'Rage Baking' authors under fire for not crediting black baker behind similar project
For years, Tangerine Jones pointed out, her website was the top result for anyone searching the internet for "rage baking." Those days are gone. If you Google the term now, the first results page is dominated by stories about — or stores trying to sell you a copy of — "Rage Baking," a new cookbook co-authored by Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford, two accomplished veterans of the professional food world.
The first mention of Jones and her rage-baking project is now an essay that she recently wrote on Medium, in which she accuses Gunst and Alford of co-opting her idea without involving her or even giving her credit. Jones - who describes herself on Twitter as a "performance artist, writer, upstart" and "the original Ragebaker" — launched her movement in 2015 as a way to cope with being a black woman in America. In doing so, she tapped into the long history of African Americans who have relied on kitchens as a safe space and a form of resistance.
For their part, Gunst and Alford have also embraced rage baking as a coping mechanism in the face of a heartless world. The white authors — as well as the multicultural coalition of food celebrity contributors — use rage baking to deal with the rise of the political right and the "way these men are trying to turn back the clock, take away women's right to choose." A portion of the book's proceeds will go to Emily's List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office.
"Baking was a way of temporarily restoring my belief in the positive transformation of things - in this case, butter, flour, sugar, and fruit. Each day, as the political outrages piled up, my mind was absorbed in the precision and focus and discipline that baking requires. A simple cake took me away from the news cycle," Gunst, a journalist and resident chef for NPR's "Here and Now" and an occasional contributor to The Washington Post, wrote in the introduction.
As well-intentioned as Gunst and Alford's book may be, Jones notes in her essay that the authors do not mention anything about racial justice. Nor did they apparently contact her or ask for a submission among the other high-profile female contributors who include Ruth Reichl, Reem Assil, Pati Jinich, Dorie Greenspan and Carla Hall.
"It's been really hard to see Rage Baking whitewashed with a tinge of diversity, co-opted, monetized and my impact erased and minimized under the veneer of feminism and uplifting women's voices," Jones wrote in her now-viral essay. "It has been especially hard to have that happen during Black History Month and to be accidentally tagged in Instagram stories by people who have purchased the book."
Jones ended her essay by asking for her work to be credited in future editions and for "sizeable donations (to be) made to the Ali Forney Center, The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and The Campaign against Hunger."
The principal parties involved in this public battle — including Jones, Gunst, Alford and Tiller Press, the publisher of "Rage Baking" — initially refused to talk or respond to questions for this story, but the authors and their publicist eventually spoke to The Post, confirming that they were aware of Jones's project as they were working on the book.
In the meantime, some contributors have begun registering their complaints on social media.
One writer, Rebecca Traister, author of "Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger," has already said she doesn't want her recipe or book excerpt included in future editions. "My preference would be that I have nothing to do with this book," Traister said, "and I regret having agreed to, particularly after asking so few questions about its origins."
Other contributors seemed to express remorse, too. "I contributed to this book and am now not too proud of that," chef and author Preeti Mistry wrote on Twitter.
"I am intimately aware of how we, WOC (women of color), are so often uncredited or totally erased for the creativity, energy and intelligence we bring to so many industries," Mistry added in a second tweet.
Food writer Charlotte Druckman, who contributes an essay that casts doubt on the benefits of rage baking, tweeted at Jones about her involvement in the project. "I contributed an essay to the 'Rage Baking' book, being unaware of its reach and size as a hashtagged phenomenon and, related, of your work," Druckman wrote. "I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry that your innovation and significant contributions weren't acknowledged." Jones did not respond.
The controversy over "Rage Baking," once again, raises the question of, who gets to tell their stories via traditional publishing channels? And who gets to profit from it? (The cookbook is already a bestseller in the Amazon's baking category.) In a sense, it echoes the recent dust-up over "American Dirt," in which American novelist Jeanine Cummins was accused of exploiting the suffering of Mexican migrants for fame and profit.
But the "Rage Baking" dispute also recalls a similar situation last year, when Mark Bittman launched an online food publication on Medium, originally called Salty until someone pointed out that the name already belonged to a "sex, dating and relationships newsletter for women, trans and non binary people." The site now goes by the name Heated.
Jones has maintained her privacy while publicly fighting for her due with the rage baking movement, and little is known about her outside her social media presence. Her website, launched in 2016, had only one post ("Fundamentals of #Ragebaking") until her recent essay. Most of her baking has been featured on her Instagram account, where she has posted more than 120 times under the hashtag #ragebaking. Jones has emphasized her vision of rage baking involves sharing the final product with others and cooking with intention.
"I turned to my kitchen because, personally, it's one of the places I commune with my ancestors. I'm a Black woman born and partly raised in the South. Kitchens are sacred, powerful spaces to me. They are places of history and healing, of community and connection, of resistance and revolution, of transformation and truth," Jones wrote in her Medium piece.
In an audio interview with the Rev. Legs Malone in 2014, Jones spoke in-depth about many subjects, including racial injustice, white privilege, her personal history and life as a burlesque performer in New York. She described herself as a "Virginian by way of Delaware and Miami. So I consider myself a southern Yankee, I guess."
Culinary historian and author Adrian Miller said that Jones, by expressing her pain and frustration through baking, is channeling an old tradition in African American communities. "For hundreds of years, cooking was one of the places where black people could excel and not face a lot of white resentment or backlash," said Miller, the author of "Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time."
Kitchens, and by extension, restaurants, have also been places where African Americans could take part in acts of rebellion, both large and small. It might be an enslaved cook who would sneak food to the outer edges of the plantation where an escaped man might be hiding out, Miller said. Or it might be the architects of the civil rights movement in the 1960s: They plotted their resistance in southern restaurants that didn't heed segregation laws.
Yet Jones has not been the only one baking under the rage banner before Gunst and Alford released their book. Kate Davis, a Canadian food blogger and weekend baker, started the Rage Bake website in 2016, around the same time that Jones launched hers. Davis, who is white, said she found herself "heading to the kitchen when I needed an outlet for my anger. Some people hit the gym, or go for a run, I knead dough and bake enough croissants to feed an army."
Davis has been following the feud over rage baking but doesn't want to comment on it. "I will say that in today's world," Davis offered, "there's plenty of rage to go around."
Last week, Gunst, Alford and Tiller Press released a statement, saying that their project "developed authentically and organically." They gathered "a range of voices to speak to all those who feel a sense of outrage over what is happening in our society and express their rage and their creativity through baking." In future editions of "Rage Baking," the authors said they will acknowledge "Tangerine Jones' contributions around the phrase" as well as "others who have used the phrase in their online publishing and social media activity."
"The intent has never been to claim ownership of the term 'rage baking,' nor to erase or diminish the work of others using the phrase. Any attempt to lay claim to the term 'rage baking' denies the universal pull this concept/movement has for anyone who has witnessed injustice and has channeled their outrage in the kitchen — the very reason it made for a meaningful title of the collection," the authors and publishers wrote in the statement.
The statement doesn't apologize for any slights, perceived or otherwise, nor does it mention racial injustice specifically. The publisher and authors also encouraged readers to support causes and organizations they believe in, including those mentioned by Jones. They did not say they would donate to them.
In her 2014 interview with the Rev. Legs Malone, Jones spoke directly about white privilege.
"Nine times out of 10, if somebody's squeaking at you, they're not just squeaking just to be squeaking. They're like, 'Hey, you're standing on my foot. No, no, really, you're standing on my foot!' " Jones said.
"Should you be (angry) at the person whose foot you were standing on?" Jones continued. "Or do you apologize and just be like, 'You know what? I'm not going to stand on your foot again — how about that?' Or do you continue to stand on their foot because it's comfortable? I feel like that, to me, is the perfect illustration of white privilege. It's like, once you're aware of something, the choice you make after that defines who you are."