Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the motivation for your blog is or what message you are trying to convey as there seems to be some mixed messages. As a parent of a food allergic child I would assume you would be sensitive to a physical need, like avoiding egg so your child stays safe and healthy. As a chef, I would assume you would be cognizant of the growing rate of food allergies and how it affects your profession. I would further assume you would, in turn, be sensitive to meeting the dietary needs of your patrons. You stated you learned your lesson when your daughters friends refused to eat the cake you made for her party because it didn't have icing. I'm curious as to what exactly that lesson was? Are you not, in fact, doing the exact same thing as her friends by refusing to try an egg-less cake? Perhaps it is purely a matter of preference. To which I can fully understand. I cannot understand the implied tone that food allergic individuals somehow have a cross to bear and that they are not allowed to want cake simply because it differs in ingredients than, I don't know, the original cake recipe of all mankind. It's not like they have a choice over being allergic to a food or not. And I don't believe you would find one that demands "fairness". If anything, they are the first to realize that life is not "fair". What they demand is respect, especially for life-threatening allergies, which is not something that they get that often.

Helen said...

Hmm -- it sounds like we are in violent agreement. What I was trying to say is that people with allergies deserve delicious food -- not just food that looks like the food they can't have or has the name of the food they can't have, but truly delicious food. My daughter is not allergic to anything. My son is. When her cake didn't have icing, it wasn't for allergic reasons. The cake was with plums and this style of casual cake doesn't have icing. I wrote about that story to illustrate a point that people judge food more by its name and look than taste. Our family doesn't. When my allergic son is given substitute food (vegan muffins for example), they taste bad to him. He'd rather eat a tart that tastes good than a cake that tastes bad. I realize it's an exception. A normal kid would probably choose a bad tasting cake and there is nothing wrong with it. It's just a side of food allergies no one usually talks about. At some point in my life, I was a vegetarian. when people would offer me vegetarian burgers (I found them inedible), I didn't see it as a sign of sensitivity. I saw it as a complete lack of understanding.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like we agree on more than I thought... I still think the tone of your piece and subsequent response to an offered vegan recipe for chocolate cake detracted from what you intended your message to be. Your children are lucky to have you, an artist with food, that can teach them and expose them to a variety of different tastes and textures. Food, like art, is subjective. What is appealing to someone may be abhorrent to another. I understand the frustrations that come with having a food allergic child. I agree that there are sides to living with food allergies that nobody talks about. There are emotional issues that go along with living with life threatening allergies that are shied away from or swept under the rug, so to speak, by society in general. There is a worse problem, in my opinion, and that is the sense of entitlement and this obsession with, as you yourself claimed, "fairness". I agree that this idea of being "fair" in all things is problematic. I do believe "fairness" should be used judiciously and in some cases it is outright warranted. With food? Debatable - I have seen both sides of this coin. There are levels of "fairness" that I believe some people overlook simply because they are hyper focused on the actual word itself. I don't believe, however, that the concept of fairness is aptly used to describe alternatives to such things as vegan cake. Perhaps preference, dietary restrictions, dietary exclusions, alternate lifestyle, etc fit that bill. I would hazard a guess that there was just as much uproar over boxed cake mixes when they first appeared on the shelves of the average grocery store and in the pantries of the average household. There is no arguing the fact that "made from scratch" far outweighs "pre-made" any day. With knowledge comes great power and great responsibility. Impart your knowledge to those willing to learn. Impart away!! But please be mindful that there are those who are eager to learn from you but may be reluctant because of comments like "I find it interesting that most people are perfectly happy to live without beans, but can't imagine living without chocolate cake." To me, that comment shows a lack of understanding, a concept which you identified with while you were vegetarian. My intent is not to change your mind or brow-beat you into my way of thinking. We can agree to disagree on this matter; your thoughts and feelings are your own, after all. But so are the countless others who actually like vegan cake. Btw, I'm not a fan of gf or vegan but I have choked down my fair share of bites because I understood how much it meant to my child to have a little slice of "normal". In our house we never use the words "that's gross" or "yucky" or "disgusting" but simply "that's not my favorite" because we live in a house where we have a child with a rare disease that makes food his enemy and there have been times when he has had no choice but to eat "gross", "yucky" and "disgusting" food or suffer malnutrition and subsequent complications. Ever since he was little, he had an obsession with food and wanted to be a chef, then specifically, a pastry chef. His dream had been to be able to create delicious food for children just like him. As his mother I know this would be a long, difficult and perhaps deadly undertaking for him. But just like offering that "not my favorite" slice of cake to him, I cannot crush his dream. He has to come to a realization all on his own whether or not it is something he truly wants to do (something I'm sure you are intimately familiar with) and all I can do is be his rock and support him and his dreams as best I can. I wish you the best of luck in both your personal and professional lives. I also wish that you change the perceptions of at least one person that birthday parties do not need cake. I hope someday my son is able to do the same.