Culinary stewardship and the wisdom of the cake pop

By Danielle Tumminio
Posted Nov 26, 2012
Danielle Tumminio

Danielle Tumminio

[Episcopal News Service] Perhaps you know of the cake pop, that delectable treat composed of cake shaped like a donut hole, dipped in frosting and pierced with a lollipop stick to create a one-bite, calorie-dense, sugar-rich treat.

Kind of like a petit four on a stick.

Now cake pops and I have something of a torturous relationship—observe a typical inner dialogue:

Responsible Self: There is no nutritional value in this cake pop, and therefore you should not eat it.

Sweet Tooth Self: But the frosting is so colorful.

Responsible Self: It’s probably made with lard.

Sweet Tooth Self: So?  This is about deliciousness.

Responsible Self: I don’t think deliciousness is a word.

Sweet Tooth Self: You are far too serious for your own good.

Responsible Self: And you lack common sense.  The purpose of eating is nourishment not delight—grab some carrots and hummus if you’re hungry.

Sweet Tooth Self: The cake pop tastes better than carrots and hummus.

Responsible Self: Two words for you—garlic hummus.  God’s great culinary creation.  Rich in protein.  Rich in taste.

Sweet Tooth Self: Two words back to you—cake pop.

Responsible Self: I still don’t think deliciousness is a word.

Sweet Tooth Self: And I think that you cannot live on garlic hummus and carrots alone.

With the holidays upon us, it occurs to me that my struggle with the cake pop can be a metaphor for what many of us experience when we sit down to the holiday meal: We want to enjoy stuffing and pumpkin pie, but we also worry about tightening pants and cholesterol levels, about whether we can chase children and grandchildren in games of tag if indulgence compromises our health.

Put into Christian terms, we wonder if culinary decadence is really a good use of our resources, if it shows good culinary stewardship.

And yet, there is so much deliciousness that accompanies homemade whipped cream and molasses-rich pecan pie.  So how do we discern what healthy culinary stewardship looks like?

During this holiday season, as I reflect upon what it means to practice culinary stewardship, the word delight keeps popping into my mind.  Yes, it’s important to eat for nourishment, and indeed, when we have resources to provide that nourishing meal for ourselves, we owe thanks to God.

But God also created humans to delight in them, to be overjoyed at our creativity and our ability to love.  And because we are made in God’s image, that means that we are made for delight as well—to delight in the many gifts God offers to us, from meaningful relationships to perfectly tuned music, from vibrant sunsets to the smell of the forest after rain, and yes, from pumpkin pie to homemade stuffing and even the cake pop.

So what if we thought about such culinary delights the way we think about other gifts we’ve been given?  Here’s what I mean: When we talk about financial stewardship, tithing often comes up, the idea that we gift 10 percent of our financial resources to support the ministries of the church.  There is delight in that gift:   delight in knowing that lives will be transformed from our generosity.  What if we applied the same principle to our culinary lives, so that 10 percent of what we consume is reserved for cake pops or ice cream or french fries, those marvelous culinary gifts that don’t offer much in the way of nutrition but do offer pure joy?

Ideally, of course, those foods that offer delight and those foods that offer health benefits would overlap, so that every bite becomes a fusion of delight and nutrition.  And, of course, many times they do (despite what my Sweet Tooth Self would have you think, I genuinely adore garlic hummus).  But in those moments when pure delight is what we crave, perhaps it’s okay—say 10 percent of the time—to give in.  And as we giggle when the cake pop or hot fudge sundae or tiramisu touches our lips, I like to think God delights in that moment as well.

– The Rev. Danielle Tumminio lectures at Yale University and is the author of “God and Harry Potter at Yale.” She currently serves as an interim associate at St. Anne in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

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