Monday was my birthday. We’re not going to discuss how old I am now. We’re just not. But I was fortunate enough to actually get two birthday cakes that day. The first one I received from my coworkers, who were kind enough to go to Rick’s Bakery here in Fayetteville (see guys, it’s on the blog!). The second one was made by my wife, a wonderful and decadent dark chocolate cake with creamy chocolate frosting.
I love homemade cake. I do. But there’s also something about cake from boxed mixes that I love. I think it probably reminds me of countless birthdays growing up, and how the taste of cake, even from a box, was somehow the taste of love. Of celebration. Of family.
What is it about cake? Is it some genetic impulse, a connection to our distant ancestry, gathering together as a community to share fruit in the jungle, the sweetness of ripe fruit somehow making it easy to forget the last few weeks or months of near starvation? Every mouthful of something sweet and rich is a celebration of life when life is lived near starvation. Life for humans in the Ice Age was a constant flirtation with total disaster (there’s even evidence that at one point humans were reduced to 1000 breeding pairs; think about that).
Or is it more general? Does it go beyond cake? I think it does. In honor of birthdays in our family we have a tradition where the birthday person gets to choose where we go for a special celebratory dinner. I chose to go to Shogun, a Japanese restaurant. Isn’t that what family is, and community? Coming together. Breaking bread (or wooly mammoth, whatever).
All over the world, no matter where you go, people gather together, as families, to celebrate milestones, births, graduations, birthdays. They even gather together to celebrate those who have passed. And food is our constant companion, the thing we gather over. I find this universality comforting. We’re all the same, really. Not so different, no matter what divides us, we can all find common ground and build community.
So the next time you have a birthday celebration think about that. Yes, it’s your family celebrating, as you eat birthday cake. But humanity is your family, too. We should ALL celebrate.
(Next time I write something about cake I promise I’ll include a recipe)