“Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women’s Voices” is one of the most hyped cookbooks/essay collections of the year, but Tangerine Jones, a black woman who began using the phrase “rage baking” years ago in response to racial injustice, isn’t credited
“Rage baking” makes a sort of intuitive sense. Rage is the dominant feeling in response to most politics nowadays, with the the failure of impeachment and the presidential primaries providing endless new things to be furious about. Baking is one of the most cathartic and rewarding hobbies imaginable, resulting in sheets of sweet and savory carbs. The comfort of baking seems a natural balm for anger. However, over the weekend the conversation about rage baking illuminated a new kind of rage, about who gets credit for their inventions, and what kinds of people are rewarded for having rage.
The controversy surrounding the “Rage Baking” book
On February 4, Simon & Schuster published Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women’s Voices. Edited by Katherine Alford, a former vice president at Food Network, and Kathy Gunst of NPR’s Here and Now, the book features essays and recipes from women to explore how “baking can be an outlet for expressing our feelings about the current state of our society,” specifically in relation to the 2016 election. Contributors include food industry professionals like Ruth Reichl, Dorie Greenspan, and Preeti Mistry, and other well-known writers and artists like Rebecca Traister and Ani Difranco. The book “encourages women to use sugar and sass as a way to defend, resist, and protest.” It is already a No. 1 best-seller on Amazon.
Then, on February 14, blogger and baker Tangerine Jones published an essay on Medium titled “The Privilege of Rage,” outlining how she coined the phrase “rage baking” back in 2015, and watched as Alford and Gunst’s book was published to great acclaim as her work went unacknowledged. Jones, a black woman, wrote that “Being black in America means you’re solid in the knowledge that folks don’t give a true flying fuck about you or anyone who looks like you,” and that she turned to baking as a form of self care. In 2015, she started posting online with the hashtag #ragebaking, and started the @ragebaking Instagram account in the summer of 2016. “Rage Baking is about expressing anger, but also healing in real ways,” Jones told Eater over email.
Jones says she was never contacted about the book, but after fans of hers responded to Gunst’s use of #ragebaking on Instagram, she received a DM from Gunst and Alford attempting to explain themselves. In Jones’s screenshots, Gunst and Alford (who are both white) say they saw the phrase “rage baking” used independently for years, and that the book is meant to be a “celebration of this movement.” But Jones writes that this “celebration” erases her use of the phrase as specifically related to racial injustice, and asks “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?”
”Rage Baking” contributors respond
Jones, as of publishing, has about 1,400 followers on Instagram, many of which appear to have shown up after she published her piece on Medium. But many in the food writing community amplified Jones’s post, thus amplifying the question of ownership and crediting. Many have criticized the book for whitewashing, making the “rage” in rage baking about politics in general and not specifically racial injustice. They’ve also highlighted the fact that Jones had the Instagram handle @ragebaking, the Twitter handle @ragebaked, and the website ragebaking.com. (Eater has reached out to Simon & Schuster with questions about the publishing house’s research process. We did not hear back by the time of publication.)
“Why did they choose Rage Baking as the title of the book when it was clear Rage Baking was taken on all social media and I’d been the top hit for Rage Baking for years? How was this not brought up in a marketing meeting?”
— Helen Rosner (@hels) February 18, 2020
I am still so angry about this thievery—this predictable, reoccurring thievery—and the entire culture of liberal white women confusing their post-2016 sense of disenfranchisement with any real political action or meaning. https://t.co/OuL776dLUD
— alicia kennedy (@aliciakennedy) February 18, 2020
— Preeti Mistry (@chefpmistry) February 18, 2020
The book’s contributors, who were compensated for their work, have also begun to speak out. Preeti Mistry tweeted they are “not too proud” they worked on the book, after reading about Jones. “I am intimately aware of how we, WOC, are so often uncredited or totally erased for the creativity, energy and intelligence we bring to so many industries,” they said. “Why was she not given the opportunity to be a part of this book via an interview, essay, recipe, etc? Why was there no outreach at all until she heard about the book?”
Lisa Ludwinski (Young Gun ’15) of Sister Pie in Detroit posted to her shop’s Facebook page about the situation, writing that she signed on to the book originally because she “felt energized by the idea of using baking and food as a way to fully feel [her] emotions, and to bring folks together.” However, she tells Eater that on January 20 she was made aware of Jones after Gunst and Alford sent an email to contributors “informing us that people had been posting and commenting about Tangerine Jones and @ragebaking.”
Ludwinski says she responded asking Gunst and Alford what their plans were, and that she argued they should be publicly recognizing Jones and her work. “I certainly can empathize with both sides of the conversation here, but there is some form of justice due toward Tangerine Jones,” says Ludwinski. “I fully support Jones’s request to be credited and have publishers donate to some charities of her choice.”
Blogger Katie Anthony also wrote that she was initially thrilled to sign on to the book, but “what I didn’t know then, and have since learned, is that rage baking as activism, or channeling pain into healing acts of nurturing, nourishment, and community care, has a deep history in the kitchens of Black women and other women of color.” Anthony notes that Jones has requested both recognition and donations to a few charities, and asks her readers “if I am the reason you heard about Rage Baking the book, then please, please, please let me be one of the people who continues to amplify the work of Tangerine Jones.”
— Katie Anthony (@yokatykatikate) February 18, 2020
Osayi Endolyn, a contributor and former Eater editor, told Eater that Jones’s work “probably should have been cited” if the editors knew about her beforehand. However, that wouldn’t have necessarily translated to Jones being asked to contribute: “I totally appreciate that this is a book with contributors who are established professionals in the food and food media space, and it is up to them to decide who they want to include. And I’m proud of my essay and the story that it relates about my mother and grandmother,” Endolyn says, noting she hopes the industry “can figure out how to involve more people” in projects like this in the future.
It’s not hard to find instances of black people, specifically black women, being erased from their own work. One has to simply look at all the work activist Tarana Burke has had to do to remind the world she coined the phrase #MeToo. Or the erasure of black trans women from an art exhibit about HIV/AIDS. Or how Mark Bittman was called out for ripping off the name and design of a feminist magazine, Salty, for his Medium publication, which has since been rebranded to Heated. Jones never claims to have invented the phrase “rage baking,” but her post taps into this history.
Eater has reached out to Gunst and Alford, but so far neither of them have made any public statement. On Amazon, a few reviewers have begun giving the book one star, with one writing, “I hope my review can serve as a warning to not buy this book but get it from your local library and create a market for books where women support each other instead of stealing.”
But others note that the book does feel like women supporting women. A portion of the proceeds are being donated to Emily’s List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democrat women to office, and though Jones dismisses it as having “some diversity,” the book’s contributor list features numerous black women authors, as well as other women of color.
However, Jones tells Eater that it’s easier for white women to publish a book about rage. “There are huge consequences when [black women] express our rage because we’re seen as threatening,” she said in an email, even noting that her post likely wouldn’t have been as popular “if I wasn’t code switching and couching my profound disappointment and anger in ‘eloquent’ ways.” And while she’s heartened by the responses she’s been getting, “I don’t think the publishing world is ready to deal with or package black women’s anger in ways that are easily digestible and commodified.”
The situation highlights just how few options anyone has when they feel they aren’t being recognized for their work, when they are disenfranchised, and how limiting and polarizing those options are. Jones’s platform is nothing compared to two women who have worked for major radio and TV stations, and while she can write a viral post on Medium, that’s not a book contract. However, Rage Baking does feel like an attempt to center women’s voices in an industry where women, and especially black women and other women of color, are still woefully underrepresented in virtually every space. It would have been very easy for the editors to include a sentence noting Jones’s work, and their not doing so (or it not even occurring to them that this was an option) now risks tainting the project as a whole.
Jones says she hopes “accountability isn’t limited to this project, but that publishing as a whole considers how it mines creativity, especially from marginalized voices.” She also says while it’s been upsetting, she isn’t going to stop baking. “It’s about making connections and creating space and community,” she says. “I’m challenging myself and others to find ways to do that both small and large.”