Let them eat cake. A phrase supposedly uttered by overindulged and insulated French monarch Marie-Antoinette upon learning her subjects were unable to afford even a stale baguette (a historical fact that it turns out is as flaky as a croissant).
Ring any bells? While our government’s cabinet is stuffed to the gills with millionaires, the food banks are doing a roaring trade. And the most-watched, most-talked-about programme on TV is about pastry. We’re eating it up.
(Furthermore, where you couldn’t walk through the streets of revolutionary Paris without breaking into song, as Les Misérables documents, the ability to sing also seems a prerequisite for social mobility in today’s Britain, if television is to be believed.)
The Great British Bake Off was more than a Twitter abuse generator. It was the new The Apprentice, only instead of sales twonks misconstruing the cat-food market, you have amateur pâtissiers assembling puddings.
Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with puddings – the proof is in them, after all. Or even the programme itself – which our own editor considers a worthy alternative to a Champions League group match. But there has got to be more to 21st-century British life than “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, bunting – a word that sounds filthy and disappointingly isn’t – and bunting cupcakes.
British manufacturing once meant cars. Now it means muffins, macaroons and rum babas. Instead of British racing green we get red velvet.
Cars are designed, engineered, built. Cakes are baked. Cars are made of metal. Cupcakes are made of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and a lot of hot air.
Sure, industrial decline has provided a means for new sectors to grow. But for every green tech initiative or silicon start-up there seems to be 10 boutique bakeries. There’s surely a finite appetite for baked goods? As some dude called Jesus once said, “Man cannot live on bread alone”. Women neither.
A number of female-orientated publications claim to be the mouthpiece of a movement of sisters who are doing it for themselves: women who are juggling motherhood and starting up a business. Who are very much having their cake and eating it.
And if the inspirational picture-lead human-interest stories are to be believed, investment banking is not the growth sector to move into – it’s baking.
Empowering would-be entrepreneurs is obviously a good thing, but why does it always have to be cupcakes? (And it is always cupcakes.) How many innovations or variations are possible when it comes to cupcakes? What we're talking about here is the crumbs at the bottom of the cultural biscuit tin.
The theory that a woman’s place is the kitchen was supposedly debunked some time in the last century, why are we reverting back to it? And why does it always have to come heavily frosted with sexual connotations. From TGBBO’s menu of innuendo to Nigella Lawson/Sophie Dahl/Lorraine Pascale suggestively layering on “naughty” chocolate. We get it: you put it in your mouth.
Women gave us the circular saw, invented poly-paraphenylene terephtalamide (aka Kevlar — the material used in bulletproof vests), discovered the process for isolating stem cells. They’re world leaders and CEOs. Thinkers and doers. They can – we all can – certainly achieve a lot more than a cupcake.
Aim higher. Or at least sort out that soggy bottom first.