Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An unfortunate cupcake incident, or, how do you turn down bad baked goods?

Those of you who know me well know that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Most people (myself included) find that odd, considering that I love to bake. I have always been this way – my aversion to sweets is definitely not something that I developed as an adult in order to avoid calories. On those rare occasions I do eat something sweet, it is something that is amazingly good - chocolates from Jacques Torres, homemade cakes and cupcakes, or confections from Citizen Cake or Pix Patisserie.

Now that you know that about me, let me tell you a little story…



Today at work, we belatedly celebrated the birthday of a coworker. Our office manager brought in some cupcakes: a tray of 12 supermarket cupcakes, of which half were vanilla, half were chocolate, and all of them were topped with crusty plain American buttercream frosting that was airbrushed with fluorescent color (I'm not kidding) and topped off with pastel confetti sprinkles; and 12 homemade chocolate cupcakes (and by homemade, I mean that is was very likely boxed mix and frosting from a can). Regardless of the source, I don’t like chocolate cake – I’ve only eaten a few incarnations of chocolate cake, and those were either my own creation or that of a talented pastry chef in NYC – and I certainly don’t like any cupcakes from boxed mix or supermarket cupcakes. (The photo at left is pretty much what the cupcakes looked like, except try to imagine a spray of fluorescent red or yellow color on top. Go ahead, imagine it. It's gross, isn't it?)


Everyone took a “homemade” chocolate cupcake and I sat there hoping that no one would notice that I didn’t take one. Clearly my hoping failed – the office manager asked me if I wanted a chocolate cupcake. I said, “No, I don’t like chocolate cake,” to which she replied, “OK, here’s a vanilla one then” as she plunked down in front of me one of the scary supermarket cupcakes.

Everyone else in the room devoured their cupcakes as I sat there avoiding mine. I really hoped no one would notice this, either, but that, too, failed – the woman next to me said “Aren’t you going to eat your cupcake?” At this moment, I realized that I was probably giving them the impression that I’m one of those annoying girls who refuses to eat baked goods in order to maintain her figure, which is totally not who I am. So I did something I really did not want to do – I ate the freaking cupcake.

I only ate about a third of it, but it was a very very painful third of a cupcake. The cake itself was horrible – it didn’t taste like vanilla but rather of shortening and sugar, and the texture was spongy (and not in a good way). The frosting was beyond words – it was really crusty and tasted of shortening and sugar, and the fluorescent spray color on it certainly didn’t help. I nibbled at the cupcake and then, thinking that no one was looking, I wrapped up the remainder in a paper towel. I was totally caught – the office manager saw me ball up the paper towel and attempt to hide it under my hand, and she also saw me walk out of the room and throw it away.

Now, I know that this is not a huge deal, but I can’t help but feel rude for this.

So my question to you is this: what would you have done in this situation? If I didn’t hate chocolate cake so much, I would have eaten one of the “homemade ones,” but I couldn’t bring myself to eat one of those because they would have been doubly disgusting to me. In addition to a situation like this, what would you do in any situation in which the food you are presented is not good, at least to your palate?

14 comments:

Jon said...

Tell them you don't react well to some common, polysyllabic preservative and, thus, you avoid store-bought stuff. It's the perfect excuse. :)

Rachel said...

I never eat those sorts of things, I just say I am not hungry or that I don't want one. I can't imagine anyone getting offended by you not eating a store bought cupcake. It is not like they made it especially for you. I just can't be worried that someone would would think negatively of because I wouldn't eat some baked good. I don't think saying you are not hungry or don't want it is rude at all. What is rude is trying to force someone to eat something they don't want.

Alternately, you could lie and say you are allergic to certain food dyes and don't want to take a chance. Of course then you have to avoid all garishly colored foods in the future but I bet you do anyway.

kristen said...

i would just give that 'i'm not feeling well' or 'my stomach is bothering me' answer.

however, i'm not a snob and i never turn down baked goods, no matter what. lol.

roopa said...

Jon - Good idea. I should have said I'm allergic to fluorescent food dye, ha ha.

Rachel - It's not very easy to explain what my coworkers are like - they are a diverse crowd and it's also a small office (under 20 people) so getting along nicely is imperative. I definitely would have come off as being a huge snob had I not even attempted to eat one of those cupcakes, and so I just sucked it up and ate the damn thing so that I wouldn't have to have my coworkers think ill of me because I have refined taste. ;)

Kristen - There is no way you would have eaten that cupcake. It looked stale and radioactive. Nasty.

xiao zhu said...

This has happened to me on more than 1 occasion too. (It's usually bland store bought chocolate cake that I abhor.) I'll usually take it and tell everyone "I'm saving it for later!" and fake a smile and an interest in the aforementioned cake. At least this way, no one's feelings get hurt, and the cake remains seemingly unwasted.

suguna said...

But - you are writing about it right now? In plain language, describing all details? It is a common mistake to think "that nobody can ever notice or recognize", and adding the fact, that you are most likely blogging about things from your everyday life... Actually, there were once some scientists, who made some equations, about how many people are necessary to "get caught" while thinking you are "anonymous". And what was the answer? 7! Usually it takes seven people connected with one another or through other places and people, and you will be "caught" and recognized. Your manager certainly knows about computers and internet? And has friends using computers? And is checking sometimes your working computer?

Ok, so why not just telling a lie, that you are "on diet"? How should this situation else "end good"? You hate disgusting cake - but you do not want to offend the manager - and you do not want to be seen as "on diet". Do you see ANY solution here? In chess, they would say this is a standoff situation, there is no simple solution, except probably any super-magic tricks making the cupcake disappear, some people may probably know something like that, but if you would be one of those, you would have another job I suppose.

So, you now punish yourself openly online for not being able to handle a situation without a solution. Not to speak about that it was at work, you certainly did not have enough time to think about all, what to do... you tried frantically to fit in - everywhere. That's impossible without superhuman powers! You are completely innocent and you had no escape from this!

I can see so far only one solution for this (in future) - to choose the least "bad choice", pretending being on a diet. I think that offending the manager would be always the worst choice, or not? And eating disgusting food is second bad, humiliating and self-destructive.

Other excuses could have been: "sick and cannot eat sweets right now" or "detox and diet from a doctor".

BTW. I do not think that "no one gets offended if you say no", like suggested - quite the contrary, they DO get offended, and that is the reason why you were in such trouble! For the plain reason, if you do not eat, there is a something suspected. Usually people do not accept "not hungry" if it comes to sweets, sweets are extras, eaten even if you are "full".

So if you say no, you say that you do not like the sweets OR that you have an eating disorder, and ate so much already during the day, that you cannot take one single bite more OR that you are on diet OR that you are sick and cannot eat them OR, lastly, that you have probably strict religious reasons not to eat something (but difficult to come up suddenly with a religion, while unseen before).

So, I do not see a solution, especially in such a short time. You were trapped in an stupid and almost cruel situation, and obviously the climate at work is not really good, since there was not one bit of support...

Why not telling them what you are telling now anyway, in the end? That you very seldom eat sweets, and that you ate already enough his month or something like that? Even if they would still believe that you are dieting...

People and food and a working place - this is always VERY difficult to handle. It is almost always necessary to compromise. Only if you have colleagues and managers who are like a real family, with similar loves and dislikes, then you could maybe handle something and they would also quickly understand that something is not right, and not offer you extra cupcakes or ask why you do not eat.

I must say, I suppose those people were disgusted themselves, and they did not wanted to LET you escape unseen, that's the situation... If I would see you struggle, I would just say something like "Ha, ha, you ate already, not waiting for the good cupcakes" or "Oh, you must have sorrows because of...., so your appetite is gone, so sad you cannot taste them" or "Let me eat this one too, if you are not hungry anymore" etc..., and you would be saved from humiliation...

Kathy said...

Around my workplace, I'm known as a bit of a food snob, so I would either have said a plain, "no thanks," or if pressed, "you know I don't eat supermarket cupcakes or ones from a box!"

Time to cultivate snobbery so it won't happen again.

jordan bailey said...

I just make it well known in the office that "I don't do carbs". Actually, I will do carbs on occasion if it's something wonderful, but since "something wonderful" never appears in my office - no one in that place has ever made anything from scratch in their life - it's never been an issue.

And on a couple of occasions when I have brought in a cake I made from scratch, Great Aunt Rose's Secret Recipe cake or something, lol, they turn their noses up at it because it doesn't have fluorescent frosting on it! Ah, well, more for me!

Very nice blog, I'll be checking back!

town girl said...

I know I'm late, and I just kinda fell into your blog and this post - but my suggestion would to turn down the cupcakes at once and firmly once specifically asked to take one. And if pressed as to why you won't be having one, say that "you just don't think it will sit well with you right now." And then leave it at that.

Don't lie. Don't explain. Change the subject to how nice and thoughtful of a gesture it was to bring the cupcakes in.

Good manners are just getting out of a sticky situation with everyone's pride remaining intact.

Good luck to you.

Jenna said...

I just came across your blog and I wanted to post because I thought this was an interesting question. I would have been honest - in a lighthearted way, state that I don't really like sweets altogether that often, and if I was going to eat sweets it would have to be something "snobby" or decadent. If you laugh at yourself first, she will be able to laugh at you as well, but neither you nor she will feel uncomfortable about it. The conversation can then turn to what decadent snobby sweets are - like mentioning your favorite pastry chef or flavor profile. You can offer to bring in one for her at a later time so she can understand why you are a food snob. ("If you tried Jon Smith's cake, *you* couldn't imagine eating grocery cake again. You'd be ruined, too!")

Preservatives are a good way around it too - allergy or sensitivity to it. But I would probably just tell the truth.

I personally have an "allergy" to caffeine (it gives me migraines, which is not a true allergy, just a negative side effect of consumption) which means I can't eat chocolate, coffee, tea, or anything containing things derived from those things. This is often awkward, because if I don't want to make a big deal of it and say, "Oh woe is me, the cake is chocolate!" when sweets come in, I inevitably get called out on why I don't have a piece. So instead of just leaving, I wait to let the person dividing it up offer me a piece and then decline on account of caffeine intolerance. It's awkward no matter what, but usually the person forgets about it 10 seconds later. You could certainly do that with a preservative sensitivity. You would need a symptom, however - so be careful when going with this excuse to always use the same one. Headaches are always a good one, no one likes to get a headache or cause someone else to get one.

Jenna said...

I just came across your blog and I wanted to post because I thought this was an interesting question. I would have been honest - in a lighthearted way, state that I don't really like sweets altogether that often, and if I was going to eat sweets it would have to be something "snobby" or decadent. If you laugh at yourself first, she will be able to laugh at you as well, but neither you nor she will feel uncomfortable about it. The conversation can then turn to what decadent snobby sweets are - like mentioning your favorite pastry chef or flavor profile. You can offer to bring in one for her at a later time so she can understand why you are a food snob. ("If you tried Jon Smith's cake, *you* couldn't imagine eating grocery cake again. You'd be ruined, too!")

Preservatives are a good way around it too - allergy or sensitivity to it. But I would probably just tell the truth.

I personally have an "allergy" to caffeine (it gives me migraines, which is not a true allergy, just a negative side effect of consumption) which means I can't eat chocolate, coffee, tea, or anything containing things derived from those things. This is often awkward, because if I don't want to make a big deal of it and say, "Oh woe is me, the cake is chocolate!" when sweets come in, I inevitably get called out on why I don't have a piece. So instead of just leaving, I wait to let the person dividing it up offer me a piece and then decline on account of caffeine intolerance. It's awkward no matter what, but usually the person forgets about it 10 seconds later. You could certainly do that with a preservative sensitivity. You would need a symptom, however - so be careful when going with this excuse to always use the same one. Headaches are always a good one, no one likes to get a headache or cause someone else to get one.

town girl said...

I know I'm late, and I just kinda fell into your blog and this post - but my suggestion would to turn down the cupcakes at once and firmly once specifically asked to take one. And if pressed as to why you won't be having one, say that "you just don't think it will sit well with you right now." And then leave it at that.

Don't lie. Don't explain. Change the subject to how nice and thoughtful of a gesture it was to bring the cupcakes in.

Good manners are just getting out of a sticky situation with everyone's pride remaining intact.

Good luck to you.

xiao zhu said...

This has happened to me on more than 1 occasion too. (It's usually bland store bought chocolate cake that I abhor.) I'll usually take it and tell everyone "I'm saving it for later!" and fake a smile and an interest in the aforementioned cake. At least this way, no one's feelings get hurt, and the cake remains seemingly unwasted.

Jon said...

Tell them you don't react well to some common, polysyllabic preservative and, thus, you avoid store-bought stuff. It's the perfect excuse. :)

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