Inedible Cakes Projects

Inedible Cakes, an essay

Exhibition Booklet Essay, Inedible Cakes, February 2020

Creator: Kay Slater
Exhibition: Inedible Cakes
Published: February 2020
Format: Written English
Content Advisories: Curse word, language around eating disorders, and body representation.

And so, one afternoon in the fall of 2019, I shared my struggles and thoughts with my collective colleagues. We had just completed our first public, narrative fiction salon, and were excited to continue the momentum with more open-call, creative events. I decided to pitch my idea for an art salon around food and thus Inedible Cakes was conceived.

Kay Slater

Description of the Work

Kay writes about their inspiration for the event theme, their struggles with food, and visualizations around privilege.

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Project: Inedible Cakes, Exhibition Booklet

Inedible Cakes, an essay

It all started with a “cake smash” party.

I do not have children. I regularly work with children and parents as an artist and preparator, and it is impossible to participate or consume any kind of media without having a little exposure to suburban family life. I was still completely unprepared for a cake smash party.

When I was invited, I had assumed that the ritual involved a piece of cake being provided to the child where after hilarity would be captured on film to then trade for likes and shares online. I stood around awkwardly waiting for the rite to start. Uninterested in the gendered kitchen dance that preceded the event, I hid in corners and in empty rooms worried I would be roped into small talk. Half deaf, losing my hearing, uninterested in this family ritual, and sweating with the impending invitation to eat in front of other people; I was not in the best frame of mind when we were all called to the main event.

To my silent horror, I watched as two fully iced cakes were pulled from the fridge. How was I going to resist being offered a piece from two cakes? Would I be able to stop myself from having more than one or two pieces if the cake was ever left unattended? As my sugar addiction and compulsive eating habits celebrated, I was so distracted that I missed any clues as to what was actually about to transpire. 

Struggling to keep my forced smile from turning into a gaping maw, one entire cake was placed in front of the birthday child who was then encouraged to smack and smash it into pulp. People cackled and encouraged the child with applause. The camera flashed, and the remains of the cake was eventually pulled away from the shell-shocked youth who knew not to what they had been complicit. While the birthday baby was wiped down (too much sugar was bad news for baby), the scene seemed to slow down as the grandmother moved towards the kitchen counter, and with the skill of a bass drum player, she stomped down on the garbage bin foot pedal to dispose of the mashed remains of the entirely untasted cake.

Part of me was relieved that half the temptation had been eliminated. The rest of me was shook that an entire cake had been purchased for this spectacle. It opened a thought cabinet wherein I began to collect thoughts, opinions, and observations around rituals of food in the coming years. Catering jobs or group meals where I would watch food discarded because of small blemishes or due to unevenness that would cause an imperfection in the final presentation. Employment in a bakery where employees were forced to discount imperfectly shaped bagels or throw away trays of slightly scorched pastries (they wouldn’t be bought anyways). For more than a decade, I was entrenched in the world of Advertising where these behaviours were commodified, and used to sell more of the same.

A few years back, I started to get a handle on my eating habits following some therapy, and some extreme weight loss spurred on by daily back pain and the threat of surgery. Unfortunately, this exposed me to a new world of voluntary starvation, body dysmorphia, exercise addiction, and food anxiety. I had moved away from stashing spoons in my side drawers to hide the stolen scoops of peanut butter or icing I had scored from the fridge to seeing how long I could go without solid food altogether. However, through all of this, I have never said aloud that I have an eating disorder. I would probably argue with you in person, even now as you pointed at this essay. I was just fat, and I struggled the same as everyone else, all of us being bombarded with simultaneous messages to consume and be beautiful (or else). And then I was skinny, finally allowed to feel at home in a body that I didn’t recognize when I looked in the mirror, ever hungry, and terrified to be invited out to eat in public. I didn’t want one more thing pinned to my social identity, and while I continued to be able to show up to my various workplaces and get through my day with a smile – what was a little self-imposed starvation followed by some shame eating at home? It remains a complicated thing for me to eat, and I know I am not alone. The shared commiseration between friends about finding clothes that fit. The soft-anger when someone brings over treats. The frustration at solving hunger with an unwise, convenient food fix due to being time starved. Snacks left out in the office. The work to stay informed about food trends and nutrition. The lack of trust between consumer and producer. It’s exhausting – no wonder we’re so fucked up about food.

And so, one afternoon in the fall of 2019, I shared my struggles and thoughts with my collective colleagues. We had just completed our first public, narrative fiction salon, and were excited to continue the momentum with more open-call, creative events. I decided to pitch my idea for an art salon around food and thus Inedible Cakes was conceived.

We, all of us, carry a unique lived experience and perspective. I really wanted to learn more about how others thought about and responded to this theme without too many definitions or restrictions. We are told to consider and unpack our privilege so that we can better understand our position relative to those around us. As a visual person, I imagined all the elements I pulled from my backpack, laid around me in a big circle. Some of the items were very light, signifying the opportunities and advantages I had in life. They were easy to carry around, and allowed me to move easily through public spaces. The colour of my skin. The trust I had from organizations who had hired me. My access to education. Then I looked at the other, heavier and larger pieces. These ones weighed me down and took up a lot of space, making it difficult for me and others to sometimes acknowledge how the lighter objects act as tickets, access-passes, and social coin. They are not equal and they do not cancel each other out. They each exist on their own. This time, instead of putting them back into my imagined backpack, I decided to stack them up in front of me. No longer neatly packed away, they became a translucent layer cake, balanced in my arms as I stood up to face the next thing. These layers that make up who I am, what I have, how I am able to travel, and how I carry myself feel more present and are harder to forget compared to when they are jumbled together in a single container on my back. Somedays, my body will be tired and the heavier layers will keep me from achieving my goals, especially as they are pushed back into my face like a pie, blinding me with whipped cream. Other days, I’ll meet with someone who has no smaller, light layers. Only stacks upon stacks of slab cake, unable to move due to their precarious weight and I’ll realize that I have the capacity to make room or offer to carry some of that weight while they move past. It is my genuine hope, by continuing to host these open-call salons, that I will have the opportunity to meet folks whose cake layers differ in shape and size from my own, and I’ll have a chance to offer them a place to rest their loads – even for a single night.

– Kay Slater, February 2020

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