Monday, July 21, 2008

Editorial Cupcakes

Sometimes, there’s just way too much subtext, way too much inferred or implied, or both. Sometimes, a piece of cake is just a piece of cake, except when it’s not.

Picture a pretty-average office in the suburbs of Washington DC. Someone has brought cupcakes in to share with everyone. To me, there are two and ONLY TWO reasonable and polite responses to the question “Would you like a cupcake?” They are:
1. Wow! Awesome! I would love one! Thank you so much, it was so nice of you to bring them in!
2. No thank you!

There’s no number 3. And that’s because there’s no third option. “Oh my God, are you trying to kill me?” is not an answer to “Would you like a cupcake?” (With one possible exception: If you are a despotic dictator, and you have survived numerous poisoning attempts, you are permitted to say “Oh my God, are you trying to kill me?” if you’re served a cupcake that smells suspicious. And then, being a despot, I guess you put your pastry chef in front of a firing squad.) Nor is “Sorry, I’m cutting down on sugar/carbohydrates/fats”. Not that it’s not OK to cut down on sugar, carbohydrates, or fats, or conversely, to eat as much of any of them as you want to. I just don’t want to hear about it.

So the cupcakes are making the rounds. The cupcake offerer offers me a cupcake. I have a rare attack of cake-related self-control and I say “No thank you!”

Coworker A says “Oh my God! Are you trying to kill me?” I happen to know that she is not a despotic dictator, nor have any attempts been made on her life under any other circumstances, so this was the wrong answer.

Coworker B says “Sorry, I’m cutting down on sugar and fat”. Cupcake offerer smiles politely, far too kind to say what I think she was thinking and what I know I was thinking: Eat one or don’t eat one, who effing cares?

Here’s where it becomes interesting, and here’s where the subtext comes in. Coworker C says “Oh, they look so good. But I’m really watching what I eat. I’ll have a teeny piece of one”. Coworker C is very thin. Coworker D says “You don’t need to have a PIECE of one. You can eat a whole one. It won’t hurt you”. Coworker D is not at all thin.

Icily polite discussion commences. It seems very important to both C and D to make their points. C’s point is “yes, I AM thin. And this is due to steely self-discipline. Suck it, fat lady”. D’s point is “Look at you! You clearly have an eating disorder! You have fallen prey to the unrealistic ideal of thinness which is being forced upon women! Free yourself by eating a cupcake, you emaciated bitch!”

Overinterpretation? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Without revealing detail, I know all of these people well, having spent entire days with them for several years. And really, if this wasn’t the point of this conversation, each of them could have had as much or as little cupcake as they wanted without editorial comment. C could have just said “Wow! Awesome! I would love one! Thank you so much, it was so nice of you to bring them in!”, and then just quietly eaten a small piece. D could ALSO have just said “Wow! Awesome! I would love one! Thank you so much, it was so nice of you to bring them in!” and then quietly eaten the entire thing, and gone back for seconds if she wanted to. (There were a lot of cupcakes.) So why the announcement, and then the interpretations of the announcement, and then the counter-argument?

Between the supposed “obesity epidemic”, which has given news organizations a legitimate excuse to run endless dehumanizing footage of headless chubby torsos lumbering down city streets, and the almost as prevalent discussion of body image issues and eating disorders, I know far too many people who are WAY too interested in what and when and how much other people eat or don’t eat. To me, there are two, and ONLY TWO situations in which you are permitted to pass judgment, overtly or otherwise, on other people’s food intake:
1. You are a doctor, nurse, or nutritionist offering your professional opinion to a patient or client who has asked for it
2. You have given birth to the people whose eating habits you are judging. (And even this applies only when they’re children)

So to Coworkers A, B, C, and D, I say have your cake and eat it, too. Or eat just a bite. Or eat your cake and your friend’s cake when she’s not looking. Or don’t eat any cake ever under any circumstances. Just don’t tell me about it

(PS—none of this applies to blogging, naturally. You can write about every single bite you eat or don’t eat, at length and in detail. It’s your blog. And for some strange reason, although it drives me crazy to hear people discuss their eating habits, I absolutely LOVE to read blog posts about food and eating. What do you think?)


3carnations said...

I think none of this would have happened if you had just taken a darn cupcake. Heh.

Seriously, I have had too much negativity associated with bringing treats to work. We have so few people at my office that I have, on and off, made things for people's birthdays. One coworker's birthday response: "I've been trying not to eat stuff like this." Another coworker's birthday response to pumpkin cheesecake (Cheesecake! I made you Cheesecake! Ungrateful!) was "It's pretty good...But a little runny."

I would have taken a cupcake, said thank you, and then been quiet while I ate it.

Miss Kate said...

I have to delurk for a great thought-provoking post!

I have heard the same sort of comments made within my group of friends. At a recent baby shower thrown by S1 & S2, I offered S2 a spot in the buffet line (egg bake, muffins, nothing diet friendly at all) since she had gone to all the trouble of making all of the food. The reply I received? "Oh no, I already had some Kashi and nonfat yogurt". Ummmm, okaaaaay. And instantly, I felt defensive, because I am slightly overweight. And I wondered if she was judging me for not abstaining from some stupid egg bake.

Women totally use food and eating/not eating as a means of power and superiority over other women... and I agree - it is no one else's business! But then there are 15,000 magazine articles about excatly what celebrities eat to get back into pre-baby shape, etc. Which then - in our whack-ass culture today - gives everyone the assumption that it is okay to judge the weight/eating habits of others. It stinks.

I always enjoy your weight/media/culture posts.

3carnations said...

I have to make a comment to Miss Kate's comment - She could have said I already ate, or I just had some Kashi and yogurt, but really? Did she have to make a point of saying NONFAT yogurt? Hmph.

CDP said...

3carnations--You know, later that day (3:30 pm) all the cupcakes were gone, and then I REALLY wanted one. And I can't believe that anyone would say anything other than "thank you so much, you're so kind" to someone who MADE them a birthday cake! No matter what kind of diet I was on, I'd eat a piece of something made for me.

Miss Kate--Thanks! You're so right about how some women use food as a way to assert superiority over other women. Your sister could have just said "Oh, no, I already ate", you didn't need to know WHAT she ate.


FranIAm said...

As DCup has said on her blog and I have stolen the phrase many times - what kind of f*ckery is this?

Not you, but I think that inadvertently you set the thing in motion.

People have so many freaking food issues!


CDP said...

Fran--that would have been a good title...what kind of cupcake f***ery is this? And with Cupcake actually holding cupcakes as my illustration.

The Guv'ner said...

You lost me at "cupcakes". I drooled all over my shirt and had to be bathed. And now I want a cupcake, thank you SO much.

For the record, "No thank you." will never leave my lips where cupcakes are concerned unless the frosting is made of poo.

BeckEye said...

This is better than what I get from my co-workers, where as Procurer of the Snack Foods (real title is office manager or some such nonsense), I often set up treat days for the office. I get shit like this:

1. "The cupcakes from (insert name of place I didn't get these cupcakes from) are better."

...usually followed by...

2. "Why did you get cupcakes from (place deemed unworthy)?"

3. "Hey, can you get some with pink* icing next time?"

*Doesn't necessarily have to be pink. Every color of the rainbow could be represented in the icing choices and someone would still say something like, "Hey can you get some with chartreuse icing next time?"

4. "Hmm, I really want one but they're SO messy."

5. "You should've got more" and/or "Why did you get so many?"

I think the next time I organize a treat day, I'll get a giant cake with "IT'S FUCKING FREE SO JUST SHUT UP AND EAT IT" written in pretty pink-n-chartreuse icing. But then someone will bitch that I didn't get sprinkles on it.

When you read in the paper that I've been charged with multiple murders, you'll know why.

Gnugs said...

I've stopped giving an explanation when refusing such things. I've stopped drooling, stopped sniffing, and stopped exclaiming how pretty they are. (I've never used the "I'm watching my weight" excuse--because it's kinda hard to miss even with my eyes closed--but I have drooled, sniffed and refused with a sigh of "I can't, I'm allergic." Which starts the whole discussion of what I can and cannot eat, and then leaves people feeling realy good about themselves all because of their (lucky)good genes. Bastages.)

Whatever, I say. People are occasionally nice to others. They don't want you to freak out over the use or possible ramifications of the small thing they tried to do to brighten your day.

But at the same time, I just want to look at them horrified and back away saying, "Cupcakes are the devil!" and let them make of it what they will.

CDP said...

Guv'ner--I can think of no one else who'd even imagine cupcakes frosted with poo. Well done.

BeckEye--I like the cake idea! You should seriously do that and see how people react.

Gnugs--"bastages". tee hee.

Anonymous said...

Um, er...I confess....I ate all the cupcakes. I'll eat cupcakes when I'm:

On a Diet
Probably Dying

I will never, ever refuse cupcakes- especially free ones.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

The last time I took a cupcake that someone brought into work it smelled wonderful and looked perfectly yummy and pretty on the outside but it was runny and raw on the inside.

Thankfully I didn't end up with food poisoning now I always say "No thanks!" in a very friendly tone.

Unless it's in a bakery box, in which case you better get outta my way.

enc said...

Agreed: either eat it or don't.

There's no need to editorialize in the office (or in a restaurant, or anyplace else in the public realm) about why you eat or don't eat things.

Except on a blog.

Blog all you want, we'll read more!

pistols at dawn said...

Man, this is why I'm so glad to be a fat dude - because we've given women enough body issues to ensure we can double down on some cupcakes. Well done, dude conspiracy!

Michaéle said...

I have this "thing" about eating in front of people. I absolutely avoid it at all cost. A couple of summers ago, we had some friends up to our lake place and after dinner, did the obligatory smores. I kind of puttered around, doing after-dinner dishes and other clean up and every once in awhile, my hubby or one of my kids would bring me a toasted marshmallow...not the whole smore, just the marshmallow (Look at me getting all defensive!)

So a couple weeks later, we have the same friends up and again, we are doing smores after dinner. So female "friend" says to me, " many marshmallows did you have last time? I counted 9 but my husband said you ate 13."

....and THIS, my friends, is why I don't like eating in front of people! I mean, WHO SAYS SOMETHING LIKE THAT!!! (, they have not been invited back!)

Anonymous said...

I'm late so all I need to know is this: Are there any cupcakes left?

Matty Boy said...

If you are supernal at baking cupcakes, those who refused them have just unwittingly entered hell by refusing the offer of paradise.

And yes, I weigh too much.

Matt said...

Everybody else has commented on the deeper issue of the cupcake so I'm just going to say I read your post and I laughed. That's good enough for me.


CDP said...

Suze--well, maybe you'd refuse the cupcakes the Guv'ner mentioned...

Lady--oh, that is gross. I do tend to refuse homemade things unless I know the person who made them pretty well.

enc--exactly! You can write a whole book about it, just don't make me listen to it when I'm trying to eat.

Pistols--I knew it. I just KNEW it.

Michaele--I would never invite them back either. How rude! You should have just said something about how all the pot gave you the munchies.

Dcup--sadly, no.

MattyBoy--Those cupcakes did look supernally good...

matt--and me too!

liss n kids said...

God, I enjoyed your post so much, and the comments were just as good. You are not only a terrific blogger, but you have an exceptionally intelligent and witty group of readers! :)

CDP said...

Liss--thank you! (the commenters ARE awesome, aren't they?)

Michaéle said...

OMG...I just read your answer to my comment and spewed coffee all over my computer screen....I am so inviving them up this weekend to serve them my "special brownies."

CDP said...


Worker Mommy said...

I think next time I am offered a cupcake I will call you first before answering ;)

CDP said...

WM---many people find that it's useful to just call me before they answer any question.

Anonymous said...

I ALWAYS call CDP when I need an answer. She's extremely obliging. And wise!

Whiskeymarie said...

I'll just say: what everyone else said.

I LOVE reading about other people's eating habits. LOVE it. It makes me feel less weird & self-conscious about mine. I know that if I just ate an entire bag of Doritos with orange cheese dip, there's always someone out there that ate TWO bags.

CDP said...

Dcup--always glad to help.

WM--I know, I love reading about people's diet and weight issues, weird food cravings and preferences, and every other food-related topic that makes me feel less like a weirdo...but as much as I love reading about it, I hate listening to it when food is offered...then it just feels like judgement, you know?

susan said...

There's a kitchen-lunchroom area in the or area where I work and people bring in goodies of all kinds and leave them on the table. Everything disappears within a couple of hours. Sometimes people go and thank whoever brought the stuff in and sometimes there'll be a note left saying thanks if it was an anonymous donation. People only talk about food when it's offered personally - otherwise, they eat it or don't. People are weird.

CDP said...

Susan--I think that I could use "People are Weird" as a title for really almost everything I've ever written on this blog.

dguzman said...

Rockin' post, CDP. And so effing accurate.

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