A twisted tale only recently came to our attention, but feels especially relevant today as Paula Deen and her loyal following celebrate her new weekly Fox & Friends’ segment, “America Cooks Together”—you know, because Paula Deen is such a great American unifier.
But we promised you a story, so here it goes, albeit a couple of months after the fact: Just as the COVID-19 crisis was wending its way into America this February, Katherine Alford, a former vice president at Food Network, and Kathy Gunst, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, published a tome titled Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women’s Voices (Tiller Press). According to its description on Amazon, the book includes “50+ recipes, short essays, and quotes from some of the best bakers, activists, and outspoken women in our country today—this cookbook encourages women to use sugar and sass as a way to defend, resist, and protest.”
The book’s authors are both white women (not an insult, just necessary context), and the notable women featured in Rage Baking include activists, authors and well-known chefs and bakers—including Dorie Greenspan, Ruth Reichl, Carla Hall, Genevieve Ko, Ani Difranco, Rebecca Traister, Cecile Richards, Marti Noxon and more, the synopsis boasted. But of the many women included, nowhere among them was Tangerine Jones, the black woman who popularized the phrase (h/t Eater).
On Valentine’s Day of this year, Jones addressed the omission and called out the unapologetic appropriation of the phrase and branding she began publicly using in 2015—including starting a hashtag, Instagram account and website, as well as a Go Fund Me and ingredient donation program that enabled her to “rage bake” for social justice organizations. Cookbook author Gunst purportedly even followed Jones on Instagram, where the hashtag was used liberally. In an op-ed on Medium titled “The Privilege of Rage” Jones wrote:
In 2015, I started Rage Baking because, quite frankly, I didn’t know what else to do. I’d done all the things and I didn’t know what more I could do with my grief, disappointment and rage. Being black in America means you’re solid in the knowledge that folks don’t give a true flying f**k about you or anyone who looks like you. That you’re never truly seen or valued. That you’re never afforded your humanity in the face of unspeakable things. Still, it’s one thing to know that and another thing to have that knowledge reaffirmed, broadcast from all sides and to watch folks choose apathy and their own comfort when presented with the unassailable truth. I can’t quite put into words what that does to one’s spirit. What it does to the tiny ember of hope held that one day there will be actual progress, justice or change. I was worn out and feeling defeated and I know I wasn’t alone. It all felt Sisyphean. It didn’t seem that there was any way to reach through folks’ apathy or fatigue and into their hearts and minds.
I turned to my kitchen because, personally, it’s one of the places I commune with my ancestors. I’m a Black woman born and partly raised in the South. Kitchens are sacred, powerful spaces to me. They are places of history and healing, of community and connection, of resistance and revolution, of transformation and truth. 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. My kitchen was a safe space to cry, punch and set things on fire so I could go out and continue to face the f**kery outside. When you feel as if you’re about to explode, that energy has to go somewhere. I didn’t want to lose myself to the fury. I definitely didn’t want to swallow it or have it eat me from the inside or destroy my capacity to demonstrate love and openness. I’ve seen too many folks implode from the pain and exhaustion. Black folks are never allowed to admit when we’re tired and why and we’re certainly not afforded our legitimate and justified rage. I didn’t just want to take out my anger, hurt , and frustration. I wanted to channel it and move through it. I wanted to get my heart right, renew my hope and find a way forward...
Jones went on to explain that as Alford and Gunst’s book was promoted—ironically, over MLK weekend—her own longtime followers responded in outrage in hopes of having Jones properly credited as the originator of the phrase, in much the same way our community rallied to give Tarana Burke proper credit for creating #MeToo. But instead of graciously conceding, publicly apologizing and attempting to course-correct by at least sharing credit with Jones, Alford and Gunst instead sent a series of private messages to the baker-activist, not only insisting that “rage baking” had already commonly been in use but even citing a 2013 usage in a blog called “Shameful Baking”—as if it somehow negated Jones being best identified with the phrase. (Jones noted that at least one of the sources cited by Alford and Gunst happened to be another of her followers on social media.)
“It’s been really hard to see Rage Baking whitewashed with a tinge of diversity, co-opted, monetized and my impact erased and minimized under the veneer of feminism and uplifting women’s voices,” Jones wrote, later adding:
If Rage Baking is a movement, it’s one that was initially catalyzed by my physical and emotional labor in a major city and in an influential group of people. It is one that was started with the simple act of being kind and encouraging in the darkest of times. I am not at all surprised that my kindness has been overshadowed by the actions of well-intended white women. That my rage and pain has been claimed as their own and their voices centered, uplifted and prioritized. It just demonstrates whose rage is most valued and who is allowed to express it freely.
We’ve seen this before—and to be fair, it’s not always white women who are the perpetrators. For instance, the dispute over the origin and usage of “Black Girl Magic” is almost exclusively a black debate that reflects the classism within our ranks. But we’ve also seen it with Paula Deen, a white woman who made millions promoting the type of Southern cooking originated by enslaved black people working in the ‘big house,’ and slapping an idyllic, whitewashed façade over it. It brings to mind Sally Hemings’ brother James, also owned by Thomas Jefferson: a classically trained yet enslaved chef who is credited with popularizing macaroni and cheese in antebellum America. So, too, the legions of black women who worked in white Southern homes post-slavery as domestics, feeding and caring for the homes and children of generations of America’s leaders.
By her own account, those are times Paula Deen would gladly revisit; an era where delectable meals were conceived, produced and served by black hands, while the white gentry took credit for their deliciousness and appeal. While we’re not accusing feminists as undoubtedly woke as Alford and Gunst of this type of shameless entitlement, we also won’t ignore the unbroken thread that runs between those who profit from black labor and intellectual property, no matter whether liberal or conservative. While nothing Fox & Friends does at this point surprises us, neither does it shock us that whiteness will almost always find a way to prosper, in and of itself.
Still, sometimes, there are rare moments of vindication. Despite being “one of the most hyped cookbooks/essay collections of the year,” according to Eater, in the three months since its publication, Rage Baking’s Amazon rating (2.5 stars) remains in shambles as reviewers ask why Jones is in no way credited or included. And while Paula Deen has found a new job among “her kind of people,” somewhere in Brooklyn, The Root’s Managing Editor Genetta Adams is pulling several loaves of freshly baked bread out of her oven. It’s just one of many constructive ways we move forward...maybe it’s all the rage.