Brow Beat

Why a New Cookbook About Baking While Angry Is Making People So Mad

A pair of hands kneads a ball of dough on well-floured wooden surface.
Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

When Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women’s Voices dropped earlier this month, it was poised to become an instant hit. The anthology, a mix of recipes and essays about baking as an outlet for women’s political rage, is the latest in a series of books that address the organizing power of female anger, including Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad and Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her. However, Rage Baking is now on the receiving end of women’s anger over a controversy about who owns—and profits from—the concept of “rage baking.” Here’s what you need to know.

The Book

Released on February 4 by Simon & Schuster, Rage Baking is a collection of more than 50 recipes and essays designed to encourage women to “use sugar and sass as a way to defend, resist, and protest.” The anthology is edited by Katherine Alford, a former vice president of Food Network, and Kathy Gunst of NPR’s Here and Now. According to the publisher’s website, the impetus for Rage Baking came out of the “fury, and frustration” that many women felt in the aftermath of the 2016 election: “Some act by calling their senators, some write checks, some join activist groups, march, paint signs, grab their daughters and sons, and raise their voices. But for so many, they also turn to their greatest comfort—their kitchen.” The contributors list includes women from the food industry and outside of it, ranging from professional cooks like Carla Hall and Dorie Greenspan to writers and artists like Ani DiFranco and Rebecca Traister, with a foreword by the president of Emily’s List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women that will receive a portion of the book’s proceeds.

The Controversy

On February 14, performance artist and activist Tangerine Jones published an essay on Medium titled “The Privilege of Rage.” In the essay, Jones recounts how in 2015, she started posting on both Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #ragebaking, even creating pages dedicated to the concept on both sites within a year. By July 2016, she had launched ragebaking.com, where she published “The Fundamentals of #RageBaking.” Jones encourages practitioners to share what they bake, to bake with others, and to post the results using the hashtag #ragebaking.

Before the new essay collection Rage Baking was released, Jones writes, she had been “the top hit for Rage Baking for years.” Jones explicitly ties the movement she built around Rage Baking to racial injustice, noting that cooking and baking has historically been one of the few creative outlets afforded to black Americans. “I’m a Black woman born and partly raised in the South. Kitchens are sacred, powerful spaces to me…I’ve been taught that they hold the heart of a home and, collectively, the pulse of a community. For me, kitchens are a place for alchemy and renewal.”

According to Jones’ essay, she didn’t find out about Gunst and Alford’s project until Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, shortly before it was published, when some of her fans brought it to her attention and expressed their displeasure to Gunst and Alford directly. The following Monday, Gunst and Alford reached out to Jones through her @ragebaking Instagram account to try to explain themselves. In the screenshots of private messages that Jones included with her Medium essay, Gunst and Alford say that they “have seen a range of people using ‘rage bake’ and ‘rage baking’ independently to describe their efforts for the past several years…

We are not trying to take ownership of, or prevent the use of this term, by all those who are already use [sic] the phrase Rage Baking to describe their work. Our book carries this phrase as its title, and is a celebration of this movement.

In those same messages, Gunst and Alford also trace the first use of “rage baking” to a 2013 Tumblr post on novelist Erika Swyler’s blog the Shameful Baker. (More on that below.)

As Jones notes, “If all of this research around Rage Baking had been done prior to the book’s publication and the intention was to be a celebration of feminist women’s voices, why wasn’t I acknowledged for my efforts or contacted?” She also questions why the authors chose Rage Baking for the book’s title “when it was clear Rage Baking was taken on all social media […] How was this not brought up in a marketing meeting?” Jones takes specific issue with the fact that Rage Baking “does not mention racial justice at all” and though it has “some diversity among the book’s contributors, the marketing material on the publisher’s website ties the need, or desire, for rage baking to the 2016 election.” Jones ends her essay by asking that she be credited for her work that “sizeable donations” be made to Ali Forney Center and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, organizations that combat homophobia and racism. She also asks for donations to the Campaign against Hunger.

The Response

Food writers including Helen Rosner and Soleil Ho amplified Jones’ Medium essay on social media, and contributors to Rage Baking began to respond within a few hours. Traister wrote that when she read Jones’ essay, that she was “was livid, in large part because the issues she raises strike at the heart of issues of race, privilege and appropriation that I write about at length in Good & Mad.” She asked for her recipe to be pulled from all future editions of the collection.

Five days after Jones published her essay, Gunst, Alford, and their publisher released a joint statement reiterating that “the idea for Rage Baking developed authentically and organically.”

The intent has never been to claim ownership of the term “rage baking,” nor to erase or diminish the work of others using the phrase. Any attempt to lay claim to the term “rage baking” denies the universal pull this concept/movement has for anyone who has witnessed injustice and has channeled their outrage in the kitchen—the very reason it made for a meaningful title of the collection.

 We have heard the feedback, and in keeping with that spirit of communal activism, believe it is important to acknowledge Tangerine Jones’ contributions around the phrase in future editions of RAGE BAKING, as well as the works of others who have used the phrase in their online publishing and social media activity.

 While the authors have chosen to donate a portion of their proceeds from RAGE BAKING to EMILY’s List, we encourage our readers to support the causes and organizations they believe in, and note that Tangerine Jones has specifically cited the Ali Forney Center, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and The Campaign Against Hunger.

Gunst said in an interview with Tim Carman at the Washington Post that she and Alford were aware of Jones’ website and mentions it along with two others: Rage Bake and the Feminist Baker. That’s in line with the authors’ defense of the book, which has been that the phrase “rage baking” had been used before Jones began her project in 2015.

I reached out to Swyler, whose Tumblr Gunst and Alford had cited as the earliest use of the phrase, and she explained the context of the Tumblr post in question. “The voice in the blog is a fictional second person. I wasn’t feeling rage, I was just mashing up a pie crust and thinking about how much a pastry blender looks like brass knuckles,” Swyler said in a Twitter DM. She also said that Gunst and Alford have not contacted her about her use of the term and explained that her blog is different from Jones’ site because it’s about shame, not rage:

I began writing and baking it as a humorous response to the shame of diet culture and the “clean eating” movement. Nearly everyone has shamefully eaten cookie dough at some point or other; it felt fun to play with that. Tangerine Jones’s practice seems markedly different and comes from a cultural experience which I would never lay claim to.

It’s incredibly important to not write over or appropriate experiences, particularly when it comes to women of color, and especially in the US.

The internet has a way of appropriating black women’s language. If you are generating work with a hashtag and intend to do so for profit, you need to be very aware of potential erasure and whitewashing.

I’d prefer they had not cited me. It seems they may have missed the point.

As Preeti Mistry, one of the chef contributors to Rage Baking, told the New York Times: “There’s a larger issue of women of color, but specifically black women in America, being undervalued and overshadowed by white women who take up the brilliant things that black women create and get to profit or get famous from it.”

When Carman asked Gunst and Alford why they didn’t think to credit any of the people who had previously popularized the concept of rage baking, this is what Alford had to say:

We absolutely knew this had to be a nontraditional cookbook. We really didn’t have a lot to refer to in terms of creating a book like this. I mean, obviously, with all the discussion that’s been going on, in retrospect, we understand the importance of acknowledging our fellow rage bakers in this space and in the next imprint, we are going to do that. And this is obviously very surprising and clearly not the intent. This is not the story we wanted to create in any way, shape or form. We saw this as a pro-social tool to use and leverage our skills as professionals and as women to change the conversation around rage and baking.

When Carman asks, “What was there to lose to say, ‘We’re really sorry for any hurt this may have caused?’”, their publicist stepped in to say that “We believe fully that our joint statement from Tiller Press and Kathy and Katherine addresses those issues.” That statement notably does not include an actual apology. However, according to a screenshot that Jones posted on Twitter the day after the Washington Post interview, the authors did apologize to Jones—just not publicly.

Along with an apology and an acknowledgement that they should have included Jones in the book, the authors wrote in a private message that they will commit to donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to the charities that Jones mentioned in her Medium post. They also ask Jones if she would be interested in contributing a recipe or a piece of writing to a reprint of Rage Baking. Based on her criticisms of their apology, that does not seem likely.

The controversy is just the latest dustup over questions of ownership and opportunity in the publishing industry. Jones has updated her Twitter profile to read “The original Ragebaker.”