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Having our cake and eating it too: the use of cake as tool for socialist activism

Elise Shepley explores how cake has been used as a tool of socialist activism, tracing it's history from castles to kitchens to instagram. 

von Elise Shepley, 11.02.2023

“We won’t settle for crumbs. We want the whole cake.”

Thus ends the collaborative video between the German branch of the Enough is Enough movement, Genug ist Genug, and anonymous Berlin-based political activist and hobbyist baker Commie Mommy. An outspoken intersectional anti-capitalist, her often whimsical, always impressive cakes make use of communist-inspired slogans and signifiers to impart political messages which last long after the cake has been eaten. Her cakes can be requested, not bought, and the project is funded solely through voluntary donations. It seems natural for her to collaborate with Genug ist Genug, a leading group campaigning for measures to be taken against widening social and financial inequality, and demanding institutional protection for vulnerable groups struggling to afford the rising costs of living.

Commie Mommy’s operation began as recently as 2021, yet she has quickly gained a cult following in Berlin. What i’s so intriguing about her activism is that its sturdy foundations are built on airy layers of sponge and delicate licks of icing. And she’s not the only creative artist turning to cake as a tool for social commentary. Over Across the Atlantic, the underground magazine Cake Zine is a new artistic and literary print publication which explores “history, pop culture, literature, and art through dessert.” Their first edition, Sexy Cake, looked at the relationship between cake and themes of sexuality, seduction, and erotica. Their second, Wicked Cake, “explores the sinister side of sweets,” and creatively investigates longstanding connections between cake and morality. This includes its the status of cakes as a quintessentially demonised food within diet culture, which idolises thinness and, as a result, attempts to imbue foods with certain moral values.

The growing trend to make use of the cultural and political resonance of this baked good begs the question: why cake? What is it about this food in particular which makes it so ripe for personal, cultural, and political reflection?

A tentative explanation might begin in eighteenth century France. “Let them eat cake!” are the words indelibly ascribed to Marie-Antoinette, spoken in the face of a starving population. Not that she ever actually said this, but her monarchy’s commitment to upholding vast inequality that benefiteding only the most elite social strata is undeniable. The lore surrounding these words solidified the historic symbolism of cake as a delicacy reserved for the rich, tantalisingly dangled in front of poorer classes as a reminder not just of the indulgences, but indeed the basic standards of living which they could not access.

And yet, the French masses rose up, revolted, and demanded political progress to protect the working classes. At the same time, baking ingredients gradually became cheaper and more widely available: by the end of the nineteenth century, cake was considered less of a luxury, and was instead becoming something which ordinary people could enjoy. With its roots as a delicacy reserved for the elite, cake retained an elevated air and so was entrenched as a go-to celebratory treat, enjoyed at birthdays, weddings, and other gatherings. Here in Germany, it became further baked into the country’s culture over the course of the nineteenth century through the establishment of the Kaffee und Kuchen tradition, the act of communing with friends and family over coffee and cake in the afternoon.

The crux of the cake’s enduring power seems clear: it is a delicacy which is made to be shared. It is baked as a labour of love for a close-knit group, it is designed to be divided equally between guests — everyone is included, everyone gets a slice.

From this point of view, the potential for drawing out socialist imagery from the cake starts to become very apparent. Adding to this the origins of the food as a symbol of elite exclusivity, appropriated by the masses as a celebration of community joy, the possibilities of playing with this socialist symbolism become downright irresistible.

People had been harnessing the political potential of cake long before twenty-first century activists and intellectuals sunk their teeth into it. The most infamous example of cake activism may come from the Belgian writer, critic, and entarteur Noël Godin, who, in the late twentieth century, made a project of throwing whipped cream tarts at public figures he deemed objectionable. (We could get into the semantics of tart vs pie vs cake, but I’m willing to categorise Godin’s spongy whipped cream patisseries under the larger umbrella of ‘cake’ here.) His work started as a way to react against "empty celebrities from the artistic world,” with early victims including the French writers Marguerite Duras and Jean-Luc Godard. Over the decades, his work became increasingly political with attacks on journalists, religious figures, and politicians, including Nicolas Sarkozy in 1997.

The project arguably culminated in the targeting of Bill Gates in 1998, whom Godin refers to disdainfully as “the master of the world.” He expresses disappointment that Gates “could have been a utopist,” but chose instead to become “the lackey of the establishment.” As he expresses it, “the attack against [Gates] is symbolic, it's against hierarchical power itself.” 

In using cake as his weapon, Godin was picking up on its historical connection with the out-of-touch elite in an explicitly political way. With his cake-attacks, he embodied the dissatisfaction of the masses and quite literally shoved the elitism of the rich and powerful back in their faces. Godin’s activism symbolises a re-appropriation of the infamous words ascribed to Marie-Antoinette, taken to a literal extreme. Now, they are spoken from the perspective of the working-class masses with reference to the elite: “Let them eat cake.”

There was a certain intimacy in these attacks, in which Godin insisted that the cakes were not to be thrown, but “put point-blank in the face of the victim.” There was also a deliberate playfulness in humbling a self-important French artist or powerful businessman with a mess of cake to the face. The attacks were intended to be as ridiculous as they were politically resonant. As the entarteur himself put it, “everything is awful around us, so let's try to have fun.”

Troublingly, Godin's sentiment from 1998 that “everything is awful around us” has in no doubt endured, and in many ways worsened in the present day. The current effects of inflation are more keenly felt by a larger proportion of the population than ever. Rising costs such as rent and energy prices are being pushed onto individual citizens with minimal government assistance, while real earnings are decreasing.

Hence the need for organisations such as Genug ist Genug to advocate for the basic standards of living for the people most affected by rising costs. Hence the need for activists and critics like Commie Mommy calling out the injustices of governments not doing enough to protect their citizens. Hence the need for small comforts and moments of community celebration through simple rituals like baking and sharing a cake.

While today’s cake activists are, like Godin, quick to acknowledge that “everything is awful,” they are also not neglecting his appeal to “try to have fun.” Their specific approaches to activism may differ from Godin’s day, but this sense of whimsy is a common thread. Cake Zine examines socio-cultural topics with serious intellectualism, while also dedicating many of its pages to entertaining art, fictional flights of fancy, and delicious recipes. Similarly, Commie Mommy’s urgent political message is consistently packaged with playfulness and a sense of humour.

Our associations of joy and celebration with cake are indelible, and they inevitably seep into its every use as a tool for political commentary. In fact, even more than its roots as a symbol for the elite which became re-appropriated by the masses, it is this undeniable joy, this sense of celebration, this ability to provide community care, which makes cake such a compelling tool for socialist activism today. Let this be a reminder that everyone deserves a slice.


If you are interested in cakes, Elise recommends Claire Saffiz's Dessert Person. If you are interested in socialism, Elise recommends subscribing to Jacobin. Cake Zine will soon be available in-store at She said!